The Real Rudy Giuliani: Explosive New Docuseries Reveals the Dark Secrets Behind 'America's Mayor'

Filmmaker Rebecca Gitlitz of TIME Studios tells PEOPLE she set out to explore the misconception that Giuliani was always a "wildly successful, popular guy," resulting in MSNBC's new four-part documentary When Truth Isn't Truth

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who has, in recent years, made headlines for echoing Donald Trump's false election claims, sparks a common response among much of the public these days. Watching the former mayor at press conferences delivered in a landscaping company's parking lot, or while hair dye gathers in beads at his temples and slowly trickles down his face, many find themselves wondering: How could America's Mayor — a man revered as a hero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — have fallen so far?

A new four-part documentary series called When Truth Isn't Truth: The Rudy Giuliani Story explores that narrative, delving into Giuliani's early days as a prosecutor and his more recent activities with Team Trump, to demonstrate that "America's Mayor" has always been a controversial figure who never shies away from the limelight, even if it means skirting the law.

In the series, friends of Giuliani's are heard calling him a "crusader of truth." Former N.Y.C. Mayor Bill de Blasio calls him "the antichrist." Those altogether different evaluations of Giuliani, says series director Rebecca Gitlitz, highlight just how divisive — and complicated — the man is.

"I wanted to understand how we can feel so strongly — and so differently — about someone," Gitlitz tells PEOPLE.

Giuliani documentary
TIME Studios and MSNBC Films

Each episode of When Truth Isn't Truth — a series from TIME Studios and MSNBC Films — focuses on a different chapter of Giuliani's career: from the U.S. Justice Department to New York City politics, to his post-mayoral odyssey as a high-priced consultant, and eventually to Trump's inner circle.

Gitlitz wanted to illustrate that Giuliani being a hero who fell from grace is a "massive misconception."

"This idea that he was this wildly successful, popular guy — that's because of 9/11," she says. "9/11 was one of these really seminal moments in American history where we had a universal enemy. It wasn't about politics. Nobody wanted to say anything bad about Rudy."

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani. ANGEL FRANCO/AFP via Getty

Well before 2001, Giuliani was a polarizing figure, says Gitlitz.

"He's always been a deeply racist, deeply misogynistic, deeply opportunist and ego-driven person," she says. "Rudy's journey has always been about opportunity and skirting the law and skirting the system."

Episode one of the series delves into Giuliani's early years as a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, when he used the Central Park Five case — in which five Harlem teens were imprisoned for years after being erroneously convicted of beating and raping a female jogger — as a springboard for his successful mayoral campaign.

At the time, Giuliani also became known for advocating for very public, pre-trial perp walks of accused criminals as a means of bolstering support for prosecutors.

But as the documentary notes, while those perp walks often ended in guilty verdicts for the criminals Giuliani was prosecuting, many of those verdicts were later overturned. But the image of the accused criminals — in handcuffs, sometimes in tears — lingered. And Giuliani still claimed victory — a precursor, Gitlitz notes, for another public figure with whom he would later grow close.

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani after winning the 1993 election for the New York City mayor's office. HAI DO/AFP via Getty

"I do think that Donald Trump took a lot of Rudy's playbook and put it into his campaign," Gitlitz says. "This big, brash, 'just say it's true and it's true' kind of theme ... that is exactly what Rudy did in his early years."

The documentary also takes time to unpack Giuliani's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and how his relationship with New York City firefighters wasn't as positive as many remember.

Then, more recent history is examined, including a 2019 phone call in which he allegedly pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, who was running against Trump for president.

A later phone call, between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, urging for an investigation into Biden and his relatives, would ultimately lead to the former president's first impeachment.

According to Gitlitz, the pressure campaign on Ukraine demonstrates "the lengths that Giuliani will go to stay in power."

"My favorite line of the entire documentary is that Rudy 'is a dictator looking for a balcony,'" she adds.

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani (center) and other Trump campaign lawyers at a November press conference. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

In Trump, he may have found it — though his close connection with the former president, and his attempts to overturn the election in his favor, have led to a near-unraveling of Giuliani's legal career.

After having his law license temporarily suspended in both D.C. and New York in 2021, Giuliani now faces disbarment for his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

There are a number of reported financial issues, too — the result of millions of dollars in legal bills stemming from the 2020 election and from a probe into whether Giuliani acted as an unregistered lobbyist for Ukrainian officials.

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So how, exactly, will America's Mayor be remembered?

"I think that he will go down for election fraud," Gitlitz says. "I believe that his legacy will be of disrupting democracy — for his role in January 6, for his role in election lies."

She continues: "There has been a great unraveling of our democracy over these last few election cycles, and Rudy is right at the center of it."

The first episode of When Truth Isn't Truth: The Rudy Giuliani Story premieres Sunday, Feb. 19, at 10 p.m. on MSNBC, and will be available to stream on Peacock the next day.

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