By Terrance Turner
April 28, 2021 (Updated June 24)
This morning, federal investigators executed search warrants on the apartment and office of Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s lawyer. The New York Times first broke the story, citing three people with knowledge of the search. “The investigators seized Mr. Giuliani’s electronic devices and searched his apartment on Madison Avenue and his office on Park Avenue at about 6 a.m., two of the people said.” The Times added: “Executing a search warrant is an extraordinary move for prosecutors to take against a lawyer, let alone a lawyer for a former president.”
This is the latest in an investigation into Mr. Giuliani by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office — the very same office he once led. The question is whether Mr. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in 2019 on behalf of Ukrainian officials and oligarchs, who at the same time were helping Mr. Giuliani dig up dirt on Mr. Trump’s political rivals. That includes now-President Biden, who was then a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Times reports that the investigation of Mr. Giuliani grew out of a case against two Soviet-born men who aided his mission in Ukraine to unearth damaging information about Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Prosecutors charged the two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with unrelated crimes in late 2019. According to CNN, the two were indicted on campaign finance charges stemming from an alleged straw donor scheme. Parnas and Fruman have pleaded not guilty. A trial is scheduled for October.
Parnas and Fruman helped introduce Giuliani to Ukrainian officials while he was searching for information about the Bidens. NPR states that Giuliani’s involvement took place before, during and then after the core events of the Ukraine affair in 2019. As president, Trump ordered assistance to Ukraine be frozen until its president announced an investigation into Joe Biden.
Ultimately the aid was released, and Ukrainian officials did not give Trump the political ammunition he wanted — but Democrats nonetheless called the exchange an abuse of power. That led to the first impeachment of Trump later that year. (He was ultimately acquitted.)
The impeachment inquiry featured testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, who had served as the American ambassador to Ukraine. Giuliani became fixated on her, viewing Yovanovitch as an obstacle in his search for dirt. Urged by Giuliani, Trump ultimately fired her. Now, Giuliani’s efforts to have Yovanovitch dismissed are also being investigated by authorities.
In November 2019, Yovanovitch testified about the efforts to remove her. She said that in the days leading up to her removal, she was told to “watch my back”, and she accused Giuliani of leading an “irregular channel” of diplomacy between the U.S. and Ukraine. “These events should concern everyone in this room,” Yovanovitch said. “Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.”
What Trump and Giuliani wanted, evidently, was damaging information on Joe and Hunter Biden. They didn’t get it. Hunter Biden’s payments by a Ukrainian company at the time his father was vice president got a lot of press, especially on the right. But investigators have concluded that no laws were broken.
Important note: Giuliani denies wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime. However, authorities had been seeking the search warrant for quite some time. The Times explains: “To obtain a search warrant, investigators need to persuade a judge they have sufficient reason to believe that a crime was committed and that the search would turn up evidence of the crime.”
UPDATE: The feds also searched the home of Victoria Toensing, a lawyer close to Rudy Giuliani. She also reportedly had dealigns with the Ukrainians in the effort to malign the Bidens. It turns out that the authorities had requested a search warrant for Giuliani several times, but then-Attorney General Bill Barr (a Trump loyalist) blocked the requests from being fulfilled. Now, with AG Merrick Garland, the warrants have been activated. And the mission may not be over:
UPDATE (June 24, 2021): An appeals court suspended Rudy Giuliani from practicing law in New York on Thursday because he made false statements about the election, according to the Associated Press. Giuliani, the court said, “communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large.”
The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court said today it was “immediately suspending” Giuliani’s license — although it is an interim suspension, so he will have an opportunity for reinstatement. The ruling was made in response to a complaint filed by the New York Bar Association, according to ABC News. The New York Bar “sustained its burden of proving that respondent made knowing false and misleading factual statements to support his claim that the presidential election was stolen from his client,” the court’s decision said.
Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and U.S. attorney in Manhattan, claimed the investigation violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The court rejected those arguments, noting that in Pennsylvania, Giuliani failed to “provide a scintilla of evidence for any of the varying and wildly inconsistent numbers of dead people he factually represented voted in Philadelphia during the 2020 presidential election.”
“The seriousness of respondent’s uncontroverted misconduct cannot be overstated,” the court wrote. “This country is being torn apart by continued attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election and of our current president, Joseph R. Biden.”