Even as the impeachment trial was winding down Friday, we learned something significant about Giuliani’s Ukraine efforts. It will increase suspicions that he is mixing his unpaid gig as Trump’s personal lawyer with other business.
The Washington Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman, Paul Sonne, David L. Stern and Josh Dawsey report that Giuliani discussed a former client while meeting with a top aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Trump’s behalf. That onetime client is Kyiv mayor and former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.
At the time of Giuliani’s meeting with Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak in Madrid in early August, Zelensky was going to fire Klitschko from a separate presidentially appointed job as head of the city’s administration. According to former Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, a now-indicted business executive, Giuliani asked Zelensky to back off the move, which would have significantly reduced Klitschko’s power. To this day, Zelensky has yet to follow through:
“Rudy told him, ‘Make sure Klitschko stays,’ ” Parnas, who participated in the meeting, told The Washington Post in an interview.The following month, Giuliani took that same message to Twitter. “Reducing the power of Mayor Klitschko of Kiev was a very bad sign,” Giuliani wrote, implicitly chastising Zelensky, adding that the mayor, a former boxing champion, “is very much admired and respected in the US.”Zelensky backed off the threat, and nearly six months later, Klitschko still remains in his post.The Zelensky adviser in Madrid, Andriy Yermak, confirmed in a statement that he and Giuliani discussed Klitschko, but denied that Trump’s personal attorney applied any pressure on Klitschko’s behalf.
Parnas added, “Yermak basically said that he would do everything in his power, that he would personally meet with Klitschko and he would try to work it out. He promised Rudy.”
Yermak disputes that. His version of events is essentially this: They talked about Klitschko, yes, but Giuliani did not make such an ask and was careful to specify that he was not applying pressure. “Giuliani inquired about my opinion of Vitali Klitschko as mayor,” Yermak said. “At the same time, he immediately made a disclaimer, so that I would not perceive this issue as an attempt to influence me.”
Yermak added that “any allegation that at the meeting Mr. Giuliani tried to impose some kind of narrative on me or that some kind of agreement was reached … is not true.”
This is not the first time Ukraine has disputed a story about potentially problematic activities by Trump and Giuliani, but it is worth placing it in the proper context.
Part of that context is that Ukraine has myriad reasons to avoid alienating Trump — hundreds of millions of them, in fact. Trump’s legal team has repeatedly pointed to Zelensky saying he did not feel pressured by Trump, but Zelensky cannot really accuse Trump of extorting him and expect to retain good relations. What’s more, there is plenty of evidence that Zelensky was under quite a bit of pressure, including texts showing that his aides were very concerned about being drawn into U.S. politics.
Similarly, Yermak last month denied Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony that Sondland told him there was a quid pro quo involving military aid. Except Sondland is not the only person to testify to that; so too did Tim Morrison, who has been cited as an authoritative witness by Trump’s own legal team.
Just as in that case, Yermak has reason today to downplay the idea that Giuliani did anything wrong. But even if his version is strictly accurate, it is not difficult to see Giuliani’s comments weighing on the Ukrainians. As The Post’s team reports:
The balance of power at the Madrid meeting was decidedly in Giuliani’s favor. At the time, Zelensky’s team was urgently seeking a White House meeting with Trump to send a critical signal to Russia, which has been fueling a proxy war in Ukraine’s east for more than five years. And days earlier, in a phone call with Zelensky, Trump had made it clear to the new Ukrainian president that he needed to deal with Giuliani to win White House support.
That timeline is crucial. This was a week after Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky. Trump had just told Zelensky personally what he wanted. He had just affirmed Giuliani as his emissary on these matters. Zelensky had seen Vice President Pence pulled out of the U.S. delegation to his inauguration in May, and he badly wanted an Oval Office meeting to legitimize his young presidency, but was not getting it.
Trump’s legal team has argued that there was no pressure because Zelensky got the military aid without announcing the investigations — but the aid came only after the whistleblower complaint leaked and after a bipartisan uproar. Similarly, Trump’s team has dubiously argued that Zelensky got his meeting, in the form of a brief appearance at the United Nations in September.
At that meeting, Zelensky made clear he was still waiting for the meeting he actually wanted. Even Friday, hours before The Post’s scoop on the Klitschko meeting, Zelensky appeared with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Kyiv and again talked about wanting the White House meeting. It should be impossible for anybody to deny at this point that the meeting could be used as leverage and that the power imbalance persists.
So when Giuliani sits down with Yermak in August and broaches Klitschko, he probably does not even need to ask him directly. Even if Giuliani included the disclaimer, it is easy to see Yermak connecting the dots.
It is also worth emphasizing that Klitschko has not been removed, six months later. That is despite his own cabinet passing a resolution in September authorizing his removal. Zelensky has not signed it. That’s not necessarily because of Giuliani — domestic politics could certainly be at play. But it is not unreasonable to think Giuliani might have played a role, given the power imbalance and what the Trump team has repeatedly shown it is willing to do.
It is one of the strongest indications to date that Giuliani could be using his Trump work to fuel his non-Trump work — even intermingling the two in the same meetings. It sure seems to lend some urgency to a question that Trump’s other personal lawyer Jay Sekulow declined to answer Wednesday at the impeachment trial: Who is paying Giuliani’s travel and expenses?