Romanian politics were thrown into a tailspin this week after the revelation that President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, wrote a letter criticizing an anti-corruption drive that has been welcomed by the State Department.
The Romanian reaction to the letter — which Giuliani said was written for pay in his capacity as a consultant — was the most concrete indication yet that the Trump administration’s freewheeling approach to ethics and business conflicts is having an effect not only inside the United States, but on U.S. allies as well.
A State Department official told The Washington Post: “Rudy Giuliani does not speak for the U.S. government on foreign policy.” Giuliani, for his part, has insisted that he is a private citizen and was not speaking on behalf of the Trump administration. But that is not the way the letter was received in Romania, where critics of the anti-corruption drive seized on it as an endorsement from a senior official who has Trump’s ear.
“It’s a big deal in Romania,” said Marius Pancu, an anchor with independent TV network Digi24. “So far, the ruling party’s problem was that they had no foreign support for their plans. Now, they’re trying to imply that with Giuliani’s statement, the situation has changed."
The Romanians may have a point: Trump often inclines toward the last person he hears from on any given topic. Just last week, he echoed a conspiracy theory about South African land reforms and directed the State Department to monitor “large scale killing” of white farmers in the country after watching an inaccurate report on Fox News.
And Giuliani is not the first Trump adviser to profit from work for foreign interests while part of the president’s team. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn had a contract from the Turkish government to lobby for the deportation of a Turkish pastor in Pennsylvania. The family businesses of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have sought investments from China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In a sign of how the Giuliani letter has unsettled Romania, the country’s foreign minister recalled its ambassador to the United States on Monday after the envoy portrayed the Trump lawyer’s letter as “the expression of a lobby initiated by forces interested in defending characters from our country that have had legal problems.”
The Romanian government said in a statement that “Ambassador George Maior had a stance that was not approved at the central level in the Foreign Ministry or the government, and it does not represent the Romanian Foreign Ministry’s stance.”
Romania — a member of NATO and the European Union — is routinely ranked among the most corrupt countries in Europe. The country enacted certain anti-corruption measures to meet E.U. entry requirements. But the ruling Social Democratic Party has sought to weaken those measures, prompting a succession of protests over the past year, including a demonstration of more than 100,000 people just weeks ago.
The party contends that the system’s flaws extend into Romania’s anti-corruption agency itself. Many of the jailed or prosecuted politicians have been Social Democrats. And members of the party say that anti-corruption probes are being used to intimidate or remove political opponents — a view now also backed by Giuliani.
Party leader Liviu Dragnea referenced Giuliani’s letter this week, writing that Giuliani’s “moral and professional probity commands respect all over the world.” Dragnea, who pushed successfully this year to fire Romania’s popular anti-corruption prosecutor, implied that not following Giuliani’s advice could have repercussions for perceptions of Romania and its position within the “North Atlantic area.”
Dragnea’s enthusiasm about Giuliani’s letter might not be entirely unexpected for another reason: He himself is appealing a prison sentence for abuse of office.
So far, the government’s plans have faced opposition at home and abroad. “After previous street protests, the European Union and United States spoke with one voice to condemn the attacks on democracy,” wrote Daniel Brett of University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London earlier this month.
In Romania, the ruling party is now framing Giuliani’s remarks in a way that suggests the end of that unity.
Michael Birnbaum contributed to this report.