Rudy (Rudolph) Giuliani has a thing for power. Since leaving office as New York City mayor in 2001, the lawyer has found work advising or representing hardline governments and wealthy businessmen who work on the fringes of the law. In April 2018, he became the personal attorney and close advisor of his old friend, US President Donald Trump.
Now, Giuliani has added Bahrain, a tiny Arabian Gulf kingdom well-known for its human rights abuses, to his roster. On May 10, he confirmed to the Daily Beast that his consulting firm, Giuliani Security & Safety, had signed a contract with the country’s Ministry of Interior to “do security consulting for them, with specific emphasis on things that appear to be perpetrated by terrorists.”
Bahrain, an island smaller than New York City, is home to the US Navy’s vital Fifth Fleet, giving the kingdom a favored relationship with the US. At the same time, the US State Department has accused it of severe abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention and revocation of citizenship, censorship, and the prohibiting of political opposition parties.
However, human rights advocates warn that the State Department’s reports omit some abuses and are “all words and no action.” According to them, the State Department recognizes repression, but chooses to strategically ignore it. Bahrain, no stranger to lobbying in Washington, wants to keep it that way.
His proximity to Trump, and the unorthodox network of influence that has crystallized around the president, at a minimum put Giuliani’s contract with Bahrain in a grey area.
It is not far-fetched for foreign governments to view hiring Giuliani as a means to gain quick favor with the Trump administration. He began representing the president in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian election interference investigation. But because he is employed by Trump as a private citizen, not Trump as the president, Giuliani supposedly can skirt government ethics rules that prevent federal employees from working for foreign states. His proximity to Trump, and the unorthodox network of influence that has crystallized around the president, at a minimum put Giuliani’s contract with Bahrain in a grey area.
Like Trump, Giuliani’s public “America First” rhetoric often contradicts his private business endeavors, which often have been opportunistic and ethically suspect, profiting from instability and violence abroad.
His security firm, Giuliani Security & Safety, has made most of its money overseas, working in countries with rampant crime and right-wing governments—Honduras, El Salvador, and Brazil—and for states that use force to squash dissent—now Bahrain. Last year, Giuliani appeared to be pursuing contracts with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was facing potential sanctions for human rights abuses and corruption.
According to its website, the company provides consulting in counterterrorism, criminal justice reform, and “physical security” needs. As The Nation magazine put it, “the greater the threat or the instability, the more [Giuliani] makes.” The co-founder of the firm, the police commissioner during Giuliani’s tenure as mayor, Bernard Kerik, was imprisoned in 2010 for eight felonies, including tax fraud and taking money from mafia affiliates.
Besides his high-profile connections, Giuliani’s clients appear to be drawn to his punitive approach to crime and his fame for managing the aftermath of 9/11, which he loudly touts. Much of his business rides on his boasts that crime in New York City fell significantly during his time as mayor (although the decline was not likely a direct result of his policies).
Giuliani sought to reduce violent crime by cracking down on minor offenses. Under his policies, drawing graffiti could land teens in prison, and officers could arbitrarily stop and search people on the street. The latter tactic, which disproportionately affected black and Latino New Yorkers, was later ruled unconstitutional.
The former mayor’s law work is in lockstep with his security consulting. Giuliani represented a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was being prosecuted by the U.S. for money laundering, bank fraud, and Iran sanctions violations. At the time, his law firm was also a registered agent of the Turkish government. He stopped representing foreign clients under U.S. government prosecution when he began representing President Trump, who was himself under investigation.
According to the New York Times, Giuliani was making a concerted effort in late 2018, while defending Trump from the Mueller investigation, to win contracts with foreign governments.
Talks between Giuliani and the Kingdom of Bahrain began in the fall of 2018. In December, the lawyer visited the king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in his palace in Manama. Bahraini state news described Giuliani as “leading a high-level delegation” and reported that he and the king discussed Bahraini-U.S. relations.
In reality, he was not there as an official representative of the U.S. government, but as the CEO of Giuliani Safety & Security. The firm had pitched a partnership to the kingdom to “train the country’s forces to prevent terrorist attacks and to protect its desalination plants,” naming Iranian proxies as a particular target.
Bahrain’s security forces are responsible for brutal human rights abuses, targeting the Shia minority political dissidents whom the kingdom often labels as Iran-backed terrorists. Giuliani has said that “the best answer to terrorist groups and gangs is to confront them . . . . You have to emphasize law enforcement.” He said of Bahrain, “I actually think they’re one of the better Gulf countries on human rights,” citing its relatively high rate of women in government.
The kingdom currently pays six American firms as registered foreign agents to lobby for its political interests and craft its public image in Washington.
The kingdom currently pays six American firms as registered foreign agents to lobby for its political interests and craft its public image in Washington. Giuliani said that his deal was set up by Robert Stryk, a Trump campaign advisor whose lobbying firm is on Bahrain’s payroll. Giuliani has insisted that his new contract does not involve lobbying or “giving policy advice,” and that he never discussed the contract with Trump or his administration.
“I don’t get involved in trying to solve . . . problems with the U.S. government,” Giuliani said. “I was pretty much in demand long before I represented [Trump].” When the Daily Beast asked him if he had discussed Trump with Bahrain’s king, Giuliani said “I can’t recall.” The conversation, he assured, was “pretty strictly for us [to] train the police.”
It is easy to imagine that the Bahraini government anticipates that giving money to the president’s close advisor is going to help Bahrain promote its interests inside the White House.
“Giuliani getting paid by a repressive foreign government while he acts as the president’s personal attorney and advisor looks really bad,” Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center told the Daily Beast. “It is easy to imagine that the Bahraini government anticipates that giving money to the president’s close advisor is going to help Bahrain promote its interests inside the White House.”
The shady understanding behind the contract reinforces the notion that Trump’s governing style is steering US political norms towards those of autocratic states, where “overt efforts to buy favor are more commonly accepted as the way things work,” and where family members and loyal friends wield more influence than publicly elected officials. The former mayor, who is officially representing President Trump for free, corroborates this state of affairs.
As he told the New York Times, “I’m not complaining. I make a lot of money . . . .”