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FBI raid exposes Giuliani into his Ukraine drive to help Trump signals widening criminal search, experts say

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FBI raid exposes Giuliani into his Ukraine drive to help Trump signals widening criminal search, experts say

2021-05-06 05:39:20

By K. Shalini

The extraordinary FBI raid on Rudy Giuliani’s New York apartment and office has sparked debate about what criminal charges Giuliani may face and signals a widening criminal investigation into his Ukraine drive to help Trump in 2020 by sullying Joe Biden, former prosecutors say.

The high-profile nature of the raid meant it required senior Department of Justice signoff, and underscored the investigation’s seriousness and progress. It also obtained several of Giuliani’s electronic devices and thus may have harvested a rich trove of new evidence and leads for investigators to follow.

“A search warrant involving a lawyer is always a sensitive matter, and even more so when the lawyer was the president’s lawyer,” said Mary McCord, a former prosecutor who led the national security division at the DoJ at the end of the Obama administration until May 2017.

Ex-prosecutors and lawyers note that Giuliani seemed to rely heavily on several controversial Ukrainian officials, including a politician linked to Russian disinformation in his drive to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had ties to a Ukraine energy firm, to boost Trump. They also point out Giuliani played a key part in ousting the US ambassador in Kiev, suggesting the probe could be looking at whether Giuliani broke multiple laws.

Several outlets have reported that Giuliani is being investigated to determine if he broke the Foreign Agents Registration Act, requiring people who lobby the US government on behalf of foreign officials to disclose that to the justice department. The inquiry is reportedly focused on Giuliani’s role in Trump’s firing of ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in May 2019, a move that Giuliani and two close associates – indicted earlier on charges of campaign finance violations – pushed, and a central issue in Trump’s first impeachment.

The criminal inquiry into Giuliani, an ex-New York mayor and former federal prosecutor, grows out of one that in 2019 charged Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Soviet-born Giuliani associates who were heavily involved in his Ukraine projects, with illegal campaign donations from a foreign source. Parnas and Fruman are slated for trial in October.

Among the 2019 charges against Parnas and Fruman were several alleged illegal donations, including a $325,000 check to a pro-Trump Super Pac. In 2020, a second indictment charged Parnas and another associate, David Correia, with running a sham company called Fraud Guarantee, which was aimed ostensibly at protecting investors against corporate fraud, but allegedly bilked its investors out of $2m, and paid $500,000 to Giuliani for legal and technical advice. Correia pleaded guilty late last year and has been sentenced to a year in jail.

According to the 2020 indictment, a Long Island backer of Trump loaned the $500,000 to Fraud Guarantee for Giuliani’s services in 2018, the year that Giuliani began working as Trump’s personal lawyer.

It is reported that the search warrant authorizing the raid, which seized over 10 cellphones and computers, was seeking information about Giuliani’s communications with more than a dozen individuals, including ex-Ukrainian prosecutors and political figures, and trying to learn of contacts he had with US officials about Yovanovitch.

Former prosecutors say the warrant’s details suggest some potential charges against Giuliani.

Giuliani has denied lobbying for any foreign officials. In a post-raid statement, he said his “conduct as a lawyer and a citizen was absolutely legal and ethical” he told the investigators are “trying to frame him”.

Likewise, Giuliani attorney Robert Costello has called the raids “legal thuggery”, noting that Giuliani offered twice to answer prosecutors’ questions – except ones involving privileged talks with Trump – and was rebuffed. Costello, who did not return several calls seeking comment, has indicated that attorney-client privilege issues will figure in Giuliani’s defense.

Despite Giuliani’s adamant denials, DoJ veterans say the search warrant underscores the inquiry’s progress and multiple directions. “The search warrant could be a microcosm leading to several potential charges, including violations of Fara,” said Paul Pelletier, a former acting chief of DoJ’s fraud section. “And following the money could open up a pandora’s box of possible charges against Giuliani and his associates.”

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