Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani during a press conference, November 19, 2020
UPDATE, APRIL 30:
The FBI warned the Trump White House in late 2019 that he was the target of a Russian operation pushing disinformation to damage President Joe Biden, then a Democratic Presidential candidate.
“People familiar with the matter” said the FBI also issued warnings about members of Congress and the hard-right attack outlet One America News.
The warnings were separate from the federal investigation that led to search warrants being executed on Giuliani’s home and office on Wednesday.
Despite the FBI’s concerns, Giuliani persisted with his mission to discredit Biden, including a December 2019 trip to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. He met Andriy Derkach, considered “an active Russian agent” by the US Government and sanctioned for the “influence campaign” against the Democratic candidate.
Giuliani was accompanied by a team from One America, which produced a “documentary” series based on the trip.
The FBI also reportedly warned Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a prominent supporter of Donald Trump’s “stolen election” falsehood, in August 2020.
Johnson insisted on Thursday that the meeting was not a “defensive briefing” and was “useless and unnecessary”. He proclaimed that the FBI was seeking “to offer the biased media an opportunity to falsely accuse me of being a tool of Russia despite warnings”.
But in December 2019, Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Johnson and Chuck Grassley — the chairs of the Senate Homeland Security and Finance Committees — that their targeting of Biden could help Russia feed chaos and distrust in the US.
Giuliani turned to Fox’s hard-right polemicist Tucker Carlson to protest against the warrant. In confused statements, he claimed that the FBI refused to take “Hunter Biden’s hard drives” — a central component of the disinformation campaign against Joe Biden:
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The Federal Bureau of Investigation searches the home and office of Rudy Giuliani, over Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to smear Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2019.
FBI agents executed search warrants about 6 a.m. on Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer and the point man in the 10-month campaign pursuing “dirt” on Biden through disinformation and threats of blackmail, with suspension of US military aid, against the Ukrainian Govenrment.
The agents took away computers and electronic equipment. A grand jury subpoena was served onGiuliani’s executive assistant.
Federal prosecutors confirmed last year that they have opened an investigation into Giuliani. Two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested in October 2019 over plans to direct funds from foreign governments “to US politicians while trying to influence US-Ukraine relations”.
The charges were connected to the effort to the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, seen as an obstacle to the Trump-Giuliani campaign. Trump abruptly recalled her from Kyiv in May 2019.
On July 25, Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to make a public statement deriding Biden, and implicitly referred to the freeze of US military aid to Kyiv if Zelenskiy did not comply.
The revelation of the phone call led to Trump’s first impeachment. He was protected by Republican Senators from conviction in January 2020.
Warrants End Months of Trump-Era Blockade
The warrants indicated that investigators are seeking evidence on Giuliani’s communications with Ukrainian officials, including former Petro Poroshenko, and two former prosecutors helped Giuliani pursue Biden and his son Hunter, who was a board member with Ukraine’s largest private gas company Burisma.
FBI agents in Washington D.C. also searched the home of Victoria Toensing, a lawyer close to Trump and Giuliani involved with several Ukrainians. She represented Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, under US indictment, whom Giuliani approached for help to smear Biden.
Giuliani, who led Trump’s failed legal and disinformation effort to overturn President Biden’s victory last November, denied any wrongdoing on Thursday. He claimed the search warrants were a “corrupt double standard” by the Justice Department because they ignored “blatant crimes” by Democrats, including 2016 Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and President Biden.
Giuliani’s lawyer Robert Costello proclaimed, “What they did today was legal thuggery.”
The US Attorney’s office in Manhattan and the FBI tried for month to secure Justice Department approval for the search warrants. They were blocked during the Trump Administration by senior political appointees in the Justice Department.
At least one of the search warrants said Giuliani may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, indicating that he represented Ukrainian actors as well as Trump.
Prosecutors are looking at Giuliani’s relationship with former Ukraine Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who assisted in the effort to smear Biden and remove Ambassador Yovanovitch.
Giuliani reportedly discussed consulting business, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, from Lutsenko.
A draft retainer agreement was never executed, and Giuliani claims he turned down the deal.
Toensing also met with Lutsenko, and planned to travel to Kyiv in May 2019 with Giuliani. The trip was cancelled after criticism of Giuliani’s meddling in the affairs of a foreign country.
A spokesman for Toensing’s law firm said she “was informed that she is a not a target of the investigation”.