New York City’s former mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, detailed his legal strategy for representing President Trump. The “jury is the public,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview.CreditCreditAlex Wong/Getty Images

The man identified these days as President Trump’s lawyer seems vaguely familiar. It’s in the way he feigns genuine laughter. How he clasps his hands. How he widens his eyes, as if he’s just been handed a birthday cake with a firecracker for a candle.

He is, of course, Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose public utterances of late have people debating whether he is a shrewd manipulator of public opinion or just — befuddled. But all agree that he relishes the limelight, every microphone a corkscrew capable of unleashing the spirits of his considerable id.

Indeed, he is working for the president free of charge.

There Mr. Giuliani was again on Thursday, opining from a Trump-owned golf course in Scotland while dressed in green-plaid golf togs bearing the Trump name. When a reporter from Sky News asked whether he thought that impeachment of President Trump was inevitable, Mr. Giuliani defended his client with a few provocative assertions before closing with:

“You’d only impeach him for political reasons, and the American people would revolt against that.”

This followed other recent Giuliani moments, including his claim on Sean Hannity’s radio show that conspiracy is not a crime, and his curious philosophical assertion on “Meet The Press” that “truth isn’t truth.”

Mr. Giuliani was once seen as a kind of national healer — America’s mayor, he was called, in tribute to his leadership of New York City in the fresh wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many thought he embodied a country’s resolve.

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But speaking by telephone from Scotland last week, the erstwhile icon, now 74, detailed for the first time his strategy for representing the president, in blunt and divisively political terms. Mr. Giuliani said he believes that since Mr. Trump is essentially having his day in court, in real time, his “jury is the public.”

The aggressive defense “starts with his base, then it stretches out to independents — then to Democrats,” Mr. Giuliani said. He readily acknowledged that he would never win over many on the left, but maintained that for others, impeachment was “going too far.”

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After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Giuliani was sometimes called “America’s mayor.” He toured the World Trade Center site with Gov. George Pataki and Hillary Clinton, who was then a United States senator representing New York.CreditRobert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The Court of Public Opinion

Some who are close to the man say that Mr. Giuliani’s calculated and cutthroat approach channels his client, and serves as a tactical attack on the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. Given the consensus that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mr. Giuliani is exercising his lawyerly skills in the court of public opinion to ward against the mutterings of impeachment.

Michael B. Mukasey, the former United States attorney general who worked with Mr. Giuliani as a prosecutor in the 1970s, said his longtime friend “has a strategy, but he also has a client who is himself not a linear thinker.”

“In a case that will never see the inside of a courtroom,” Mr. Mukasey added, “it can disserve your client if you are courtroom-style cautious.”

Others are much less charitable, with several of the former mayor’s old associates expressing concern and collectively asking: Who is this man pretending to be Rudy Giuliani?

Michael R. Bromwich, a lawyer who served in the United States attorney’s office under Mr. Giuliani and who has publicly criticized him in recent months, said that his former boss seems to have “lost something.”

“He doesn’t seem to be well-prepared,” Mr. Bromwich said. “He doesn’t seem to have his facts straight. He doesn’t seem to be aware of the legal exposure that he’s creating for his client.”

Mr. Giuliani shrugged off suggestions that he was a discombobulated advocate, ill serving a client who happens to be the so-called leader of the free world. “You probably can’t do this without making a mistake or two,” he said, then quickly noted with evident satisfaction that “Mueller is now slightly more distrusted than trusted, and Trump is a little ahead of the game.”

“So I think we’ve done really well,” said the president’s lawyer. “And my client’s happy.”

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Mr. Trump, second from right, and Mr. Giuliani, third from right, in 1995 at a groundbreaking ceremony for Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle. They were flanked by former Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey and Philip Johnson, the architect.CreditFrancis Specker/New York Post Archives, via Getty Images

The President and the Former Mayor Go Way Back

In the adrenaline-charged atmosphere of Manhattan in the 1980s and ‘90s, both were boldface names from the outer boroughs with reputations as attention-loving aggressors. Mr. Trump was a real-estate developer with a fondness for gold-plated glitz; Mr. Giuliani was the United States attorney for the Southern District and then the mayor, with a fondness for perp walks, cigars and endless viewings of “The Godfather.”

The two men often crossed paths at the same fund-raisers, cocktail parties, power breakfasts — even a surprise party for the comedian Joan Rivers. In 1999, when Mayor Giuliani was contemplating higher office, Mr. Trump sent a $6,900 check to City Hall, forcing a deputy mayor to explain in a “Dear Donald” letter that the money should be sent to the campaign, not the mayor’s office.

“I would consider him to be a good friend,” Mr. Giuliani said on Thursday. “Somebody I really like. Somebody who supported me politically several times — who spoke up for me.”

Mr. Giuliani recalled that after his disastrous candidacy for the presidency in 2008, he found refuge on Trump property. “I spent a month at Mar-a-Lago, relaxing,” he said, referring to Mr. Trump’s Florida resort.

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Left to right: Judith Giuliani, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump and Melania Trump attended the 2006 opening of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York City.CreditPatrick McMullan, via Getty Images

But their mutual admiration was not rooted only in expedience. In 2000, Mr. Giuliani revealed at a news conference that he was separating from his second wife, Donna Hanover — which was news to her. The public unraveling of his marriage and his courtship of his future wife, Judith Nathan, recalled Mr. Trump’s own connubial travails several years earlier, when his affair with Marla Maples, while still married to Ivana Trump, was the gift that kept on giving to the city’s tabloids.

Mr. Giuliani’s divorce led to an estrangement with his son, Andrew — which, he says, Mr. Trump helped to heal by counseling the young man over games of golf at his course in Westchester.

“When I got divorced, there was the usual anxiety, maybe even anger,” Mr. Giuliani said. “He would golf with Andrew and explain, ‘It doesn’t mean your father doesn’t love you.’ I feel indebted to him for that.”

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Mr. Giuliani joined Mr. Trump on the campaign trail in October 2016. They stopped to buy cookies at Eat’n Park restaurant in Moon Township, Pa.CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

Called Off the Republican Backbench

As Mr. Giuliani’s political fortunes waned, those of Mr. Trump improbably soared. The former mayor campaigned tirelessly for his friend during the 2016 presidential campaign, most notably during the Republican National Convention, when he delivered an endorsement speech so apocalyptic — “There’s no next election!” he hollered. “This is it!” — that some openly questioned his mental stability.

Politico Magazine ran a headline that asked: “Is Rudy Giuliani Losing his Mind?

But after Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Giuliani’s attempts to offer his services as the next secretary of state went nowhere. Declining the job of attorney general, he was relegated to the Republican backbench, at the edge of the limelight.

That is, until March, when the president’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, quitafter deciding that his counsel was not being heard. Given the president’s reputation for not being especially open to legal advice, there was no rush of candidates to fill the position.

Another Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, resurrected the Giuliani name, and soon, over a private dinner at Mar-a-Lago, the president asked Mr. Giuliani how he would handle the Mueller investigation if he were retained.

According to Mr. Giuliani, he told Mr. Trump that he thought he and his team “had somewhat become punching bags,” and argued that the Mueller investigation was not an inquiry for a grand jury, but one that might result in a report to be presented to Congress. Given these realities, he said, “public opinion is going to have a lot to do with it.”

Mr. Giuliani said he explained that if public opinion was in Mr. Trump’s favor, he would have a stronger hand in a possible impeachment battle, and a much weaker one if public opinion was against him. “His day in court is happening right now,” he said in the interview on Thursday.

The former mayor joined the Trump team — pro bono.

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“There’s no next election!” Mr. Giuliani hollered during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio in 2016. “This is it!”CreditJosh Haner/The New York Times

Head to Head With Mr. Mueller

Mr. Giuliani said he spent a couple of weeks reading reams of documents, then met with Mr. Mueller to stake out some understandings — including that the special counsel does not have the power to indict a sitting president.

“Mueller was a little ambiguous about it at the meeting,” Mr. Giuliani said, then added: “Two weeks later, he said they understood they couldn’t indict. It was about writing a report. Since then, we’ve been focused on will he or won’t he be interviewed and the terms.”

Ever since, Mr. Giuliani has been a central player in the ever-unfolding political drama of an administration chafing under the scrutiny of an independent investigation. Along the way, he has seemed to go off-script, improvising, riffing — distracting.

His remarkable moments include his surprise revelation on the Fox network in May that Mr. Trump knew, despite prior claims to the contrary, about a hush-money payment that his former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, made to the adult film actress, Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.

[Less than four months later, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges.]

Mr. Giuliani initially called this funneling of money from president to porn star “a very regular thing for lawyers to do.” He later tried to clarify his comments, admitting that he was “still learning” the case and was “not an expert on the facts yet.”

Demonstrating the penchant he shares with his client for insult politics, Mr. Giuliani has also hurled invective with abandon. He called Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor in the Russia investigation, a “scoundrel.” He intimated that John Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., was a “blowhard.” He struck a moralistic tone in criticizing Ms. Clifford for working in porn, and when her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, pushed back, Mr. Giuliani said: “I don’t get involved with pimps.”

Perhaps even more shocking, Mr. Giuliani — the former Justice Department star and law-and-order mayor — essentially fragged his own former law-enforcement colleagues when he proclaimed in May that F.B.I. agents had behaved like “stormtroopers” when they raided Mr. Cohen’s office and apartment. (Mr. Cohen said that the agents had actually been quite polite.)

Then, of course: “Truth isn’t truth” — a comment he later said was meant to convey the “he said/she said” quandary.

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Mr. Giuliani attended the Iran Freedom Convention at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, on May 5, 2018.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Mr. Giuliani’s ‘Behavioral Changes’

All of this has played out while Mr. Giuliani’s private life has been in upheaval. His third wife, Judith Giuliani, recently filed for divorce.

According to a statement issued by her lawyer, Bernard Clair, Ms. Giuliani “prefers to maintain her silence about the reasons for her filing and the causes behind the behavioral changes of her husband that have become obvious to even his most ardent supporters.”

His change in behavior often seemed at odds with the Rudy Giuliani who seemed transformed by the tragedy of Sept. 11, somehow rising above his petty gripes and personal failures to lead with the resolve of one of his heroes, Churchill.

Those close to him remember the Giuliani of September 2001, who turned away during a news conference so that people would not see him weeping; who arranged for psychiatric counseling for aides immersed in the tragedy’s aftermath; who worked hard to choose his words carefully when discussing the number of dead.

Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia Law School professor and former prosecutor under Mr. Giuliani, said he had felt “honored to serve under him and thrilled to work in his office.”

But now?

“Now I feel embarrassed to be connected to him,” Mr. Richman said. “I think there is a hectoring and bullying aspect to the way he’s been presenting himself for several years that seems untethered to the respect for the law and decency that I knew him to have had.”

John S. Martin Jr., a former United States attorney who has criticized Mr. Giuliani in the past, said the former mayor had been “acting solely and exclusively” as Mr. Trump’s “public relations agent,” and mainly antagonizing Mr. Mueller.

“He’s not doing his client any good vis-à-vis the one person he should be concerned about — which is the special prosecutor,” Mr. Martin said.

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Judith Giuliani, Mr. Giuliani’s third wife, has filed for divorce. He walked into an event at the White House on May 30, 2018, with Jennifer LeBlanc.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Enjoying Himself and Feeling Emboldened

But Marc L. Mukasey, a prominent defense lawyer and Mr. Giuliani’s friend and former law partner, most recently at Greenberg Traurig, dismissed such criticism. “Rudy is trying the case in the only viable forum, which is the media,” he said.

Mr. Mukasey, the son of the former attorney general, said he was speaking only for himself and not his firm, Greenberg, which Mr. Giuliani left amid some awkwardness after he joined Mr. Trump’s team. In the end, he said, “What is Rudy going to do? Save his comments for the courtroom? There’s not going to be a courtroom.”

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard Law School professor emeritus who has sharply criticized aspects of the Mueller investigation and who has known Mr. Giuliani since the 1970s, agreed. He said Mr. Giuliani’s strategy was clearly to take Mr. Trump’s case “out of the legal system, which people respect, and put it into the political system, which people don’t respect.”

For all the criticism, though, Mr. Giuliani clearly seems to be enjoying himself. “Look, he survived prostate cancer and just got out of a tough marriage,” said a close friend who asked not to be identified. “I think he’s feeling a little emboldened now.”

Still, the disconcerting disconnect between “America’s mayor” and Mr. Trump’s legal pit bull may linger. Anthony V. Carbonetti, a longtime aide to the former mayor, said: “It pains me that Rudy is the most transformative figure in New York in the last 100 years — and too many people only know him for defending the president.”

On Memorial Day, Mr. Giuliani went to one of his favorite New York sanctuaries, Yankee Stadium. When the public address system announced that it was his birthday, the man who led this city through trauma 17 years ago was loudly booed.

Then again, some hours after his erratic appearance on “Meet the Press” earlier this month, Mr. Giuliani dined at a seafood restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. His friend, Marc Mukasey, who was there, recalled that patrons frequently interrupted Mr. Giuliani to ask for autographs and selfies — and to thank him for his work on behalf of the president.

Sam Roberts contributed reporting, and Doris Burke and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

Follow Dan Barry, Benjamin Weiser and Alan Feuer on Twitter: @DanBarryNYT@BenWeiserNYT@alanfeuer

COURTESY: NEW YORK TIMES
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