President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, negotiated earlier this year to represent Ukraine’s top prosecutor for at least $200,000 during the same months that Giuliani was working with the prosecutor to dig up dirt on vice president Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the discussions.The people said that Giuliani began negotiations with Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, about a possible agreement in February. In the agreement, Giuliani’s company would receive payment to represent Lutsenko as the Ukrainian sought to recover assets he believed had been stolen from the government in Kyiv, those familiar with the discussions said.
Though documents were drawn up, the agreement was never consummated. Lutsenko is no longer the country’s chief prosecutor; he is now seen by many as part of the corrupt system that Ukraine’s current president has vowed to reform.
Why would Giuliani be simultaneously pursuing what former national security official Fiona Hill called a “domestic political errand” on Trump’s behalf — pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation that would smear former vice president Joe Biden — while simultaneously looking to cash in himself?
The better question is, why wouldn’t he? That’s the Trump way, and there’s a reason the president and Giuliani are so close. What’s the point of having all this power and influence if you can’t dip your own beak?
But that beak-dipping could lead Trump to cut Giuliani loose. During an interview on Tuesday with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, the president seemed to be road-testing a new explanation for the entire scandal: that Giuliani was some kind of freelance rogue agent who, unbeknownst to Trump, took over U.S. policy toward Ukraine, doing things that Trump was neither aware of nor bears any responsibility for.
What was Giuliani doing in Ukraine on Trump’s behalf? “Well, you have to ask that to Rudy, but Rudy — I don’t, I don’t even know,” Trump said.
But isn’t Giuliani the president’s personal lawyer? “Rudy has other clients, other than me,” Trump said. “He’s done a lot of work in Ukraine over the years.”
So he didn’t direct Giuliani to go to Ukraine and pressure their government? “No, I didn’t direct him.”
Even for Trump, that’s a brazen set of lies. We now know without a shadow of a doubt that Trump tasked Giuliani with managing his Ukraine “policy,” including his effort to pressure Ukraine to help smear Biden in advance of the 2020 presidential election. Giuliani engineered the firing of Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. U.S. diplomats worked with Ukraine to craft a public statement vowing the investigation Trump wanted — but had to run it by Giuliani. Giuliani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were in regular contact about Ukraine.
And, as the testimony of multiple witnesses in the impeachment inquiry made clear, Trump continually, repeatedly decreed that Ukraine policy should be coordinated with Giuliani. “He just kept saying: Talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy,” testified Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Indeed, Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during their July 25 call: “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”
It has long been clear that Trump and Giuliani were in close coordination on the whole scheme. One of the first reports about the pressure campaign described Giuliani meeting with Ukrainian officials to discuss Biden and his son Hunter, adding: “The current prosecutor general later told associates that, during one of the meetings, Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings.”
Trump was so intimately involved that Giuliani was keeping him abreast of developments while the meetings were still in progress.
But that may not be the only improper thing Giuliani has been up to. Federal prosecutors are examining payments made to Giuliani by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, his two associates who are now under indictment. Their company, the whimsically named Fraud Guarantee, gave Giuliani a rather mysterious $500,000 payment for his services, whatever those might have been.
As this latest news makes clear, Trump is right about one thing: While Giuliani was working for him, he was also working for himself. Parnas and Fruman were trying to arrange a deal to import natural gas to Ukraine, and if you think Giuliani wasn’t going to get a cut, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Meanwhile, we also learned on Tuesday that, while he was in Madrid meeting with Ukrainians about the Bidens, Giuliani also met with a Venezuelan energy executive under investigation for bribery and money laundering; he would later press the Justice Department to drop the case.
Which is not itself improper, but it shows that Giuliani has a broad range of clients and interests who rely on his influence with the Trump administration.
If some of those interests turn out to be shady, or if some of those investigations put Giuliani in legal danger, you can bet that Trump will quickly claim to have had nothing to do with him. Whenever one of his associates or employees gets embroiled in controversy or winds up in handcuffs, Trump claims to barely know them, whether it’s Sondland or Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen or Parnas and Fruman.
Privately, I’m sure the president has no problem with Giuliani trying to grab every hryvnia he could lay his hands on while he was dealing with Ukraine. But the former New York mayor knows the rules: It doesn’t matter how corrupt you are, right up until the moment your corruption threatens the boss. Then he’s going to cut you loose.