Rudy Giuliani had been urging Donald Trump to remove the U.S. envoy to Ukraine—and in April 2019, he got his way. “I think my information did,” Giuliani bragged to the New York Times, claiming credit for the abrupt ouster of Marie Yovanovitch. “You’d have to ask them. But they relied on it.” There were “a lot of reasons” he wanted her gone, the former New York mayor explained, but the biggest—and, one imagines, the most convincing for Trump—was that he saw her as an obstacle in his crusade to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. “I thought she should have been fired,” Giuliani told the Times in 2019. “If I was attorney general, I would have kicked her out. I mean—secretary of state.”
Giuliani pushing the president to fire an official in hopes of obtaining damaging information about a political opponent is, it goes without saying, deeply unethical. But it becomes deeply illegal if his campaign against Yovanovitch was carried out on behalf of Ukrainian officials—and that, it seems, is what federal prosecutors suspect may be the case. According to the Times, the investigation into the former president’s ex-lawyer and confidante, which exploded into the public eye this week when FBI agents raided his home and office, has come to focus on potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Citing individuals familiar with the probe, the Times reported that investigators are scrutinizing his actions in the lead-up to the ambassador’s ouster in an effort to determine if Giuliani was targeting her only because of his work for Trump, or if he was also doing so at the behest of Ukrainian officials like then-Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who wanted her recalled because of her anti-corruption work.
Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, casting the investigation—and the stunning raid—as a politically-motivated hit job. “I never, ever represented a foreign national,” Giuliani told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Thursday. But while Giuliani has not been charged with any crimes, the mere fact that agents were able to secure search warrants is probably a pretty strong indication that he is in, to use a legal term, extremely deep shit. “In my experience,” former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara told New York magazine this week, “when you do something like this, that you know will have a reputational effect on the subject, you’re usually thinking there’s a good likelihood of a charge.” In other words, for the FBI to obtain and execute a search warrant on a former lawyer to a president, they’d have had to do some extensive legwork already and to be pretty confident they’d find something.
In any case, the firing of Yovanovitch is a case study in why one should be careful what they wish for. After a lot of effort, Giuliani got what he wanted. But the episode ended up being the centerpiece of Trump’s first impeachment, and now seems to be at the center of his own considerable trouble with the law. As my colleague Abigail Tracy reported at the time, Lutsenko and other Ukrainians that Giuliani was mixed up with in his quest for dirt on the Biden family had good reason to want Yovanovitch out—something the ex-ambassador referenced in her testimony at Trump’s 2019 impeachment. “I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she said. “But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
If the feds can prove that Giuliani was paid by the Ukrainians, either in cash or information about the Bidens, he could soon find himself in the same position as other former Trumpworld figures like Paul Manafort—except without Trump having the power to pardon or commute his sentence. “Rudy Giuliani is a great patriot,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo on Thursday, defending his confidante. “He just loves this country, and they raid his apartment,” he continued. “It’s like, so unfair.”
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