How Rudy Giuliani Opened the Door to the Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry
The former New York City mayor and prosecutor has been sniffing out corruption, real or not, for many years.
In Gordon Sondland’s explosive testimony on Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told impeachment investigators how he had come to work with Rudy Giuliani at the “express direction” of President Donald Trump.
The president’s personal lawyer has loomed large throughout the impeachment hearings, although House lawmakers have not had the opportunity to interview Giuliani themselves. During closed-door and public testimony, current and former senior U.S. officials expressed their concerns about Giuliani’s efforts to carve out a back channel to Ukraine, circumventing a cadre of experienced career officials at the State Department and National Security Council.
How and why Giuliani found himself spearheading a campaign of shadow diplomacy is not yet clear, but his ties to Ukraine extend well beyond his recent efforts to persuade the Ukrainians to open select corruption investigations that could stand to aid Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. His work overseas while simultaneously serving as the president’s personal lawyer has raised eyebrows, even before the details of the whistleblower complaint became publicly known.
Giuliani’s links to Ukraine appear to stem from his reputation as a fighter against the scourge of corruption in the United States. From his earliest days as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Giuliani gained national eminence by prosecuting prominent businessmen for white-collar crime, including Wall Street titans such as Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. He ran for mayor of New York City on that reputation, and after he left office in 2001, Giuliani sought to capitalize on his image as the mayor who cleaned up the city and provided a steady hand in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He founded a number of eponymous companies, including the security and management consulting firm Giuliani Partners, as well as Giuliani Security & Safety. His consulting work took him around the world and often to the former Soviet Union.
There, too, Giuliani capitalized on his reputation as a corruption fighter, and it may well be that in that capacity he persuaded Trump that he had ferreted out corruption in the form of a Ukrainian energy company named Burisma, which had brought former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden onto its board, and supposed connections between Ukraine and the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Although a parade of witnesses, including former Trump National Security Council expert Fiona Hill, testified that there was nothing to Giuliani’s claims, the president may not have been convinced.
As Trump told Fox News on Friday, the day after the public impeachment hearings ended, Giuliani “was the greatest crime fighter probably in the last 50 years.” The president added: “When you’re dealing with a corrupt country … he’s got credentials because of his reputation. … When Rudy Giuliani goes there, and you hear it’s a corrupt country, I mean, it means a lot.”
Giuliani’s first known trip to the region after he left the mayor’s office came in September 2004 as Russia was reeling in the wake of the Beslan massacre, when a school full of children was taken hostage by Chechen rebels. He visited Moscow and the industrial city of Magnitogorsk, where he had a number of meetings with Viktor Rashnikov, the billionaire chairman of Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, according to the New York Times.
The trip, like many of Giuliani’s visits to the region, was organized by TriGlobal Strategic Ventures, an international business consulting company that appears to work extensively in Russia and Ukraine.
In 2008, Giuliani held a news conference in Times Square with the Ukrainian boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko, who was running for mayor of Kyiv at the time. Giuliani said his firm had been approached by Klitschko’s team, which was seeking advice on how to combat corruption in the Ukrainian capital. The event is detailed on the website of TriGlobal, and the company’s president, Vitaly Pruss, told NBC News that he was the one who had made the connection between Giuliani and Klitschko’s team. Klitschko, who was elected mayor of Kyiv in 2014, again met with Giuliani in New York City in 2015.
Giuliani’s business interests in Ukraine have come under scrutiny by the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment investigation. Giuliani’s communications with Klitschko, TriGlobal, and a host of other Ukrainians have been subpoenaed by lawmakers, although he has thus far refused to comply. Among the communications requested by House impeachment investigators are the details of any contracts, gifts, or funds exchanged with the Ukrainian real estate developer Pavel Fuks.
In May 2017, representatives of Giuliani Security & Safety visited the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and Giuliani himself visited the city in November that year. His work in the city was reportedly paid for at least in part by Fuks to consult with the city on security and emergency management, according to the U.S. news outlet Mother Jones. Fuks was born in Kharkiv but made his fortune in Moscow, where he claims to have negotiated with Trump personally over his plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In November 2018, Fuks told the Ukrainian news outlet Novoye Vremya that he was also working with Giuliani to establish a U.S.-based investment support office for Kharkiv.
Fuks is reported to have paid $200,000 for what he thought would be VIP tickets to Trump’s inauguration but ended up filing a lawsuit against the Republican fundraiser Yuri Vanetik after the tickets failed to materialize. It is illegal for foreign nationals to directly buy tickets for inaugural events, in a bid to limit opportunities for foreign influence. Trump’s inaugural fund has come under scrutiny from federal prosecutors examining whether any illegal foreign donations made their way into the president’s inaugural committee or a pro-Trump super PAC, according to the New York Times.
It’s still unclear when exactly Giuliani’s business interests in Ukraine took a political turn as he sought to mine the country for information that could harm Trump’s political rivals. Giuliani himself has told Foreign Policy and other outlets that it began in November 2018, when he was approached by a private investigator with whom he had previously worked at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The investigator—whom Giuliani declined to name—passed on allegations from a Ukrainian client who believed he had some damning information about Trump’s rivals.
The tip appears to have been the flap of the butterfly’s wings that, almost exactly a year later, has led to a full-scale impeachment investigation. Giuliani was aided in his search for information by two Soviet-born businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were indicted for campaign finance violations relating to a separate case in October.
It was Parnas and Fruman who, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, set up a Skype call with Giuliani and former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in late 2018. Giuliani has long alleged that Joe Biden improperly sought to see Shokin removed from office in a bid to protect his son Hunter Biden, but no evidence has come to light to support this.
The duo also reportedly introduced Giuliani to Shokin’s replacement, Yuriy Lutsenko, the former Ukrainian prosecutor general whose explosive but unfounded claims to the Washington news site the Hill in March of this year became the first public articulation of the conspiracy theories that Trump would later raise in his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July, triggering the whistleblower complaint.