More than 200 Republican lawyers gathered in a ballroom inside Washington, D.C.’s Four Seasons hotel for a celebratory inaugural luncheon on Thursday with incoming White House Counsel Don McGahn and Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s close adviser and the former mayor of New York City.
For $350, attendees got a plate of beef tenderloin, cocktails — and, from Giuliani, an off-color anecdote involving sex, 9/11, a former president, and another man’s wife.
Giuliani said it all happened on September 14, 2001, when he rode with former President George W. Bush in a convoy of vehicles to the smoking rubble of the World Trade Center.
“In the same car with me was my fire commissioner, Tom Van Essen,” Giuliani said. “And Tom had lost what turned out to be 343 firefighters. And President Bush recognized him from seeing him on television the prior two days. And he leaned over to Tom, grabbed his arm, and said to him, ‘Tom, I’m so sorry. How are things going?’ Tom looked at him and said, ‘Much better now. My wife came home last night and I got lucky.’”
“That’s locker room talk,” Giuliani continued. “President Bush remembered that so well that when he saw Tom three weeks later at a fire house dinner, he came up to him and said, ‘Tom, are you still getting lucky?’ And Tom said, ‘No, it’s worn out.’”
After 9/11, Giuliani used his new national profile to launch a security company and a failed bid for the presidency. More than 15 years later, the attacks on the World Trade Center remain at the core of his public identity. “To defeat Islamic extremist terrorists, we must put them on defense,” he said in a fiery speech at the 2016 Republican convention. Later in the campaign, the thrice-married Giuliani defended Trump after the October release of a video where the president-elect brags about how he likes to “grab them by the pussy.” “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said. “You can do anything.”
At the Four Seasons on Thursday, after his joke, Giuliani launched into a more orthodox partisan speech.
He decried “assaults on the American Constitution.”
“It’s like we’ve been delivered from the wilderness,” he said, speaking of the election. “And boy, we were right on the cliff.”
He said that Trump had a gentle, generous, and modest side hidden under his tough exterior.
He referred to Hillary Clinton as “the person whose name I’ve forgotten.”
He also reminisced about his time on the campaign trail, telling stories of eating fast food and mediocre Midwestern pizza, “the worst pizza … I had to start taking Tums.” He praised Trump’s “beautiful airplane.” “I think Air Force One is going to be a step down,” he said.
The speech was met with applause and laughter from the crowd, which included Republican congressmen and federal judges. The luncheon was organized by the Republican National Lawyers Association, which had “deployed” many of the attorneys attending lunch to watch the polls in November.
One Illinois member of the RNLA displayed a belt-mounted badge that identified him as an election official. A board outside the luncheon identified those volunteer lawyers who had “truly helped make a difference” in the election.
McGahn’s remarks were more restrained. He said that he hoped to continue the legacy of Edwin Meese, the conservative icon who served as attorney general under Ronald Reagan and resigned while under investigation in 1988.
Efforts to reach Giuliani and Van Essen by phone late Thursday were unsuccessful. In a recent interview with the New York Observer, Van Essen said he often thought of the widows of the firefighters who died in the attacks, who would never be able to mourn their husbands’ bodies. “The inability to give these wonderful young women their husbands’ remains,” he said, “that’s the hardest part still.”