Tue 26 January 2021

Rudy Giulani is currently the target of multiple investigations, his business associates have been taken into federal custody, and Donald Trump has already shown he’s ready to get rid of him if – or more likely, when – it becomes necessary.

Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen is already serving time in federal prison and recent revelations suggest that his current personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, may soon be facing a similar fate. 

The New York Times reported last week that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) are investigating whether Giuliani violated foreign lobbying laws in his dealings with Ukraine. “The investigators are examining Mr Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch… She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects,” it said.

But that’s not the only federal probe focused on Giuliani.

Being loyal to Trump means giving up one’s honour, reputation and – in many cases – one’s freedom.

On Wednesday, CNN reported that the investigation into Giuliani also includes a counter-intelligence probe looking at whether foreign actors tried to leverage his business connections to Ukraine to influence policy-making and other important decisions in the White House. The probe dates back to at least February or March and “indicates that FBI and criminal prosecutors in Manhattan are looking at a broader set of issues related to Giuliani… than has been previously reported”. 

As with any counter-intelligence matter, the existence of the investigation suggests that federal officials believe there is a potential national security threat underlying Giuliani’s dealings. 

Even worse for Giuliani, these two investigations could shed light on other potentially illegal schemes, like the time he said that the FBI leaked information to the Trump campaign about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.  

Giuliani in the Hot Seat 

The investigations into Giuliani are part of a broader probe looking at the ties between Trump’s inner circle and Ukraine – with a particular focus on Giuliani, who appears to have been the point-person for many of these potential illegal dealings.  

News of the SDNY probe and counter-intelligence investigation comes hot on the heels of the revelation that two business associates of Giuliani were arrested and charged with campaign finance violations for trying to use straw donors to funnel foreign money into the US political system. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were detained at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C. last Wednesday night. They were planning to flee the US when they were taken into custody, federal prosecutors said.

Giuliani reportedly met the two men for lunch just hours before their arrest and has been working with the pair as part of a broader effort to manufacture dirt on Trump’s political opponent Joe Biden, the current 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President. When they were arrested, Parnas and Fruman were on their way to Vienna, Austria. According to The Atlantic, Giuliani was also scheduled to head to Vienna roughly 24 hours after Parnas and Fruman. 

The Vienna trip – which was apparently cancelled when Parnas and Fruman were taken into custody – marks a significant convergence of people and interests, and puts Giuliani squarely in the centre of what appears to be an illegal scheme aimed at enriching those involved and using foreign money to damage Trump’s political opponents and bolster his re-election prospects. 

Connections to Manafort Associate Dmitry Firtash

The arrests of Parnas and Fruman – and the subsequent release of information about their activities – draws a clear line from Giuliani to Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is currently serving a prison sentence of more than seven years for committing fraud and conspiring against the US.

In July, Parnas was hired by a law firm “close to the President” to be an interpreter for lawyers working for the Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who was previously taken into custody in Vienna on corruption charges. Firtash is also an associate of Manafort. Currently, Firtash is in Vienna fighting against an extradition order from the US. He has been indicted in the US on racketeering charges and was previously accused of taking part in a money laundering scheme with Manafort. 

The law firm that hired Parnas to work as a translator for Firtash’s defence team is led by high-profile lawyers Joe diGenova and his wife Victoria Toensing. In addition to leading Firtash’s defence, diGenova and Toensing are also close allies of Trump, who have been working with Giuliani to dig up dirt on Biden. 

Manafort also reportedly helped Giuliani with his efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden. According to The Washington Post, Giuliani consulted with an imprisoned Manafort on Ukraine-related issues, including the scheme to get Ukrainian officials to manufacture dirt on Trump’s opponent.

The links between Parnas, Fruman and Manafort’s associate, Firtash, extend beyond the time period when Parnas joined Firtash’s defence team. According to a recent Reuters report, “both men [Parnas and Fruman] worked in an unspecific capacity for Firtash before Parnas joined the Ukrainian’s legal team”. 

Giuliani’s connections to the indicted men date back to at least 2018, when he was paid half a million dollars for work he did for a firm run by Parnas. It is unknown why Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman were heading to Vienna, but all three have ties to Firtash, who just happens to be in Vienna.

Trump Moves Closer to Throwing Giuliani Under the Bus

With trouble on the horizon, Trump appears ready to throw Giuliani under the bus like he has so many times before with other members of his inner circle. 

According to Politico, some of Trump’s closest allies have soured on Giuliani and are pushing Trump to get rid of him. Asked last week if Giulani is still his lawyer, Trump said he “doesn’t know”. He also tried to distance himself from the brewing scandal, saying that he doesn’t know Parnas and Fruman, and directing all questions about them to Giulani. 

Asked at a press conference why Giuliani wasn’t registered as a foreign agent during his work in Ukraine, Trump said he didn’t know and told reporters they should ask Giuliani. 

This follows the same pattern of behaviour Trump engaged in when Michael Cohen was facing a criminal investigation, which should worry Giulani. Cohen is currently in federal prison serving a three-year sentence for tax fraud, making false statements to Congress, and violating campaign finance laws on behalf of Trump.

It seems that Giuliani thought he would be the exception to the rule – that, somehow, he would escape the fate of those who came before him and ended up leaving the White House with six-figure legal bills and, in some cases, prison sentences. 

Giulani may be about to learn the hard way that being loyal to Trump means giving up one’s honour, reputation and – in many cases – one’s freedom.

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