US officials search Trumps attorney's home and office as part of Ukraine investigation
The Justice Department sharply escalated an investigation into President Donald Trump’s longtime confidant and lawyer Rudy Giuliani Wednesday by executing search warrants at his Manhattan home. The actions were part of a long-running probe into Giuliani’s dealings with a shadowy cast of characters in Ukraine during Trump’s presidency. The FBI also arrived Wednesday morning at the D.C.-area home of another attorney who had dealings with Ukrainians and remains close to Giuliani and Trump, Victoria Toensing, and took her cellphone pursuant to a search warrant, according to a person familiar with the episode. Toensing’s home was not searched and officials indicated that she is not a focus of the probe, the person said.
The raids are a highly unusual intrusion into a former president’s inner circle and a rare case of law enforcement deploying such aggressive tactics against attorneys.
Bernie Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner and a longtime friend of Giuliani’s, confirmed the search of Giuliani’s apartment to after the Times first reported the development Wednesday afternoon. He said he was on the phone with Giuliani as agents were searching his home.
“I find it extremely concerning that the mayor has been attempting to cooperate through his attorney, Mr. Costello, for almost two years and they ignored those attempts, only to show up today to execute a search warrant for materials and all they had to do was ask for it, which raises the question as to why the search warrant was executed,” Kerik said. “Why did they send seven people to his house?"
Kerik confirmed some of Giuliani’s personal electronics were among the items seized.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Toensing’s law firm said she cooperated with the FBI and described the seizure of her phone as unnecessary.
“Ms Toensing is a former federal prosecutor and senior Justice Department official,” the statement said.
“She has always conducted herself and her law practice according to the highest legal and ethical standards. She would have been happy to turn over any relevant documents. All they had to do was ask. Ms. Toensing was informed that she is not a target of the investigation.”
The high-profile moves appeared to signal the end of a months-long disagreement between federal prosecutors in Manhattan and officials at Justice Department headquarters in Washington about whether to intensify the investigation of Giuliani.
Law enforcement officials had sought approval to secure a search warrant for Giuliani’s apartment last summer, but DOJ headquarters denied them because of internal rules barring investigative moves that could sway campaign results within 60 days of the election, a source familiar with the matter confirmed. Officials again sought approval for the raid after the presidential election, but received more push-back.
President Joe Biden’s pick for attorney general, Merrick Garland, was confirmed on March 10. At a press briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the department had acted independently of any potential political interest.
"The president made that clear when he announced the nomination of Merrick Garland, and the attorney general made clear in his hearing that he would not have taken the job unless he could operate in an independent manner,” said Garland. “People should know that, and I assure you our focus here is on the address tonight."
Giuliani's son, Andrew, who is publicly mulling a run for governor of New York, told reporters that the moves against his father reeked of politics.
"Anybody, any American, whether you're red or blue, should be extremely disturbed by what happened here today, by the continued politicization of the Justice Department," Andrew Giuliani said. "This is disgusting. This is absolutely absurd."
Rudy Giuliani has spent years at the center of a saga involving the relationships between wealthy Ukrainians and American politics. While Trump was president, Giuliani worked with Ukrainians to find and distribute material about the relationship between a scandal-plagued Ukrainian energy company and Hunter Biden — Biden’s son.
Trump famously told Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky in July 2019 to get in touch with Giuliani, part of a transcript that the Trump White House made public as it sought, and failed, to defuse the controversy.
“Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Trump said on the call. “If you could speak to him that would be great.”
Trump aides later communicated that the president would withhold military aid from Ukraine unless its president promised to publicly announce an investigation of the company in question.
That episode triggered the first impeachment proceedings against Trump, which resulted in a House vote in favor of impeachment but a largely party-line acquittal in the Senate.
Igor Novikov, a former adviser to Zelensky who worked with him during Trump’s first impeachment, told POLITICO the raid of Giuliani’s home was good news.
“It’s a welcome development,” he said.
“There’s a lot more to his Ukraine endeavors than what’s been made public so far. And having directly witnessed a lot of it, Rudy Giuliani definitely needs to face the consequences.”
Months after the first impeachment trial ended, Giuliani shared material purported to be from Hunter Biden’s laptop with The New York Post.
And after Election Day, news broke that the FBI was investigating the president-elect’s son for possible financial crimes.
As Giuliani sought to uncover information that could be damaging to Biden and beneficial to Trump, the former New York mayor became associated with a controversial cast of Ukrainians.
One member of Ukraine’s parliament who he worked with on a documentary, Andrii Derkach, was also called a longtime Russian agent by the U.S. Treasury Department.
And in January of this year, Treasury sanctioned Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who also worked with Giuliani on his research of Hunter Biden. Treasury said it targeted Telizhenko “for having directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign influence in a United States election.”
Derkach has been at the forefront of foreign-based efforts to denigrate Biden. Last year, POLITICO reported that he sent packets of Kremlin-backed disinformation about the Bidens to pro-Trump lawmakers.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded that the effort was part of a foreign plot to damage Biden.
In response to POLITICO’s requests for comment on Wednesday, Derkach referred to a recent interview he gave in which he praised Giuliani as “a fairly coherent person, with the bone, a competent lawyer who, in my opinion, will come out of any situation that life prepares for him.”
He also said in the interview that Giuliani’s interests in damaging Biden overlapped with his own efforts, adding: “Our interests with the Republicans simply coincided for a certain period of time.”
The man once known as “America’s mayor” now appears to be on the brink of a federal indictment for, among other things, selling out his country by actively aiding and abetting Russia’s campaign to undermine American democracy in the 2020 election.
In addition to the far-reaching investigation of Rudy Giuliani and several of his cohorts by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, culminating in the raid on his home and office on Wednesday to seize his electronic devices, a recent U.S. intelligence report all but identified Giuliani by name as one of the lead facilitators of the Russian intelligence effort to tarnish then-candidate Joe Biden’s reputation and to influence the 2020 election again in Trump’s favor.
One very notable passage in the report stated, “A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of people linked to Russian intelligence to launder influence narratives… through US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals” tied to Trump.
The clear implication is that Giuliani has been at the top of the list of White House insiders knowingly spreading Kremlin disinformation designed to call into question the legitimacy of the 2020 election and our country’s entire democratic electoral system.
Giuliani has also been directly linked with Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker who–according to the U.S. Treasury Department and various U.S. intelligence agencies–has been an active Russian agent for over a decade.
Although Trump White House officials and Giuliani himself were repeatedly warned by the FBI that Derkach was a Russian agent and that Giuliani should avoid dealing with him, Giuliani continued to coordinate with Derkach to dig up dirt on Biden that could be used to smear him in the 2020 presidential election.
In November 2020, Giuliani even went so far as to appear with Derkach as part of a One America News "investigation" into Biden that aired in December, the same week the House of Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against the outgoing president.
Giuliani announced on air at the start of the OAN show that he was there to meet with Derkach “to get the facts” about Ukrainian collusion and interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In other words, Giuliani was on TV to lend credibility to one of Russia’s favorite disinformation projects, which was to divert attention from Russian interference in the 2016 election by falsely shifting the blame to Ukraine.
Former Senator Claire McCaskill got it just right when she told Brian Williams that Giuliani was a “treasonous traitor” who was working directly with a hostile foreign power–Russia–to undermine our democracy.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation of Giuliani had been put on hold during the later stages of the 2020 election campaign, during which time the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (which Rudy long ago led) was holding off making any final decision on the Giuliani investigation–whether to indict him or not, and if so, on what charges–until after the election.
Since Giuliani was Trump’s personal lawyer, any indictment of him just before the election would have been perceived as politically motivated.
Then, during the transition period, federal prosecutors continued to hold off taking any action against Giuliani because Giuliani was continuing to dominate the news cycles by perpetuating the myth that the election had been “stolen” from Trump through massive voter fraud and shadowy left-wing conspiracy.
The optics would not have looked good if the news cameras showed FBI agents jumping on stage to handcuff Giuliani while he was holding one of his post-election press conferences.
Giuliani’s “free hall pass” ran out, however, when President Biden was sworn in on January 20, 2021.
It then took some time for Attorney General Merrick Garland to be confirmed, and his team at the Justice Department now have a full plate of investigations and potential indictments that they are reviewing.
Near the top of the pile, however, is the Giuliani investigation, especially now that the U.S. Intelligence Community has confirmed that Giuliani disregarded warnings about his continued dealings with known Russian operatives. Two of Giuliani’s former Soviet-born operatives – Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman – have already been indicted, in part, for their connection with their efforts to assist Giuliani in digging up dirt in Ukraine on Biden and his son Hunter.
Giuliani, who has denied any wrongdoing, thus appears vulnerable to a wide range of federal crimes, including violations of the federal election and lobbying laws, as well as money laundering.
Although both Parnas and Fruman pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go to trial as soon as the COVID-19 crisis permits, their lawyers are also intensely talking to federal prosecutors about a possible deal, and the primary subject of these discussions is what credible evidence can these two accomplices deliver about Giuliani.
An important piece of the puzzle that Parnas and Furman can provide to federal prosecutors relates to the details that these two can provide about Giuliani’s dealings with Derkach and Konstantin Kilimnik, the Russian agent who was Paul Manafort’s right-hand man while Manafort was chairman of the Trump Campaign in 2016.
Even after Manafort’s indictment and arrest, there have been reports that Giuliani visited Manafort while he was still under house arrest in order to ensure that there was a seamless handoff of Manafort’s Russian contacts and connections to Giuliani so that Trump’s “back channel” communications with the Kremlin would be uninterrupted.
In short, Giuliani – like Manafort before him – appears to have been more than willing to enter into a criminal conspiracy against the United States by assisting Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 election and then to attack the legitimacy of that election with bogus claims of election fraud.
Although treason prosecutions have been few and far between throughout our country’s history, Giuliani’s shameful conduct may qualify him for such treatment.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is telling associates he had no idea his Justice Department seized phone records of two top Democratic congressional critics of then-President Donald Trump. In the hours since The New York Times broke the news on Thursday that prosecutors subpoenaed Apple metadata from Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA), former Attorney General Sessions has privately told people that he wasn’t aware of, nor was he briefed on, the reported data seizures while he led the Trump DOJ. This week’s revelations were a surprise to him, according to a source familiar with the matter, and another person close to Sessions.
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The US justice department’s internal watchdog launched an investigation on Friday after revelations that former president Donald Trump’s administration secretly seized phone data from at least two House Democrats as part of an aggressive leaks inquiry related to the Russia investigation into Trump’s conduct.
Donald Trump called Joe Biden a “mental retard” during the 2020 election, a new book says, but was reluctant to attack him too strongly for fear the Democrats would replace him with Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama. Biden went on to beat Trump by more than 7m in the popular vote and by 306-232 in the electoral college, a result Trump deemed a landslide when it was in his favor against Clinton in 2016.