WASHINGTON — It is an extraordinary time in Washington, but it is more or less business as usual for Rudolph W. Giuliani.
He is a central figure in the impeachment inquiry. He is under scrutiny by federal prosecutors. But throughout the building controversy, Mr. Giuliani has continued to represent clients, broker deals and take on consulting contracts in Washington and around the world in ways that leave him subject to criticism that he is using his role as President Trump’s personal lawyer to open doors to the government and influence policy despite the questions about his own conduct.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Giuliani secured a meeting, along with some other defense lawyers, with the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division and attorneys in the fraud section. They were there to discuss a foreign bribery case for a client that Mr. Giuliani described as “very, very sensitive.”
Mr. Giuliani declined to divulge any details about the meeting, except to say it had nothing to do with legal issues facing him or Mr. Trump. Days after the meeting, it was revealed that Mr. Giuliani was under investigation himself for possible violations of foreign lobbying laws by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
Mr. Giuliani lashed out at what he said were efforts by congressional Democrats, as well as journalists and critics in the executive branch, to “destroy” his business.
“I really try very hard to be super-ethical and always legal,” he wrote in a text message in response to questions about his meeting with the Justice Department. “But I can’t publicly defend everything I do because I’m presumed guilty. If I did, my business and firm would be unable to have any clients. That’s why this malicious torrent of questions is so damaging.”
Over the last year, he has circulated widely on television defending Mr. Trump, denouncing the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference and trying to turn attention to what he says is wrongdoing by Democrats. Mr. Giuliani has meanwhile pursued a range of lucrative deals with clients around the world.
That business development push coincided with a heightened demand for back channels to Mr. Trump, who swept into office without connections to the usual array of Washington gatekeepers and power brokers. Business and political leaders — particularly in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union — were willing to pay handsomely for relationships with Trump intimates that could give them access in Washington or additional credibility and stature at home.
In one recent example that has not been disclosed in detail, Mr. Giuliani was retained this year to headline a team that was paid $425,000 to drum up American and foreign government support for a methane project in Uzbekistan that was also seeking Chinese financing, according to people familiar with the effort.
That deal came after a string of others that have come under more scrutiny as Mr. Giuliani has pursued his work on Mr. Trump’s behalf. He was paid $500,000 late last year by a company co-owned by a Ukrainian-American businessman who played a key role in facilitating the campaign to pressure Ukraine that Mr. Trump championed.
Mr. Giuliani was paid what he described in an interview as “a reasonable amount of money” in 2017 by a Ukrainian-Russian developer to create an emergency management plan for the developer’s hometown in northeast Ukraine near the Russian border.
And Mr. Giuliani’s security company this year won a contract to consult for the Bahraini government, which described him as leading a “high-level United States delegation” when he visited to pitch his services to the king in December.
While Mr. Giuliani insists he does not lobby, and says his contracts explicitly state that he will not, some of his clients and prospective clients said in interviews that they saw him as a conduit to the administration.
For instance, while Mr. Giuliani was exploring work in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, its ambassador to the United States said in an interview that his country was relying on Mr. Giuliani to act as a liaison as it sought to avoid further sanctions from the Trump administration.
He has at times sought to shape American foreign policy to benefit his clients, pressing Mr. Trump and Rex Tillerson, then the secretary of state, during an Oval Office meeting in 2017 to consider releasing a jailed client, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, as part of a potential prisoner swap with Turkey.
The scrutiny of Mr. Giuliani by federal prosecutors goes to whether some of his activities broke foreign lobbying laws. The prosecutors are looking in particular at Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine then, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one person familiar with the case has said. The question would be whether he did so at the behest of, or to benefit, Ukrainian officials with whom he worked, some of whom had been intensely critical of Ms. Yovanovitch. Mr. Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing.
Federal law requires American citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians, government officials or state-controlled companies, regardless of whether they pay for the representation. Prosecuting violations of the law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, has become a growing priority for the Justice Department.
Beyond the legal issues, the appearance that Mr. Giuliani has been profiting from his role working for the president has raised ethical questions about his conduct.
In the case of his recent meeting at the Justice Department, Mr. Giuliani declined to identify the client or subject covered, saying, “None of your business.” He said he was one of several lawyers working on the case who attended.
“It’s a completely privileged meeting,” he said, “but it was a perfectly appropriate meeting.”
Mr. Giuliani requested the meeting to discuss a case related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars Americans from bribing foreign officials, according to people familiar with the meeting. They said it was attended by Brian A. Benczkowski, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
A former federal prosecutor and mayor of New York who built an international consulting business over the last two decades, Mr. Giuliani saw the demand for his services spike in April 2018 when he joined the legal team helping Mr. Trump navigate the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Some of the people involved with Mr. Giuliani’s deals have already come under law enforcement scrutiny.
Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian-American businessman whose company paid Mr. Giuliani $500,000, was arrested last week along with three associates on campaign finance charges.
Mr. Giuliani suggested that the money he received from a company called Fraud Guarantee that is co-owned by Mr. Parnas came from investors in the company. He declined to name the investors.
“I know exactly where it came from,” he said. “It wasn’t Russian money. It was American money.”
Among the recipients of an illegal straw donation that Mr. Parnas made using money from Igor Fruman, one of the associates arrested along with him, prosecutors alleged, was a congressman who they asked to help remove Ms. Yovanovitch, the American ambassador. She was seen by Mr. Parnas as blocking his efforts with Mr. Fruman to pursue deals in the gas industry in Ukraine, and by Trump allies as blocking the partisan investigations sought by the president.
The congressman is not named in the indictment, but is Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas. He held a fund-raiser last year featuring Mr. Giuliani, which Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman planned to attend, according to an associate. Mr. Sessions lost his re-election race last year, and was subpoenaed this year for records related to his dealings with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani, according to people familiar with the request.
House impeachment investigators have subpoenaed records from Mr. Giuliani related to his work with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, as well as various Giuliani clients in Ukraine.
Impeachment investigators also have subpoenaed records from Mr. Giuliani related to a business called 45 Energy Group. The entity is a division of a company called 45 Group, which is owned by Healy E. Baumgardner, a former Trump campaign aide. The 45 Group was paid $425,000 by a foreign company seeking to build American support for the ethane/methane project in Uzbekistan.
The 45 Group paid one of Mr. Giuliani’s consulting companies some portion of that money to enlist his help.
Mr. Giuliani said he “advised on that deal” and had worked on projects “over the years” with Ms. Baumgardner, who worked on Mr. Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Mr. Giuliani agreed to travel to Uzbekistan in early May to review the project, according to two people familiar with the plans, who said the foreign company’s goal was to lend the appearance of support from Mr. Trump. But Mr. Giuliani never made the trip, and the company has since asked for money back from Ms. Baumgardner.
She said that her team “fulfilled our consulting duties,” but that she and Mr. Giuliani severed their connection to the project when she learned of the discussions with potential partners linked to the Chinese government, which could have required her and Mr. Giuliani to register as foreign agents for the project.
She said her company “adheres to all U.S. laws” and ascribes to “the highest ethics,” and she accused the Democrats who control the House of “unfairly targeting and harassing private citizens, like myself.” She said, “I won’t be bullied or intimidated by their witch hunts.”
Ken Vogel covers the confluence of money, politics and influence from Washington. He is also the author of “Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp — on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics.” @kenvogel • Facebook
Michael S. Schmidt is a Washington correspondent covering national security and federal investigations. He was part of two teams that won Pulitzer Prizes in 2018 — one for reporting on workplace sexual harassment and the other for coverage of President Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. @NYTMike
Katie Benner covers the Justice Department. She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues. @ktbenner
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