As Rudy Giuliani waged a public campaign this year to unearth damaging information in Ukraine about President Donald Trump's political rivals, he privately pursued hundreds of thousands of dollars in business from Ukrainian government officials, documents reviewed by The New York Times show.
Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, has repeatedly said he has no business in Ukraine, and none of the deals were finalised. But the documents indicate that while he was pushing Trump's agenda with Ukrainian officials eager for support from the United States, Giuliani also explored financial agreements with members of the same government.
His discussions with Ukrainian officials, including the country's top prosecutor, who assisted him on the dirt-digging mission, proceeded far enough along that he signed at least one retainer agreement, on his company letterhead.
In an interview on Wednesday, Giuliani played down the discussions. He said that a Ukrainian official approached him this year, seeking to hire him personally. Giuliani said he dismissed that suggestion but spent about a month considering a separate deal with the Ukrainian government. He then rejected that idea.
"I thought that would be too complicated," Giuliani said. "I never received a penny."
Giuliani's shadow diplomacy campaign in Ukraine on behalf of the president is a central focus of the current House impeachment inquiry.
At the same time, a federal criminal investigation into Giuliani is examining his role in the campaign to oust Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador to Ukraine, and scrutinising any financial dealings he may have had with Ukrainian officials, according to people briefed on the matter.
Prosecutors and FBI agents in New York City are scrutinising whether Giuliani was not just working for the president but also doing the bidding of Ukrainian officials who wanted the ambassador removed for their own reasons, the people said.
It is a federal crime to try to influence the US government at the request or direction of a foreign government, politician or party without registering as a foreign agent. Giuliani did not register as one, he has said, because he was acting on behalf of his client, Trump, not Ukrainians.
Giuliani has not been accused of wrongdoing.
The federal inquiry focused on Giuliani grew out of the case against two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested on campaign finance charges last month. Alongside Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman worked to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations into former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Parnas and Fruman have pleaded not guilty to the campaign finance charges.
Spokesmen for the US attorney in the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S Berman, whose prosecutors are handling the case, and the FBI declined to comment.
The documents reviewed by The Times portray an evolving effort over the course of several months by Giuliani and lawyers close to him to consider taking on various Ukrainian officials or their agencies as clients.
The Times could not determine whether the documents it reviewed comprised the entirety of discussions between Giuliani and other lawyers about representing Ukrainian government officials.
The documents date to mid-February, when one draft proposal said Giuliani would represent Yuriy Lutsenko, who was then Ukraine’s top prosecutor. At the time, Giuliani had been working with Lutsenko to encourage investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.
The draft proposal, which was unsigned and not on letterhead, called for Lutsenko to pay $200,000 to retain Giuliani Partners, Giuliani’s firm, and a husband-and-wife legal team aligned with Trump, Joseph E diGenova and Victoria Toensing.
In return, Giuliani would help the government recover money it believed had been stolen and stashed overseas, advising Lutsenko "on Ukrainian claims for the recovery of sums of money in various financial institutions outside Ukraine".
The proposal came a few weeks after Giuliani met at his office in New York with Lutsenko to discuss Ukrainian corruption. Lutsenko told Giuliani and others about payments he claimed involved Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian company that had named the younger Biden to its board, according to a memo summarising the talks. Lutsenko also shared information he said he had about Yovanovitch.
Giuliani was critical of Yovanovitch, whom he and other Republicans have said was opposed to the president. Giuliani's moves against her, however, were also aligned with the interests of Lutsenko, who had butted heads with the ambassador.
Ultimately, Yovanovitch was removed from her post in May, and Lutsenko was replaced in August after a new Ukrainian president took office.
In the interview, Giuliani said that after their meeting, Lutsenko broached the idea of hiring him to help deliver information about corruption in Ukraine to US authorities.
Although Giuliani worked for free for Trump, he said he concluded that it would be a potential conflict of interest for him to represent the Ukrainian prosecutor in that capacity.
Still, he said, Lutsenko also wanted to hire Giuliani to help recover Ukrainian assets.
An updated proposal was circulated a few days later, along with instructions on how to wire money to Giuliani Partners. This version made no mention of Lutsenko but instead sought $300,000 from the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice and the Republic of Ukraine. The proposal was signed by Giuliani, but not by the justice minister at the time, Pavlo Petrenko.
Asked why he signed that agreement and pursued payment, Giuliani said he considered the deal in order to learn more about the recovery of assets and money laundering in Ukraine.
"It did not come out of my desire to make a lot of money," he said, adding that his typical retainer is much higher than a few hundred thousand dollars.
"Originally, I thought I would do it. And then when I thought it over," he said, "I thought it would look bad."
The Ukrainian Ministry of Justice said Wednesday that it did not enter into any contracts or make payments to Giuliani.
In March, a document proposed that the Ukrainian justice ministry would hire Toensing and diGenova for asset recovery. But it said that the General Prosecutor’s office, run by Lutsenko, would pay $300,000 to Giuliani Partners.
Several later draft retainer agreements involved Toensing and diGenova but did not reference Giuliani.
In April, Lutsenko reappeared as a potential client in some new versions of documents, along with one of his deputies. Under the proposals, which were signed only by Toensing and printed on her law firm’s letterhead, she and diGenova would represent the officials "in connection with recovery and return to the Ukraine government of funds illegally embezzled from that country".
The proposed April agreement between Lutsenko and Toensing and diGenova also referenced another assignment: helping him meet with US officials about "the evidence of illegal conduct in Ukraine regarding the United States, for example, interference in the 2016 US elections".
Asked for comment by The Times, a spokeswoman for Lutsenko, Larisa Sarhan, on Wednesday referred to an interview Lutsenko gave to a Ukrainian news outlet confirming that aides to Giuliani had asked him to hire a lobbying company. He did not specify which company.
Lutsenko told Ukrainska Pravda he had been seeking a meeting with William Barr, the US attorney-general, and was in touch with unnamed advisors to Giuliani.
“In the end, they said the meeting would be impossible unless I hired a company that would lobby for such a meeting,” Lutsenko told the news outlet, adding that he declined to do that.
The proposals noted that Toensing and diGenova might have to register as foreign agents under U.S. law.
"We have always stated that we agreed to represent Ukrainian whistleblowers," Mark Corallo, a representative for the law firm of Toensing and diGenova, said in a statement Wednesday. Corallo said the business proposals were "unaccepted" and the lawyers never represented the Ukrainians. "No money was ever received, and no legal work was ever performed," he said.
In another agreement signed by Toensing in April, the client would have been Victor Shokin, the top Ukrainian prosecutor before Lutsenko. Shokin was ousted after critics, among them Joe Biden, said he was soft on corruption.
Shokin did not respond to a request for comment.
Shokin had also spoken with Giuliani and his associates in January, via Skype. In the call, Shokin asserted that U.S. officials applied pressure on the Ukrainian government to kill an investigation of Burisma and that he was fired after Biden accused the prosecutor of being corrupt, according to a memo summarising the discussion.
Toensing proposed that, for $25,000 a month, her firm would represent Shokin “for the purpose of collecting evidence regarding his March 2016 firing as Prosecutor-General of Ukraine and the role of Joe Biden in such firing, and presenting such evidence to U.S. and foreign authorities.”
The news of Giuliani’s efforts comes a day after Trump appeared to distance himself from Giuliani.
In an interview Tuesday, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly asked Trump if he had directed Giuliani in his Ukraine efforts. "No, I didn’t direct him, but he is a warrior, he is a warrior," Trump said.
When asked what work Giuliani was doing for him related to Ukraine, Trump replied, "You have to ask that to Rudy."
Ben Protess, William K Rashbaum and Michael Rothfeld c.2019 The New York Times Company
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.
Updated Date: Nov 28, 2019 11:28:11 IST