Two weeks ago, we learned that Donald Trump has had discussions with his advisers about granting preemptive pardons to his adult children, Jared Kushner, and Rudy Giuliani, and that he was in talks with Giuliani about the possibility of a pardon as recently as late last month. The exact scope of these pardons was unclear, given that there is no public information about the actual crimes for which any of these individuals would theoretically need to be pardoned. It was proactive pardoning, pardoning just in case things head south.
One week ago, having been hospitalized with the coronavirus, Giuliani acknowledged that he had received “celebrity” COVID treatment, thanks to the fact that the president’s doctor, Sean Conley, interceded in his medical treatment. Giuliani noted that Conley had told him, “We can get it over with in three days if we send you to the hospital.” In both cases—with respect to both COVID and whatever “legal” work he has been doing for the president—Giuliani appears to be able to cha-cha between the raindrops, simply by virtue of whom he knows.
Welcome to the COVID pardon, the medical equivalent of the legal get-out-of-jail-free card Trump has attempted to bestow on his friends and family. The principle is the same. The COVID pardon is not unlike his legal pardons and grants of clemency: ensuring Cadillac treatment for those close to the president, while relegating chaos, queues, and sometimes even death for everyone else.
Giuliani does have specific reasons to worry on the legal front: He was under investigation this past summer for his business dealings in Ukraine, for his efforts to dig up dirt on the Bidens, and for his role in ousting the American ambassador there. Both Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who worked closely with Giuliani to smear Hunter Biden, have been charged with making illegal campaign contributions. In any normal universe, the former mayor would have been disbarred, indicted, or at minimum deterred from these and whatever follow-up activities he has undertaken for fear of legal consequences. In our universe, while it’s possible that legal liability may yet catch up with him after the Biden administration is inaugurated, Giuliani can still comport himself as an attorney precisely the way he has comported himself as a COVID patient—as if he is bulletproof and always will be.
The fact that he has possibly consorted with fraudsters, skirted campaign finance and tax laws, and even perhaps obstructed justice seems to have no force or meaning for Rudy Giuliani. And really, why would it? He has witnessed what’s happened to Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and myriad other Trump cronies, who don’t face the kinds of legal consequences any ordinary American would face for doing the very same things. Indeed, these cronies are not merely rewarded for past misdeeds but jetted back into the world with the hopes of doing more. And that is precisely the worldview Giuliani took to the hospital with his preemptive COVID pardon last week. First, he made clear that only suckers go sit in the emergency room and pray for a hospital bed and a ventilator. But once he received the nudge from Trump’s doctor—“He talked me into it. I didn’t really want to go to the hospital, and he said, ‘Don’t be stupid’ ”—he went and happily received his VIP drugs. Giuliani’s regimen certainly included the steroid dexamethasone and the antiviral medication remdesivir, though it’s unclear if Giuliani also received the more restricted monoclonal antibody treatment as part of his “cocktail.”
Like Michael Flynn, Giuliani then explained the exact privileges of his VIP membership: “I had very mild symptoms,” he said. “I think if it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t have been put in the hospital. Sometimes when you’re a celebrity, they’re worried if something happens to you; they’re going to examine it more carefully and do everything right.” Trump has ensured that several of his friends, family, and allies have access to the experimental drugs while the majority of Americans do not. Who else has been a beneficiary of the COVID pardon? Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said last month that Trump had “cleared me” to get monoclonal antibody therapy. Chris Christie was also treated with a monoclonal antibody therapy developed by Eli Lilly. While the Food and Drug Administration has now authorized the treatment for emergency use, it remains available only for a small subset of all patients eligible to get it.
Membership in Trump’s inner circle has its privileges. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote, “the antibody treatments are so scarce that officials in Utah have developed a ranking system to determine who is most likely to benefit from the drugs, while Colorado is using a lottery system.” Yet friends of Trump and the very wealthy are effortlessly managing to jump the queue.
Michelle Goldberg points out that the corruption that results from elite access to elite drugs means that elites can get healthy enough to continue to parrot falsehoods about the lethality of the disease. As Giuliani was bragging about his friends-and-family COVID medical treatment, the U.S. set a new record of 3,124 deaths in a single day. But Giuliani, having been treated with 1 percenter medicine after exposing himself and countless others across multiple states to COVID, in packed rooms, while declining to wear a mask, falsely told the same radio show that “if you get early treatment, nothing’s going to happen to you. … You totally eliminate the chance of dying.” Meanwhile, it should be noted that the (noncelebrity) director of the White House security office spent three months in the hospital, lost his right foot and lower leg, and is now crowdfunding for his medical bills and resulting rehabilitation. He is probably not on the streets bragging about his effortless recovery, because he didn’t have one.
Undermining the entire medical establishment is a side benefit for Giuliani, who—not unlike Flynn—is among the nation’s most vocal critics of the drudgery of the nation’s entire legal establishment. Flynn, let’s not forget, spent this past weekend spiking his pardon football by proffering claims that Trump will remain in office in spite of the judicial branch, to an audience of Proud Boys and QAnon enthusiasts. Giuliani has, for his part, used his COVID pardon to downplay the lethality of the virus, and to question the need for precautions for everyone else. COVID-19 is “a curable disease at this point,” he said in his radio interview. “I’d rather take risk than live in a basement all my life,” he said, to a nation that just passed 300,000 deaths and continues to experience more than 2,000 deaths a day. Just as Giuliani believes his future pardon means that he will never be charged for his unlawful behavior, his COVID pardon guarantees that he will never wait in a queue for rationed health care. Thus, he implies—as do the beneficiaries of Trump’s legal munificence—that his success proves those who suffer legal or medical consequences are the real losers. And the doctors and lawyers who devote lifetimes to following the rules of the road within their respective systems? They too, are, by this definition, also chumps.
The COVID pardon is just the latest manifestation of how abuses of access to power distort justice, and how proximity to power is a guarantee that the rule of law—and apparently also the rules of nature—does not have to apply to you so long as you are sufficiently well-connected not to have to face the consequences of bad luck, crappy timing, or even your own reckless actions. That people are actually dying of COVID—in the hundreds of thousands now—because they aren’t friends and defenders of the president is the very definition of life inside a failed state. That is only the starkest, most visceral manifestation of a pattern of justice that has been a hallmark of this administration from the get-go. The combination of legal and medical get-out-of-jail cards in tandem? That assures that Rudy continues to be quite correct in his conviction not only that he can do no wrong, but also that the more wrongdoing he performs, the more impunity he will receive.