Rudy Giuliani hasn’t been in the news much over the last few weeks. On the one hand, it’s a relief to be spared his spittle-producing histrionics, his endless repetitions of the Big Lie, and contemplation of just what kind of liquid is dripping down his face. On the other hand, Giuliani’s absence from the headlines is honestly a shame. Because for some months now, there’s been the expectation that his name would next appear in association with the word “indicted.”
It’s been over six months since Giuliani’s home and office were raided by federal officers. From the information available at the time, it seemed that Giuliani was being investigated in connection with his actions in Ukraine. The list of potential crimes is … not short, including dozens of instances in which Giuliani appears to have engaged in unregistered foreign lobbying, his efforts to remove a trusted U.S. ambassador because she inconveniently told the truth, and his connections to multiple unsavory oligarchs. There is absolutely no doubt that Giuliani engaged in a multiyear effort to deceive, defame, and manipulate on behalf of Donald Trump, but it’s less clear how much of that plan was actually illegal.
On Thursday, The Guardian revealed new information about the investigation into Giuliani’s scheme, how it extends back months before Trump’s arm-twisting called to the Ukrainian president, and how it included additional members of Trump’s legal team—Fox favorites Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova. What all of this seems to show is not just that Giuliani sold out two nations, suborned lies from foreign nationals, and created an elaborate scheme to smear Joe Biden … but he did it all for money.
For most people, Giuliani’s scheme became visible on May 1, 2019 when The New York Times* devoted sizable chunks of both the front page and the interior to transcribing the disgraced former mayor’s claims about Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Six days later, Bloomberg did what the Times did not and actually checked into Giuliani’s claims. What they found was that the whole basis of Giuliani’s assertions—that Ukraine was launching an investigation into the Bidens—had absolutely no basis in fact. In fact, almost everything in the story the Times had printed had been a total fiction.
What the article in The Guardian makes clear is that the May 1 article came after months of work on the part of Giuliani, Toensing, and DiGenova. Not work in the sense of investigating the truth of the situation in Ukraine—work in terms of lining up people who were willing to lie in order to create a controversy designed to help Donald Trump.
While Toensing and DiGenova may also be facing federal charges, Giuliani’s real partner in crime appears to be Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko. According to The Guardian, federal investigators have unearthed “extensive, detailed plans” that were devised by Lutsenko and executed by Giuliani. Those plans called for Giuliani to feed the U.S. press on the idea that Biden was corrupt, which Lutsenko would then support by announcing an investigation in Ukraine.
The problem for Giuliani and crew was that before Lutsenko could follow through on his end of the deal, Ukraine had an election in which Volodymyr Zelensky was the surprise winner. Under Zelensky, Lutsenko didn’t have the influence necessary to give Giuliani the fake announcement that he wanted. That didn’t please Trump, who insisted that Giuliani and Lutsenko follow through.
Which is how Trump ended up on the telephone with President Zelensky, threatening to withhold $400 million in U.S. assistance unless someone in Zelensky’s government would back Giuliani’s play. Which, in turn, led to Trump’s first impeachment.
It wasn’t just Lutsenko who Guiliani worked to get in Trump’s corner. Two other former prosecutors —including the very justifiably fired Viktor Shokin—agreed to fill in the details according to the script that Giuliani provided to The New York Times. The full scheme would go like this:
- Lutsenko would announce he was “reopening” an investigation of Burisma that included an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden.
- One of Lutsenko’s assistants, Konstantin Kulyk, would officially be in charge of investigating the Bidens, and would make a public announcement that they had committed a crime.
- Former prosecutor Shokin would claim that he had been investigating Burisma after all, and that Biden fired him to shut him up.
In exchange for all this, a cadre of Ukrainians would get preferred treatment from the Trump White House, with expectations that they could tap a nearly unlimited stream of both business opportunities and U.S. assistance payments. Trump would, of course, get the scandal he wanted. And Giuliani … well, Giuliani’s needs were even simpler.
Giuliani and Lutsenko reached a preliminary agreement in March 2019… Various drafts of the contract called for Giuliani to receive either $300,000 or $500,000 for his work.
Toensing and DiGenova were to get “at least $250,000.” That started with a $125,000 “retainer” bill that Toensing and DiGenova sent to Lutsenko a month before Giuliani’s first Times article ran. But Zelensky’s election came just one week later, throwing a wrench into the plan—and the billing cycle of Giuliani and friends.
What happens to Giuliani, Toensing, and DeGenova from here is still unclear. While all three clearly attempted to solicit lies from foreign officials in support of generating a scandal in the U.S., it’s not clear whether or not that action was technically illegal. Slimy, yes. Destructive, certainly. But illegal? Unclear.
It’s more likely the trio will face charges of illegal lobbying for assistance they provided to Lutsenko, Shokin, and others. Even though the contracts don’t appear to have been executed in the end, lobbying for foreign interests requires registration, even if it’s done for free.
Speaking of which …
Even though Giuliani was engaged by then president Trump as his personal attorney, Trump did not pay him, a frustration that Giuliani expressed to the Ukrainians.
Why Giuliani signed up to be kicked by Trump over and over and over says something deep—and ugly—about both men.
*The story currently in place at the Times site contains significant revisions to the one that originally appeared on May 1, including an altered headline. But that story still contains claims such as this:
Among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden’s younger son, who at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general.
That statement is utterly untrue. The prosecutor was not investigating Biden, the company Burisma, or its owner. In fact, he was dismissed because he refused to engage in that investigation. But the Times, both then and now, represents this fabrication from Giuliani as if it is fact.