Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Milken

Dorothy Rabinowitz
December 26, 2000;
Page A10

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It is not a scene it would have been easy to envision even a few years back -- Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York, and Michael Milken, former financier, discussing diet, exercise and other health regimens over lunch at the mayor's table. Mr. Milken, recall, had had a spectacularly successful career till 1986, when he was charged with securities trading violations and dispatched to prison for two years. Mr. Giuliani was the federal prosecutor who put him there. Now, in the season of hope and joy, there are some who think that it's time for a presidential pardon for Mr. Milken, Mr. Giuliani among them.

It took the mayor some while, to be sure, to decide he should say this straight out. This he did late last week, after a night's pondering as to how much to say, or whether to say anything at all beyond a statement he had issued early in December, expressing admiration for Mr. Milken's contributions to cancer research and somewhat guardedly noting that support for a pardon was something to which he would have to give serious thought.

'I'd Congratulate Him'

He had, it turned out, quite a bit more to say in the course of a phone conversation. He had served in the Justice Department in both the Ford and Reagan administrations, Mr. Giuliani pointed out. He knew what it meant to issue a pardon and who deserved one, and he knew this much, about a pardon for Michael Milken:

"If I were there sitting in my old place in the Justice Department, I would recommend one, and if I were the president I would sign one, and if the president does sign one, I'd congratulate him."

Milken head shot

It is clearly his view that Mr. Milken long ago earned his pardon -- for the cancer research funds he has generated, for his work educating the public about the disease, and a variety of related reasons about which Mr. Giuliani is prepared to hold forth at length. Well before the mayor received word that he, too, had been diagnosed with the disease -- as had Mr. Milken, seven years ago -- he had been attending and speaking at dinners for CaP CURE, a Milken foundation for the cure of prostate cancer. He went in order to educate himself, said the mayor, because his own father had died of the disease.

"You don't really think you're going to get it. But the last dinner I attended came at the period of time my doctors suspected I had it, when my PSA levels were high."

He had sat at the same table with Mr. Milken at one such dinner, Mr. Giuliani recalls, but it was not until he had been diagnosed, last April, that the two actually talked at all. Mr. Milken called him. In the 21/2 hours Mr. Milken spent lunching with his former prosecutor, he dispensed advice and information, and instructed Mr. Giuliani in stress reduction and nutrition and other matters having to do with the effort to cure cancer.

Neither the prosecution, nor any matter remotely related to it, came up in the course of their talk. When they parted, Michael Milken left behind a large quantity of material about the disease and modes of treatment and, no doubt, an incalculably larger store of gratitude.

The mayor isn't disposed to conceal the part gratitude plays in the way he views Mr. Milken, nor could he easily do so; Mr. Giuliani is not renowned for his talent for concealing his feelings. Even so, he is quick to assert the influence of a larger issue -- the promise of Mr. Milken's tireless work toward a cancer cure, his educational seminars on prostate cancer where doctors glean the benefits of cutting-edge research, the thousands of people who have already benefited, and will in the future.

Giuliani head shot

As he describes all this, it is impossible to miss -- gratitude aside -- the mayor's enchantment at the encounter with prodigious talent, with the formidable will and drive Mr. Milken has shown.

"His knowledge is as refined and substantive as any doctor I've talked to," Mr. Giuliani mused. "Its not just the money, it's the organizational skills he brings." They were the same drive and skills he once applied to his business, Mr. Giuliani notes.

The same drive, Mr. Giuliani might have noted, that led to the famous career which ended in U.S. Attorney Giuliani's own tireless pursuit of Mr. Milken, and ultimately in Mr. Milken's agreement to plead guilty to securities trading violations.

To obtain this end -- Mr. Giuliani had by now gone off to other things -- a team of government prosecutors offered Mr. Milken a deal they thought he couldn't refuse. They would not prosecute his younger brother, Lowell, if Mr. Milken would plead guilty to five violations. The prosecutors were right; Mr. Milken did not refuse.

None of this is any part of Mr. Giuliani's conversation, but it is understood. "Look," he will only say, "we're talking about the mid-1980s. People change. There were people who felt he did nothing wrong -- and I heard about that -- and others thought he committed serious crimes." From the president's point of view, Michael Milken was convicted of a crime. The question, Mr. Giuliani said, was where he was now, all that he has done and is doing.

In the course of his consultations, the mayor said, he has talked to at least 50 physicians and discovered thereby how many of them used techniques they had learned in seminars run by Mr. Milken's foundation. One doctor told him how much he had learned in one of those seminars. "Then he stopped and smiled a little and said, `Oh -- maybe I shouldn't say that to you.' "

He wanted it made clear, the mayor emphasized, that no one had asked him to do this -- speak out for a pardon -- neither Mr. Milken's people or anyone else.

This is not hard to believe. Mr. Milken and his attorneys -- never talkative to begin with -- have thrown up an impregnable wall of silence, lest anyone suspect their involvement in any campaign to engender a presidential pardon. As far as they are concerned, there is no campaign.

A Thousand Petitions

Even so, Mr. Giuliani is around to say that he had in his time put his name on a thousand pardons, that they are granted all the time. "People only hear about them when they involve prominent people. A person who has earned a pardon shouldn't be denied one merely because he's prominent."

Mr. Milken's is a prominent name all right, and there is, he knows, no way of knowing what the president will do.

Having worked on so many pardons, he had learned a few things about managing them. If the president intended to give one to Mr. Milken, Mr. Giuliani said, finally, as the Christmas weekend drew near, this was the moment.

Commentary 2001