Firing of U.S. Ambassador Is at Heart of Giuliani Investigation

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Firing of U.S. Ambassador Is at Center of Giuliani Investigation

Two years ago, Rudolph W. Giuliani finally got what he was looking for in Ukraine: the Trump administration removed the U.S. ambassador there, a woman Mr. Giuliani believed had hampered his efforts, the Biden family to pollute.

It was a Pyrrhic victory. Mr Giuliani’s urge to oust Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch not only became the focus of the first impeachment trial against President Donald J. Trump, but has now landed Mr Giuliani on the crosshairs of a federal criminal investigation into whether he broke lobbying- Laws according to information provided by persons with knowledge of the matter.

The long-running investigation reached a turning point this week when FBI agents seized phones and computers from Mr. Giuliani’s Manhattan home and office. At least one of the arrest warrants looked for evidence related to Ms. Yovanovitch and her role as ambassador.

In particular, federal agencies should search the electronic devices for communications between Mr Giuliani and Trump administration officials about the ambassador before she was removed in April 2019, one of the people added.

The warrant also sought its communication with Ukrainian officials who partnered with Ms. Yovanovitch, including some of the same people who at the time helped Mr. Giuliani seek harmful information about President Biden, who was then a candidate, and his family. said the people.

For the investigators, it is a key question: Did Mr. Giuliani persecute Ms. Yovanovitch solely on behalf of Mr. Trump, who was his client at the time? Or did he do so on behalf of the Ukrainian officials who wanted her removed for their own reasons?

It is against federal law to lobby the United States government on behalf of foreign officials without registering with the Department of Justice, and Mr Giuliani has never done so.

Even if the Ukrainians did not pay Mr. Giuliani, prosecutors could theory that they were providing help by collecting information about the Bidens in exchange for their removal.

One of the search warrants for Mr Giuliani’s phones and computers specifically stated that the possible crimes, according to those with knowledge of the matter, included violations of the law, the Law on Registration of Foreign Agents.

Mr Giuliani has long denied that he worked at the behest of the Ukrainians or that he accepted money from them, and he has said that he did not specifically ask Mr Trump to dismiss the ambassador.

Mr. Giuliani’s work to oust Ms. Yovanovitch was part of a larger effort to attack Joseph R. Biden Jr. and tie him to the corruption in Ukraine, much of which was happening in public.

But intelligence officials have long warned that Mr Giuliani’s work in Ukraine was entangled in Russia’s efforts to spread disinformation about the Biden family in order to weaken Mr Trump’s electoral rival.

The FBI stepped up its warnings about disinformation in Russia ahead of the 2020 election, including a defensive briefing to Mr. Giuliani, and warned him that some of the information he shared with the Biden family was due to the disinformation efforts of Russian intelligence agencies spread, affected a person who was informed of the matter.

The FBI’s defense intelligence is given by its counterintelligence officers and is separate from the criminal investigation into Mr. Giuliani’s activities. The defensive briefing was reported by the Washington Post earlier Thursday.

But the warnings to Mr Giuliani are not surprising. Senior officials warned Mr Trump in late 2019 that Mr Giuliani was promoting Russia’s disinformation, and intelligence services warned the American public that Moscow intelligence services were trying to hurt Mr Biden’s chances of voting by providing information about his family’s work in the Ukraine spread.

On Wednesday, after FBI agents seized his equipment, Mr. Giuliani again denied any wrongdoing. He said the search warrants exhibited “corrupt double standards” on the part of the Justice Department, accusing the Justice Department of ignoring “apparent crimes” by Democrats, including Mr Biden.

When asked about the search warrants Thursday, Mr Biden told NBC’s “Today” show that he “had no idea this was going on”. He said he had pledged not to interfere in Justice Department investigations.

Mr Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello, said his client had offered to answer the prosecutor’s questions twice, with the exception of those relating to Mr Giuliani’s privileged communications with the former president.

The arrest warrants do not accuse Mr Giuliani of wrongdoing, but underline his legal danger: they indicate that a judge has found that investigators likely have reason to believe that a crime has been committed and that they are seeking evidence of that crime would result.

The investigation arose out of a case against two Soviet-born businessmen who helped Mr. Giuliani find harmful information about Mr. Biden and his son Hunter. At the time, Hunter Biden was serving on the board of directors of an energy company doing business in Ukraine.

In 2019, Manhattan businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were indicted along with two others for crimes related to campaign finance. A trial is planned for October.

During the investigation into Giuliani, federal prosecutors focused on the steps he took against Ms. Yovanovitch. Mr Giuliani has confirmed that he provided Mr Trump with detailed information about his allegation that it was obstructing investigations that could benefit Mr Trump and that Mr Trump put him in touch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

After several abandoned attempts to remove her, Ms. Yovanovitch was finally removed as ambassador in late April 2019 and was told that the White House had lost confidence in her.

Mr Giuliani said in an interview in late 2019 that he believed that the information he provided to the Trump administration contributed to Ms. Yovanovitch’s dismissal. “You’d have to ask them,” he said of the Trump officials. “But they relied on it.” He added that he had never specifically asked for her to be fired.

Prosecutors have also investigated Mr Giuliani’s relationship with Ukrainians who had conflicts with Ms. Yovanovitch, according to knowledgeable people. As an ambassador, Ms. Yovanovitch had targeted corruption in Ukraine and brought her some enemies.

The investigation focused on one of her opponents, Yuriy Lutsenko, who at the time was the top prosecutor in Ukraine. At least one of the search warrants for Mr Giuliani’s equipment mentioned Mr Lutsenko and some of his staff, including one who introduced him to Mr Giuliani.

The relationship had the potential to become symbiotic.

Mr. Lutsenko wanted Ms. Yovanovitch removed and as the President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Giuliani was able to help. Mr. Giuliani wanted negative information about the Bidens and, as the chief prosecutor in Ukraine, Mr. Lutsenko would have had the authority to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden’s dealings with the energy company. Mr. Giuliani also viewed Ms. Yovanovitch as insufficiently loyal to the President and as an obstacle to the investigation.

Mr. Lutsenko hinted at a possible consideration in text messages released during the impeachment proceedings. In March 2019, Mr Lutsenko wrote in a Russian-language text message to Mr Parnas that he had found evidence that could harm the Bidens. Then he added, “And you can’t even overthrow an idiot,” in an obvious reference to Ms. Yovanovitch, followed by a frowned emoji.

At around the same time, Mr. Giuliani was in negotiations to also represent Mr. Lutsenko or his agency, as the New York Times previously reported. Draft retention agreements requested Mr. Giuliani to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the Ukrainian government recover money it believed had been stolen and stowed overseas.

Mr Giuliani signed one of the retention agreements but said he ultimately did not take over the job as representing Mr Trump at the same time could create a conflict of interest.

When Ms. Yovanovitch testified during Mr. Trump’s impeachment negotiations in late 2019, she informed lawmakers that she had minimal contact with Mr. Giuliani during her tenure as ambassador.

“I don’t know Mr Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she said. “But people who have been mentioned in the press and who have contact with Mr. Giuliani may have believed that their personal and financial ambitions were affected by our anti-corruption policies in Ukraine.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed to the coverage.