In an exclusive interview published on Wednesday evening, Rick Perry told The Wall Street Journal he contacted Rudy Giuliani earlier this year in an effort to assist the administration’s “anti-corruption” push in Ukraine.
Although the Trump administration (and especially the president himself) continues to insist that their efforts to uncover corruption in the country involved more than simply blackmailing Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating the Bidens and the origins of the Mueller probe, there isn’t much in the way of evidence to support that assertion. That is, it’s still not clear what other “corruption” Donald Trump is looking to ferret out in Ukraine.
“Perry said he sought out Giuliani this spring at President Trump’s direction to address Mr. Trump’s concerns about alleged Ukrainian corruption”, the Journal writes, calling this yet another “sign of how closely the president’s personal lawyer worked with the administration on Ukraine policy”.
Perry, along with embattled EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and former special envoy Kurt Volker, were effectively placed in charge of official policy in the country while career diplomats were sidelined according to testimony from former officials this week and last.
Mick Mulvaney played a key role in the effort to relegate experienced operators like Marie Yovanovitch to the back burner in favor of Sondland, Volker and Perry who, rumor has it, took to calling themselves “the three amigos”.
Although Perry managed to stay largely free of scandals during his tenure in the Trump administration, he is now knee-deep in the impeachment inquiry thanks to his dealings in Ukraine. Perry stood in for Mike Pence at the inauguration for Zelensky and recent media reports detailed a purported scheme involving a cabal of Republican businessmen who allegedly touted their ties to Trump and Giuliani while attempting to orchestrate a management shakeup at Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state gas company. Earlier this year, Giuliani associates (and Trump donors) Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman pitched themselves to Naftogaz as suppliers of US natural gas. The two men were arrested on Wednesday on campaign finance charges.
Perry has denied wrongdoing. He was subpoenaed last week.
The arrest of Parnas and Fruman has put Giuliani under all manner of scrutiny. The two men served as the former mayor’s eyes and ears in Ukraine and were instrumental in digging up alleged dirt on Trump’s political rivals. Giuliani on Tuesday told Reuters he made $500,000 working for a Boca-based firm co-founded by Parnas called, amusingly, “Fraud Guarantee”.
Giuliani is under investigation by Manhattan prosecutors, and on Wednesday, CNN detailed an FBI counterintelligence probe into Rudy.
“For months, investigators looking into Giuliani’s business dealings in Ukraine have dug into everything from possible financial entanglements with alleged corrupt Ukrainian figures to counterintelligence concerns raised by some of those business ties”, CNN said, citing people briefed on the matter, and adding that “the counterintelligence part of the investigation indicates that FBI and criminal prosecutors in Manhattan are looking at a broader set of issues related to Giuliani than has been previously reported”.
To be clear, this is perilous for Trump for reasons that go well beyond the Ukraine scandal. Giuliani conducted a similar shadow diplomacy campaign in Turkey in 2017 when he was representing Reza Zarrab in a high-profile criminal case. Trump once pressed Rex Tillerson to intervene in the ongoing proceedings. On Tuesday, the US finally charged Halkbank in the same scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.
It’s also likely that Giuliani’s name will come up if (or more likely when), investigators start asking questions about what else Trump has discussed with Recep Tayyip Erdogan besides Syria, Halkbank and Zarrab. Trump’s dealings with Erdogan are in the spotlight thanks to Turkey’s military incursion in northern Syria, and Giuliani’s history with Ankara will doubtlessly come under the microscope.
Remember, Michael Flynn was implicated in a wild scheme to forcibly remove Erdogan’s archenemy Fethullah Gulen from the US and deliver him to the Turkish government in exchange for $15 million. Robert Mueller investigated that plot.
At times, Trump has appeared to be on the verge of moving forward with Gulen’s extradition, despite career officials signaling that such a move is unthinkable.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that during 2017, Giuliani pushed for Trump to extradite Gulen.
Gulen’s lawyer Reid Weingarten isn’t amused. “We have argued aggressively and I thought persuasively to both the Obama and Trump Justice Departments that the allegations against Gulen are false and that any effort to extradite him would fail legally and factually and would be an embarrassment to the United States”, Weingarten said in a statement. “After Gen. Flynn’s efforts on behalf of Turkey on this subject were exposed it is hard to believe Giuliani would follow suit”.
With all due respect, no, it’s not, Reid. It’s not “hard to believe” at all, considering Giuliani’s penchant for doing things that have landed him at the center of a criminal investigation and, according to CNN’s sources, a counterintelligence probe.
Giuliani, the Post dryly noted this week, is not registered as a foreign lobbyist.