More than two years after leaving office, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search) will testify before the Sept. 11 commission (search) next week in an appearance that could put him in the awkward position of criticizing fellow Republicans in the Bush administration just as he is seeking a more prominent role in the party.

For instance, Giuliani will probably be asked by the commissioners whether the city was aware that President Bush had reviewed an intelligence briefing a month before the attacks that said terrorists might be casing buildings in New York.

"His heroic status will give him a nice welcome and respect, but I see the commission as digging for all the truths they can," said Douglas Muzzio, a public policy professor at Baruch College. "I don't see them softballing him."

He will appear before the panel on Wednesday, just a few miles from ground zero.

For most of his political career, Giuliani has been a maverick, breaking ranks with the Republican Party when he saw fit. But since the World Trade Center (search) attack, he has become one of the party's most dependable fund-raisers, relentless campaigners and vocal supporters of the Bush administration.

Observers say that Giuliani, 59, needs the party as much as the party needs him and cannot afford to alienate the GOP leadership with his testimony — if he is interested in running for office again, or winning the keynote speaker slot at the Republican National Convention (search) this summer in New York, or perhaps getting a position in a second-term Bush Cabinet.

"The bottom line is he doesn't want to burn bridges, either in his consulting work or as a future politician," said Mike Paul, a political analyst and former Giuliani aide.

Giuliani has said he may get back into politics in 2006 with either a run for governor or for the Senate against Democratic incumbent Hillary Rodham Clinton. While battling prostate cancer, Giuliani dropped out of the 2000 Senate race won by the former first lady.

Giuliani declined to be interviewed for this article but told The Associated Press last month that he had not seen or heard any intelligence that could have prompted the government to react differently before Sept. 11.

"When a horrible thing happens, then you go back and — with the benefit of hindsight — you see something three or four months earlier that alerted you to it," he said. "But, so far, I haven't seen anything that would have created that kind of alert."

Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, Giuliani became one of America's most recognizable figures, hailed for his calm and resolute leadership. Since then, however, he has been largely absent from the political fray he once reveled in as New York's famously cantankerous mayor.

Some of his exile has been self-imposed, though a good part of his battle with irrelevance is what happens to any politician without portfolio.

When Giuliani suggested that the entire trade center site be set aside as a giant memorial, for example, he was ignored. And on the eve of the second anniversary of the attacks, when he derided plans for the Freedom Tower (search) and other office buildings at the site, his opinion did not change anyone's plans.

Nevertheless, he has kept busy.

His consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, has struck deals with corporate entities as various as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (search), WorldCom, the makers of OxyContin and the owners of the Indian Point nuclear power plants.

He has received an honorary knighthood from the queen of England, been inducted into the Port Wine Brotherhood (search) in Portugal and, closer to home, has had students turn their backs on him during a commencement address at Syracuse University.

He has been escorted by armed guards through the streets of Mexico City while trying to come up with ways to reduce crime there (leading to the newspaper headline, "Giuliani Patrols, Guarded by 400").

He has made dozens of campaign commercials and speeches for candidates around the country, appeared in the Adam Sandler movie "Anger Management" and claimed not to have bothered watching a made-for-TV movie about his life, starring James Woods.

He has advised the governments of Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago on crime, and given paid speeches in places as small as Jackson, Tenn., and Sioux Falls, S.D.

And he also got married (after agreeing to pay his second wife more than $6.8 million), and wrote a book called "Leadership" that has sold more than 1 million copies.

And all of it is due to his leadership during a period most New Yorkers would rather forget, a period that transformed Giuliani from a lame-duck politician making headlines because of his marital woes to a status approaching secular sainthood. That status reached its pinnacle when he was named Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2001.

"Sept. 11 changed his entire positioning," Paul said. "It was like moving from a caterpillar to a butterfly."