Having been online for a little more than a weekend, the climax to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat 2—or its full title of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan—has already become the stuff of legend. Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, once dubiously titled “America’s Mayor,” and current personal attorney of President Donald Trump, appeared to be sticking his hand down his pants while in the hotel room of a young woman.
At least that’s how the news started trickling out last week when the review embargo lifted on Borat 2, and it’s a public perception that Giuliani and his cohorts in the White House immediately began trying to discredit before anyone in the general audience saw the movie on Amazon Prime Video.
The moment in question occurs late in the film, with Giuliani reclined on a bed after Maria Bakalova takes off his lavender microphone. Bakalova is playing the character of Tutar Sagdiyev, who is in turn pretending to be an alt-right conservative journalist from eastern Europe, hence how she’s ensnared Giuliani into a pseudo-prank. For the moment occurs after he’s followed her into a hotel bedroom to “have a drink.” Once she takes off his mic, he lies down on his back and over the course of several shots edited together from several hidden cameras around the room, he is seen with his hand in his pants.
The obvious implication to many when the news broke, and possibly to the filmmakers, is that Giuliani’s hand is on his genitals. And it’s a reading of the moment that the controversial politician flatly denies.
On Wednesday, Oct. 21, Giuliani attempted to get ahead of the movie when he tweeted, “(1) The Borat video is a complete fabrication. I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment. At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar. In fact, the NY Post today reports ‘it looks to me like an exaggeration through editing.’”
And to be completely fair, his clinging to The New York Post’s reading may not be unfounded. It’s clear in the now widely available film that the moment with his hand in his pants is cut together in a way that extends the length of the scene for dramatic (or comedic) effect. He does, in fact, appear to be tucking his shirt in (at least initially), and the way the story was first broken last week emphasized that Baron Cohen’s character cried, “She was 15,” when Bakalova is actually 24.
Yet even if he was only tucking in his shirt, the distinction matters little for an increasingly disgraced politician who’s inserted himself into the center of a shady conspiracy theory—and after he played a central role in the scandal that got President Trump impeached earlier this year.
For starters, whether or not Giuliani kept his hand in his pants for longer than necessary, the fact that he was in the situation as a public figure of his age and position of power is already inappropriate. Here is a 76-year-old man, with two children in their 30s, happily allowing himself to be lured into a bedroom by a woman he is supposed to be having a professional interaction with—a woman in her early 20s and who he was tricked into believing was a teenager. Even before lying on his back, he was visibly flirting with Bakalova and suggested, “You can give me your phone number and your address” while she was taking off his mic. To reaffirm his apparent interest, he placed a hand on her hip and reclined on his back. It’s a strange position for any person to be in to tuck in their shirt, to put it mildly.
But the bigger, and more important, reason his and some media outlets’ equivocating is irrelevant is because Giuliani finding himself in this situation demonstrates extraordinarily bad judgment. The kind of bad judgment that Giuliani, by his own design, has attempted to make a focal point in the 2020 presidential election.
In a handful of minutes, a pretty smile and some flattering words convinced Giuliani to place himself in a compromising situation that’s turned him into a laughing stock around the world. In essence, he handed “Borat,” of all people, the kind of video Russian intelligence officials would deem “kompromat.” Kompromat is a term that originated inside the KGB during the Soviet reign of Joseph Stalin, but it’s become popularized in the 21st century as “compromising material” that Russian intelligence services are accused of regularly collecting on public figures as a resource for blackmail, extortion, and control.
This is important to know since The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the White House was warned in December 2019 of Giuliani being the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence. The warnings were based on multiple sources, including intercepted communications, which showed the president’s personal lawyer interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence. At the time, he was on a quest to obtain information that could be used to incriminate, or at least smear, Hunter Biden and his father, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Apparently National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien personally warned Trump that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered “contaminated.” The president responded to the intelligence by allegedly saying, “That’s Rudy.”
Cut to October 2020 and Giuliani has attempted to engineer a damaging October surprise at Democratic nominee Biden’s expense by sharing with The New York Post a computer hard drive he claims belonged to Hunter Biden, and which he and the New York tabloid assert proves Hunter traded on his father’s influence on American foreign policy in exchange for money.
Giuliani’s story does not directly implicate Ukraine as the source of the laptop and its allegedly damning intelligence. He and computer repairman John Paul Mac Isaac claim that Hunter Biden dropped the laptop off in Mac Isaac’s Delaware repair shop, even though Hunter does not live in Delaware, and is said to have forgotten he left the incriminating laptop there because he was drunk at the time—it’s also worth noting that Mac Isaac is legally blind.
This has led to a fair amount of skepticism about the actual source of the laptop, including by Fox News, whose newsroom refused to publish images from Giuliani’s “laptop from hell” without further evidence or separate sourcing to corroborate it. Indeed, the New York Post journalist who actually wrote the piece to Giuliani’s specifications refused to have his name on the byline due to questions about the validity of the laptop.
Meanwhile the conspiracy theory Giuliani’s attempted “surprise” tries to feed into has been repeatedly discredited and dismissed, including last month by Republican senators who released an 87-page report from the joint findings of the U.S. Senate Security and Finance Committees. They found no evidence of wrongdoing or improper influence by then-Vice President Biden.
Whether more news actually comes from Giuliani’s “laptop from hell,” its association with Giuliani is, in the words of the national security adviser, “contaminated,” just as Giuliani’s credibility is further demolished by the fact he found himself compromised by Borat.