Rudolph W. Giuliani’s promise of a “big surprise” to help Donald Trump’s election in October 2016 led to Democratic accusations the FBI was feeding him secrets about an investigation of Hillary Clinton.
Giuliani’s comments came in a 2018 interview with agents for the Justice Department inspector general, conducted in a room at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington. The Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, sued for a copy of the interview transcript and provided it to The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Giuliani’s private defense of his actions has come to light as he and other Trump lawyers face discipline and possible court sanctions for their unfounded statements surrounding the 2020 election, raising questions about lawyers’ integrity in a democracy.
During the February 2018 interview to try to determine if FBI agents had leaked him sensitive information, Giuliani’s then-law partner and counselor, Marc Mukasey, opined that the standards for truth-telling are different in electoral politics than in legal matters.
“In the heat of a political campaign, on television, I’m not saying Rudy necessarily, but everybody embellishes everything,” Mukasey said.
“Oh, you could throw a fake,” added Giuliani — who in addition to serving as mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001 also spent eight years as a federal prosecutor in the city.
“You’re under no obligation to tell the truth,” Mukasey replies, according to the transcript. To which Giuliani repeats, “You could throw a fake.”
An agent then said, “Fake news, right?”
Mukasey replied, “Right.”
Mukasey declined to comment Wednesday. A lawyer for Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Giuliani’s public credibility has suffered significantly since 2016. He is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for his dealings with Ukrainian figures in the run-up to the 2020 election, and his license to practice law has been suspended in New York and D.C. over his unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
At the time of the interview, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz was looking into claims that FBI agents may have tipped off Giuliani to a decision by then-FBI Director James B. Comey to reopen an investigation into Clinton less than two weeks before the 2016 election.
Two days before Comey’s announcement, Giuliani said on Fox News that Trump, the GOP nominee, had “a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises.”
After Comey’s announcement, suspicions intensified that Giuliani had inside information about the Clinton case. At first, he suggested in TV and radio interviews that he did. But he quickly backtracked. And in the inspector general interview, Giuliani claimed that his reference to a surprise was just a tease for the possible large purchase of advertising time in which Trump would speak directly to American voters for five or more minutes.
Unlike a television interview, it can be a crime to lie to investigators with the inspector general’s office, though pursuing such a case is a decision made by Justice Department prosecutors, and they often decline to do so. When he was interviewed by investigators, Giuliani said that he had not talked to any current FBI agents and that Comey’s statements “were a shock to me. I had no foreknowledge of any of them.”
According to the transcript, he suggested he heard gossip and innuendo in television green rooms from among others James Kallstrom, a former FBI official who retired from the bureau in 1997. Asked if he thought Kallstrom or anyone else had accurate information to share, Giuliani said “it could easily be that they did or they didn’t . . . or that the people that they spoke too [sic], excuse the language, were bulls---.”
Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, said he found the discussion about throwing a “fake” troubling. “Election or not, truth and honesty don’t seem important to many these days,” he said.
Giuliani and Mukasey offered agents occasionally meandering explanations for why Giuliani was not in touch in 2016 with anyone actually employed by the FBI at that time. At one point, Giuliani said he probably had not spoken to a current employee of the bureau for more than a year, since receiving an award from an agents’ group. That happened in 2014.
“The last time I could remember talking to an FBI agent before that was when I got the [award] . . . which my wife liked because it came with handcuffs. She wanted me to get more handcuffs.”
When the interviewing agent replied, “strike that from the record,” Giuliani added: “Only to put on the wall.”
When agents pressed him why, then, he had claimed at the time that he had spoken to active FBI agents eight or 10 months earlier, Giuliani replied, “I just picked a number out of the air.”
He also said he was prepared for some disgruntled FBI agent to come forward to Giuliani’s law firm seeking legal representation. “I thought we might get a call. Never did. Never had rumor of one.”
Throughout the interview, Giuliani insisted he had no inkling what Comey planned to do about the Clinton investigation before he did it, though he did say that he thought Comey showed he was susceptible to political pressure.
After Comey reopened the investigation, Giuliani said he cautioned Trump not to praise the FBI director too much “because the guy’s going to change his mind again when the Democrats put enough pressure on him . . . this is a guy who is much more amenable to pressure than I thought.”