Federal prosecutors in New York City are investigating whether President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
The investigators are examining Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.
The investigation into Mr Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funnelling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms Yovanovitch.
Mr Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms Yovanovitch and other targets of Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Mr Giuliani shared that material this year with US government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.
Federal law requires US citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians or government officials, regardless of whether they pay for the representation. Law enforcement officials have made clear in recent years that covert foreign influence is as great a threat to the country as spies trying to steal government secrets.
A criminal investigation of Mr Giuliani raises the stakes of the Ukraine scandal for the president, whose dealings with the country are already the subject of an impeachment inquiry. It is also a stark turn for Mr Giuliani, who now finds himself under scrutiny from the same US attorney’s office he led in the 1980s, when he first rose to prominence as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and later ascended to two terms as mayor of New York.
It was unclear how far the investigation has progressed, and there was no indication that prosecutors in Manhattan have decided to file additional charges in the case. A spokeswoman for the US attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S Berman, declined to comment.
Mr Giuliani said that federal prosecutors had no grounds to charge him with foreign lobbying disclosure violations because he said he was acting on behalf of Mr Trump, not the Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, when he collected the information on Ms Yovanovitch and the others and relayed it to the US government and the news media.
“Look, you can try to contort anything into anything, but if they have any degree of objectivity or fairness, it would be kind of ridiculous to say I was doing it on Lutsenko’s behalf when I was representing the president of the United States,” Mr Giuliani said. Mr Lutsenko had chafed at Ms Yovanovitch’s anti-corruption efforts and wanted her recalled from Kiev.
Mr Giuliani also said he was unaware of any investigation into him, and he defended the pressure campaign on Ukrainians, which he led, as legal and above board.
CNN and other news organisations reported that federal prosecutors were scrutinising Mr Giuliani’s financial dealings with his associates, but it has not been previously reported that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are specifically investigating whether he violated foreign lobbying laws in his work in Ukraine.
Ms Yovanovitch told impeachment investigators Friday that Mr Trump had pressed for her removal for months even though the State Department believed she had “done nothing wrong.”
Mr Giuliani had receded from the spotlight in recent years while he built a brisk international consulting business, including work in Ukraine. But he re-emerged in the centre of the political stage last year, when Mr Trump retained him for the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference.
Russia’s sabotage also ushered in a new focus at the Justice Department on enforcing the laws regulating foreign influence that had essentially sat dormant for a half-century and under which Mr Giuliani is now being investigated.
Mr Giuliani said that because Democrats had questioned his business consulting for foreign clients, his contracts explicitly say he does not lobby or act as an agent of foreigners.
Through his two associates who also worked to oust the ambassador, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Mr Giuliani connected early this year with Mr Lutsenko, who served as Ukraine’s top prosecutor until August. Mr Parnas and Mr Fruman had previously connected Mr Giuliani to Mr Lutsenko’s predecessor, Viktor Shokin, late last year.
Mr Parnas had told people that Ms Yovanovitch was stymieing his efforts to pursue gas business in Ukraine. Mr Parnas also told people that one of his companies had paid Mr Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for an unrelated US business venture, and Mr Giuliani said he advised Mr Parnas and Mr Fruman on a Ukrainian dispute.
Mr Lutsenko had sought to relay the information he had collected on Mr Trump’s targets to US law enforcement agencies and saw Mr Giuliani as someone who could make that happen. Mr Giuliani and Mr Lutsenko initially spoke over the phone and then met in person in New York in January.
Mr Lutsenko initially asked Mr Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees – a “professional investigator who works for my company” – write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms Yovanovitch, Mr Biden and others.
Mr Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the FBI. He did not say who told him.
Mr Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr Lutsenko and other sources.
Mr Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defence of Mr Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.
He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.
Mr Giuliani said Mr Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Mr Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.
“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”
The president sought to distance himself earlier Friday from Mr Giuliani, saying he was uncertain when asked whether Mr Giuliani still represented him. “I haven’t spoken to Rudy,” Mr Trump told reporters. “I spoke to him yesterday quickly. He is a very good attorney, and he has been my attorney.”
Mr Giuliani later said that he still represented Trump.
The New York Times
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