There is one person who perhaps more than any other we ought to hear from, though the chances that he’d appear are small, if he knows what’s good for him: Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Even with Rudy keeping his mouth uncharacteristically closed in recent weeks, the picture other people have painted shows that the initial impression many of us had about his involvement in this whole mess was inaccurate. Rudy did not “go rogue” as some would have it. He was not freelancing, or throwing around President Trump’s name to get what he wanted.
In fact, people throughout the foreign policy and national security apparatus in the Trump administration seem to not only have been aware of the shadow Ukraine policy Giuliani was spearheading, they changed their own behavior to accommodate it.
We should remind ourselves how shocking this is. The president’s “personal lawyer” does not get to jet around the world making foreign policy while ordering government officials to do his bidding. He just doesn’t. That’s not how it works.
But that’s exactly what he was doing. Giuliani appeared to have two sets of goals: coercing the Ukrainian government into taking action that would benefit Trump’s reelection bid, and scooping up gobs of cash for himself and his goons Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who are currently enjoying the hospitality of the Bureau of Prisons.
Giuliani’s involvement in this scandal first came to wide public attention with this New York Times article on May 9. Both Giuliani and the article itself characterized his activities as kind of an extragovernmental operation that was just about Trump’s private interests. “My only client is the president of the United States,” Giuliani said.
But that was completely misleading. In fact, as Giuliani would say months later in his own defense, he was working closely with the State Department. Which is just the problem.
Let’s run through some of what we’ve learned from the testimony that has already been released:
- The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, a well-respected career diplomat with decades of experience, testified that at one point a Ukrainian official told her that she should “watch my back,” because Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman were working with Yuriy Lutsenko, a former Ukrainian prosecutor who opposed efforts to fight corruption, to undermine her.
- Giuliani helped engineer Trump’s ouster of Yovanovitch. She testified that “individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal and financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy.” She is referring here to Parnas and Fruman, who were trying to engineer a deal to import natural gas to Ukraine.
- Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, testified that in a conversation in which diplomats were making the case to support the new reformist Ukraine government, the president said he was “hearing from Rudy Giuliani that they’re all corrupt, they’re all terrible people."
- Giuliani began pressing for Ukraine to release a public statement announcing an investigation into the Bidens, which would have obvious propaganda utility for Trump’s 2020 campaign. Volker testified that he and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, worked with the Ukrainians on the text of a statement, and said it would have to be “convincing” to Giuliani.
- Sondland also testified that Giuliani was the one dictating what Trump wanted in that statement, insisting that Burisma — the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat — must be mentioned in the statement.
- Sondland testified that “Rudy had some bad issues with Ukraine, and until Rudy was satisfied, the president wasn’t going to change his mind.”
- In his call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump referenced Giuliani multiple times, instructing Zelensky to speak with him.
- According to the Associated Press, David Hale, the third-ranking person in the State Department, is set to testify that the department refused to issue a statement of support for Ambassador Yovanovich when Giuliani and company were smearing her because the State Department “worried about the reaction” from Giuliani. In other words, they hung Yovanovich out to dry to avoid angering him.
It’s obviously imperative that Giuliani answer questions under oath about his role in this scandal. If he wants to assert his Fifth Amendment rights to stay silent, that’s his prerogative. What he can’t do, however, is claim that any of this is covered by attorney-client privilege; that privilege would only apply to legal advice he gives a client, and none of this qualifies. Nor can he assert executive privilege, since that only applies to people with official government roles.