Lawyers for Rudolph W. Giuliani have asked a federal judge to intercede in what they contend is an unfair targeting of the onetime lawyer for President Donald Trump, saying FBI agents have long possessed copies of the digital files seized last month by search warrants for his phones and computers.
Days after Giuliani’s electronic devices were seized by FBI agents, prosecutors informed his lawyers that more than a year earlier investigators had used a warrant to obtain data stored in a backup cloud account. That information “certainly had communications with, and on behalf of, the sitting President, containing material relating to the impending impeachment, the welfare of the country, and to national security,” Costello and Aidala wrote, saying they object to “any further review” of Giuliani’s records by investigators.
Giuliani has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime. His lawyers want to review the data authorities have seized to make their own determination about what may be covered by attorney-client privilege and thus be off-limits to the Justice Department.
Prosecutors have proposed appointing an outside lawyer as “special master” to review Giuliani’s material and filter out whatever information may be covered by such privilege, but his lawyers argue that such a step does not go far enough.
“Given the complexity of Mr. Giuliani’s personal and professional relationships and the related communications, it is a near impossible task to accurately list all individuals with whom Mr. Giuliani had a privileged relationship or communications,” Costello and Aidala wrote.
The lawyers said the period covered by seizure of Giuliani’s iCloud data is nearly identical to the time frame sought by the search warrant for his phone and computers.
A warrant was executed April 28 at the Manhattan apartment and office of the former New York mayor for his electronic devices, ramping up the case that had been stymied by officials in the Justice Department during Trump’s presidency. FBI agents also collected a cellphone from the D.C.-area home of attorney Victoria Toensing — another outspoken Trump advocate — that is expected to be analyzed. Toensing’s law firm has said she did nothing wrong and would have turned over any relevant documents to investigators if asked.
After the seizure of Giuliani’s property, prosecutors made the unusual request for a special master, a person outside the U.S. attorney’s office, to filter through the evidence to determine if any of the records or communications are protected by attorney-client privilege. More commonly in such cases, a “taint team” of prosecutors and agents from within the Justice Department is assigned to review seized evidence for privileged materials, and withhold those files from the main investigation team.
The move by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York to preemptively seek a special master appeared aimed at fending off accusations that the government is unfairly targeting the Trump legal adviser. In an April 29 letter to U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken, Justice Department lawyers argued that while an in-house team would be fair, it was important to uphold “the perception of fairness.”
The task of filtering through the contents of Giuliani and Toensing’s phones may be onerous because both would likely be corresponding regularly with clients. In the case of Michael Cohen, Trump’s other former personal attorney and fixer, a special master was used to sort through items investigators were not entitled to see.
Giuliani has faced scrutiny in connection with Trump’s recall of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was seen as impeding Giuliani’s efforts to unearth information overseas that could be used to politically damage Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ahead of last year’s election.
Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine, coupled with Yovanovitch’s abrupt removal from her post, were at the center of Trump’s first impeachment, when he was accused of demanding that the Ukrainian government announce an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter while withholding military aid to the country.
Two of Giuliani’s associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, face federal charges in Manhattan related to alleged campaign finance fraud. Both men, Soviet emigres, assisted Giuliani in the run-up to last year’s election as he searched for material that would undermine Biden’s candidacy.
Jacobs reported from New York.