The Crazy Last Days of Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon

Trumpland is desperately trying to orchestrate an October surprise—and so far failing.

Mother Jones Illustration; Stefani Reynolds/Nicolas Maeterlinck/ZUMA

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Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, and the entire Trumpland dirty-tricks squad seem desperate. With days remaining until Election Day, they are running out of a time to orchestrate an October surprise to help their dear leader win reelection. In recent days, their Fox-enabled efforts have demonstrated how far they are willing to go with their skullduggery. Yet the world may be witnessing the death throes of Trump’s most extreme enablers, protectors, and schemers—and it is ugly.

At 12:49 a.m. on Tuesday, Giuliani, once known as America’s Mayor, retweeted a suggestion that Joe Biden is a pedophile, an unfounded and ridiculous claim that has spread among QAnon conspiracy devotees. The tweet is no longer available on Twitter. But this is the depth to which Giuliani has sunk in his role as a bottom-feeder searching for any dirt he can use to smear Biden on behalf of his client, Donald Trump. 

Last year, Giuliani managed to help get Trump impeached through his efforts to dig up bogus stories about Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine. But that epic failure barely slowed Giuliani. He remained hell-bent on tarring Biden with a Ukraine scandal, and went so far as to collaborate with Andrii Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian legislator who the Treasury Department in September described as “an active Russian agent for over a decade.” Pause for a moment to ponder this: The president’s personal lawyer was working with a Russian agent (who the US government accused of cooking up anti-Biden disinformation) to attack the president’s political opponent. Even in the bizarro Trump world, this should have been widely seen as scandalous.

But it was just Rudy being Rudy. And Fox News and OAN gave him plenty of airtime to peddle what may well have been Russian disinformation. Giuliani, who has pocketed large fees in recent years as a roving international security consultant, ignored the obvious signs that he had become a useful idiot for Vladimir Putin’s newest pro-Trump attack on a US election. US intelligence agencies even reportedly warned the White House last year that Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence. He didn’t give a damn. Neither did Trump. 

Giuliani eventually publicly distanced himself from Derkach, but he moved on to disseminating emails and documents supposedly found on a laptop abandoned by Hunter Biden at a computer repair shop in Delaware. This chapter has been shrouded by questions. How did Giuliani come to possess this material after it was handed over to the FBI? Has the information been confirmed? Was this somehow connected to the Kremlin plot against Biden? 

Giuliani was obviously trying to replicate the glory days of 2016—when the presidential race (already influenced by Putin’s secret assault on the contest) was thrown into a tizzy by the last-minute disclosure of a revived FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton following the discovery of her emails on the laptop of disgraced politician Anthony Weiner (whose then-wife, Huma Abedin, was a top Clinton aide). And Giuliani may have played a sneaky role in that game-changing episode. So four years later, here we were again. A laptop. Emails. The FBI. And, yes, apparently sex stuff. (Weiner eventually served 18 months in prison for sexting with a minor. Hunter Biden’s laptop supposedly had a sex tape on it.)

But Giuliani bungled the operation. (Let’s put aside the inconvenient fact that the new Hunter Biden material contains no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden.) Giuliani handed off the laptop information to Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post—because he believed other media outlets wouldn’t take the bait—and the Post rushed out an article co-written by a former producer for Sean Hannity’s show that was widely derided and, consequently, not picked up by other media outlets, aside from the usual right-wing outfits. (The tabloid suggested that Joe Biden had a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian energy company he worked for—though this Fox-favorite conspiracy theory has been disproven.)

Moreover, as the New York Times recounted, Giuliani’s move complicated another scheme by other Trump allies, including a White House lawyer, to feed the Wall Street Journal (also owned by Murdoch) a separate story promoted by a former business associate of Hunter who claimed Joe Biden was part of Hunter’s unsuccessful effort to form an investment venture with a Chinese energy company in 2017. Hunter Biden’s emails were involved in this tale, as well.

Giuliani’s sloppy attempt to turn the Hunter Biden laptop into 2020’s October surprise muddied up the waters for those Trumpers pushing the Biden-China conspiracy theory. And though the Journal‘s opinion section has been beating the Hunter Biden drum ferociously, its news section ended up reporting that there was no evidence that Joe Biden had any role in Hunter’s Chinese venture. Oops. 

Meanwhile, to give the Giuliani caper an even more absurd cast, the news emerged that Giuliani had been punked by Sacha Baron Cohen for his new Borat movie—which hardly helped Giuliani on the credulity front. But the former federal prosecutor was not cowed by any of this. He continued to hurl unsupported allegations about Joe and Hunter Biden on Twitter and to peddle muck to right-leaning publications. Repeatedly, he claimed he had the goods. But nothing was sticking, and October was slipping away. 

Giuliani appears frustrated by his inability to concoct a Biden scandal that works. On Tuesday, he exploded during a Fox Business appearance, when the host pressed him on the shady origins of the derogatory information he claims to have on Hunter Biden. The next night, Giuliani posted a 32-minute-long YouTube video in which he presented a series of unproven or discredited accusations against Biden: The former veep pocketed millions by forcing the firing of that Ukrainian prosecutor; he was involved in Russian money-laundering; he had a dirty deal in Kazakhstan. But Giuliani zeroed in on the China stuff, claiming that Joe Biden was the kingpin behind Hunter’s (unsuccessful) deal there. Giuliani excoriated the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other mainstream media for not reporting this. He called Joe Biden a “crook” and noted darkly that “a lot of the people the Bidens did business with” have “disappeared.” In this time-is-running-out frenzy, Giuliani had reached the point of putting out a DIY video intimating the Bidens knock off business associates. (Also on Wednesday night, Fox host Tucker Carlson joined the Frustrated October Surprise Club, when he declared on air that “confidential” Hunter Biden documents that one of his producers had shipped through an express-mail service had mysteriously disappeared.)

Throughout this stretch, Bannon, a former top White House strategist for Trump who was indicted on fraud charges in August, has been a co-pilot on Giuliani’s crusade. Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, Bannon, too, was trying to recapture that old magic from last time.

The New York Post reported that Bannon, who now hosts a radio show and a podcast, was the fellow who first tipped off the tabloid in September that Giuliani had material supposedly from Hunter Biden’s laptop. But Bannon has been up to much more than connecting the Post with Giuliani. After Trump booted him from the White House in 2017, he found a new patron: Guo Wengui, a mysterious Chinese dissident reputed to be a billionaire. Guo has lived in the United States since 2014, when he fled China, where he faces charges for various financial crimes related to his former real estate business. Guo claims these charges are false and politically motivated. (He has also been accused of rape in a civil lawsuit; Guo denies this allegation, contending it was engineered by the Chinese regime he has opposed.) Guo has fashioned himself a vocal critic of corruption in the Chinese Communist Party and has hooked up with Bannon to bash the Chinese regime. In June, the duo announced the “Federal State of New China,” a vaguely defined initiative to “overthrow the Chinese government.” Their attacks on Beijing include funding a researcher, Li-Meng Yan, who has issued papers making the widely rejected claim that the coronavirus was potentially manufactured in a Chinese lab. Guo is also a member of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club. 

Much of Bannon’s work for Guo is related to media companies Guo has launched. A one-year contract between Guo and Bannon inked in 2018 reportedly paid the former Breitbart executive $1 million to introduce Guo’s media company to “media personalities” and advise the company on “industry standards.” Bannon is also listed as director of GTV Media, a media company launched in April by Guo.

Bannon’s new partner has been part of the Hunter Biden smear machine. Weeks before the New York Post began publishing stories about the supposed contents of Hunter Biden’s hard drive, a YouTube channel and Twitter account linked to Guo and Bannon began touting coming revelations of “videos and dossiers of Hunter Biden’s” supposed “connections with the Chinese Communist Party,” the Daily Beast reported. And on Saturday, a digital media platform that is a subsidiary of GTV Media posted several videos supposedly showing Hunter Biden engaged in sex acts and using drugs.

Pause again: A foreign businessman is in league with Trump’s former chief strategist as part of this final, sleazy, get-Biden blitz. Yet this salacious effort to harm Joe Biden in the campaign’s dwindling days by highlighting his son’s well-known personal struggles seems to have fizzled. It has not received much coverage beyond the alleys of the right wing. 

Not surprisingly, Giuliani has his own relationship with Guo. On October 11—three days before the first New York Post story ran—a pro-Guo Twitter account posted four pictures of Guo and Giuliani, smoking cigars and apparently drinking wine, with their arms wrapped around each other. Giuliani and an attorney for Guo declined to explain the reason for the meeting.

 
Ditto for Bannon. He was arrested in August on a $28 million yacht owned by Guo and charged with conspiring to defraud hundreds of thousands of people who donated more than $25 million to fund the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border. Bannon has pleaded not guilty. Guo has said the charges against Bannon are part of a Chinese government plot to “take Mr. Bannon down.” And there’s more: The Wall Street Journal has reported that the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the New York state attorney general’s office are investigating whether GTV Media, controlled by Guo and run by Bannon, violated securities laws and bilked investors while raising $300 million in a private offering last spring. (GTV Media said in August that it had carried out the private placement under the guidance of its lawyers and that “all of the raised funds are intact.” Guo and Bannon did not comment.)
 
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In an October 18 tweet, Trump seemed to dangle the prospect of a pardon for Bannon. Referring to the fraud case against him, the president noted, “I think Steve will be just fine.” 
 
So this is what has become of two of Trump’s most famous henchmen. One linked up with a Russian agent, the other with a controversial foreign businessman. And in the eleventh hour, they have been frantically trying to manufacture a repeat of the final stretch of 2016. To tarnish Biden. To cook up a scandal. To perhaps even spark an FBI investigation. Their endeavors are providing Fox, Breitbart, and other conservative media shops plenty of fodder. And at the last presidential debate, Trump latched on to the assorted and unsubstantiated Biden allegations they and others have been disseminating, but his word-salad descriptions of these unfounded accusations probably meant little to viewers not already subscribing to Fox paranoia and QAnon nuttery.
 
So far, the desperate plays of Giuliani and Bannon haven’t played. If they cannot pull off a better surprise in these final moments and Trump loses, these last few weeks will be a solid reminder of their personal declines and a lesson in how the Trumpian sordidness they enthusiastically embody does not always triumph.

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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