In a stunning development just 34 days before Election Day, the law firm Greenberg Traurig has announced that its highest-profile partner, Rudy Giuliani, will be taking a leave of absence because of his activities on behalf of the Trump campaign. Giuliani, who served as mayor of New York City from 1994-2001 and himself unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for president in the 2008 election (and yes, is the friend, co-author and hero of the highly conflicted writer of this story), has been among the most prominent surrogates and effective campaigners on behalf of current nominee Donald Trump.
Making the story all the more surprising – one major shareholder at Greenberg described the development to me as “shocking” (As a corporation rather than a partnership, Greenberg calls its top earners, such as Giuliani himself, “shareholders” instead of partners) – is that Giuliani joined the firm only earlier this year, in a multi-lawyer defection from Bracewell Giuliani that was viewed as something of a coup for Greenberg.
According to an email from Executive Chairman Richard A. Rosenbaum obtained by the Observer that was sent only to top shareholders at the firm and titled “Highly confidential,” the decision to push Rudy into a leave was entirely linked to his association with Donald Trump.
Despite the presentation of this move as a “voluntary leave of absence,” the source who provided the memo to the Observer – and to tamp down the inevitable guessing game, that source was not Rudy himself nor anyone closely aligned with him – the move was not voluntary on Rudy’s part. According to the source, Mr. Giuliani was strongly encouraged to take this action as the presidential campaign grew ever more heated.
Giuliani forcefully disputed that characterization. In a phone interview that took place after an earlier version of this story was published, the former mayor said, “This is a voluntary action on my part that was contemplated for two weeks and was done with the full acceptance of the managing partner of the firm, Richard Rosenbaum, who happens to be a good friend of mine. I did it when I ran for president, you might recall, and there’s nothing ‘stunning’ about it. … I’m coming back November 9 and if anybody had bothered to call anybody but some unnamed source, they’d have gotten the truth.”
Rosenbaum echoed Giuliani’s description of the nature of the break. In an email to the Observer several hours after this story first appeared, Rosenbaum said, “I agree with the Mayor that this was amicable and mutual. We look forward to his intended return to the firm in November.”
The grumbling at GT has grown louder in recent weeks as Giuliani’s advocacy on Trump’s behalf became more prominent, and the firm, like most New York-based law firms has a distinctly left-leaning tilt. In fact, an article in Law.com Monday was headlined “Not Even Rudy Giuliani’s Partners at Greenberg Traurig Support Trump” and detailed that GT employees “have made 186 donations to Hillary Clinton this election cycle. By contrast, five have given to Donald Trump.” According to the article, Clinton donors from the firm include max out contributions from global practice chair James Bacchus, senior chairman Matthew Gorson, technology practice head Alan Sutin and litigation superstar Lori Cohen, as well as 42 other Greenberg lawyers.
Greenberg has endured its share of controversy regarding the political activities of its lawyers lately. The firm’s government group in Chicago was entirely disbanded after its rainmaker, Mark J. McCombs, was arrested for bilking the town of Calumet Park—an impoverished mostly minority community in 2010. Then the managing partner of the Chicago office, Keith Shapiro, was demoted in what was universally viewed by lawyers in that office as both a referendum on his imperious leadership style—one lawyer in New York told the Observer that Shapiro was viewed as a “martinet” by the New York leadership—and his activism on behalf of moderate Republicans such as Senator Mark Kirk and Congressman Bob Dold.
Other than Giuliani’s leave, the firm’s boss Rosenbaum declined to comment on this story’s characterization of the other aspects of political life at Greenberg, including the events in Chicago.
The full text of the memo appears below.
While many at the firm support different political positions and candidates, this is each person’s personal decision and has nothing to do with the firm or its business
We are not a political organization and we respect the right of each individual to do as she or he chooses with respect to their political support outside of the law firm. Let me be clear to avoid any confusion, in ALL political campaigns, the firm always remains neutral and does not take sides.
Our fellow shareholder, Rudy Giuliani, has of course been playing a prominent role in the current presidential campaign.
This morning, Mayor Giuliani decided to take a voluntary leave of absence from the firm as of this Friday, October 7 with the intention to return after the election. I respect and accepted this decision, as he expects that the time commitment required by the campaign makes this a fair thing to do and is overall in the best interests of the firm and his fellow shareholders.
Thanks for your support and understanding.
This breaking story has been updated to include comments from Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Rosenbaum.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, publisher of Observer Media.