The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Giuliani letter criticizing Romania’s anti-corruption drive draws State Department attention

Rudolph W. Giuliani, an attorney for President Trump, at a campaign event in Portsmouth, N.H., on Aug. 1. (Charles Krupa/AP)

A letter that Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of President Trump’s personal attorneys, sent to Romanian officials opposing a corruption crackdown in that country has drawn the attention of the State Department and renewed questions about his continued work for foreign clients while representing the president.

In his letter last week to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Premier Viorica Dancila, Giuliani criticized anti-corruption efforts in that country, expressing concern about “continued damage to the rule of law in Romania, committed under the pretext of law enforcement.”

Writing under the letterhead of his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, the former New York mayor criticized the “excesses” of Romania’s anti-corruption agency and warned that recent moves could affect foreign investment.

Giuliani’s letter caused significant ripples in Romania and raised questions about his decision to work for foreign clients while serving as one of Trump’s chief attorneys dealing with the Russia investigation.

In Romania on Aug. 10, protesters reportedly gathered at Bucharest's Victoriei Square. Video posted to social media showed protesters chanting and waving Romanian flags. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

It also put him in opposition with the State Department, which has supported efforts to prosecute corruption in Romania. The United States joined with 11 other countries in June in a statement warning Romania not to take measures that would weaken its “ability to fight crime or corruption.”

Giuliani received a call from State Department officials this week about his letter, he said in an interview Wednesday.

“They wanted to know, ‘Is this accurate? Is this real? We want to make sure this is genuine,’ ” Giuliani said. “Absolutely,” he said he replied.

In response to a request for comment, the State Department reiterated its June statement, which said that “Romania until recently has shown considerable progress in combating corruption and building effective rule of law. We encourage Romanians to continue on this path.”

“Rudy Giuliani does not speak for the U.S. government on foreign policy,” an official added.

Giuliani said he was hired to send the letter by a global consulting firm run by former FBI director Louis Freeh. He declined to say on whose behalf Freeh’s firm was working or how much he was paid.

Freeh did not respond to a request for comment. He has done work in the past for Gabriel Popoviciu, a Romanian investor who last year was sentenced to seven years in prison in a fraud and corruption case.

This summer, Giuliani told The Washington Post that he was working with clients in Brazil and Colombia, among other countries, as well as delivering paid speeches for an Iranian dissident group. He has not registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department on behalf of his overseas clients, saying it is not necessary because he does not directly lobby the U.S. government.

Giuliani works for foreign clients while serving as Trump’s attorney

On Tuesday, Giuliani said he was not currently involved in other countries besides Romania. He said he has not discussed his work in that country with Trump or any other administration official.

“I’m a private citizen,” said Giuliani when asked why he took a position contradicting the U.S. government. He said he was not fully aware of the U.S. stance on the Romanian anti-corruption drive, casting it as a “domestic matter” in that country.

“Maybe I should have put in the letter that I’m not representing the president,” Giuliani said, but he added that he assumed Romanian officials knew as much. He said he had spoken to at least one Romanian official as part of his outreach but declined to say whom. 

White House officials were surprised to learn of Giuliani’s work in Romania, according to people familiar with the situation. A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

White House officials are often not present when Trump talks to Giuliani, which regularly occurs via phone when the president is in his private residence, aides have said.

Romania has been beset by political unrest over attempts to roll back ethics and anti-corruption initiatives. 

The leader of the Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, pushed successfully earlier this year to fire Romania’s popular anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi. 

The prosecutor was something of a cult figure with Romanian young people and reform advocates. Some viewed her as akin to U.S. special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, according to a former Romanian diplomat and a lobbyist who worked for the country. She won praise from American officials, including the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), as well as the European Commission.

However, some Romanian lawmakers have said Kovesi was unfairly pursuing them to gain public attention. Dragnea was among her most vocal critics.

Dragnea — who was convicted in June of abuse of office — spotlighted Giuliani’s decision to weigh in on the controversy, saying in a statement that the letter from Trump’s lawyer symbolized a decline in faith in Romania by “foreign partners and foreign investors.”

Dragnea has praised Trump and circulated photos of a personal meeting he had with him last year.

Alice Crites and Carol Morello contributed to this report.