Giuliani’s Tangled Role With Trump Skirts Conflicts, Tests Laws

(Bloomberg) -- Sometimes Rudy Giuliani says he’s “private counsel” to private citizen Donald Trump. Other times the president says Giuliani is acting on the White House’s behalf. And on occasion, he’s a political surrogate hitting the trail for Trump’s 2020 campaign.

Giuliani’s overlapping efforts helped trigger Trump’s impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House and are sure to come up during the impeachment trial in the Republican-held Senate that starts in earnest next week.

Giuliani’s Tangled Role With Trump Skirts Conflicts, Tests Laws

Complicating it all, Giuliani says he’s working for Trump at no charge, but he continues to represent law clients domestically and internationally, deliver paid speeches and perform consulting work. Whether everything Giuliani did was legal is a separate issue that will fall to the Justice Department.

What has Giuliani done on behalf of Trump as president?

Most prominently, he spearheaded the president’s efforts in Ukraine to uncover corruption and political dirt on Trump’s opponents. “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great,“ Trump told Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in the now-famous July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed his counterpart to investigate allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Biden’s son, Hunter.

That call, and evidence that Trump held up U.S. aid to Ukraine, prompted the House impeachment investigation of Trump.

One of Giuliani’s main tasks on Trump’s behalf was getting Marie Yovanovitch recalled as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, on the grounds that she had stood in the way of investigating the Bidens. (Yovanovitch has denied that; no evidence has emerged showing wrongdoing by either Biden.) Also, U.S. prosecutors say two associates of Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, promised to raise money for former Republican Representative Pete Sessions, then enlisted his help in ousting Yovanovitch.

Giuliani’s Tangled Role With Trump Skirts Conflicts, Tests Laws

More details on Giuliani’s role are dripping out as Trump’s impeachment trial begins in the Senate, including documents illuminating Giuliani’s work with Parnas, who helped him dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine. “I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas said in an interview on MSNBC.

How else does Giuliani help Trump?

He’s a frequent guest on television talk shows attacking Biden and defending Trump, although his bombast has sometimes backfired. He wrote a column praising Trump’s “brilliant” strategy to contain Iran.

In a three-part documentary he helped prepare for the Trump-friendly One America News Network, he shared unsubstantiated accusations of bribery and corruption against the Bidens and support for the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. If true, that would have undermined the foundation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian involvement in the campaign that resulted in Trump’s election. OANN, owned by the wealthy Herring family, has a fraction of the cable audience of top-rated Fox News.

Calling Giuliani a “very straight shooter” and “one of the great crime-fighters in the history of our country,” Trump told reporters Thursday that having him at his side “has been a great honor for me.”

What is Giuliani’s official job?

In the almost two decades since he served two terms as mayor of New York City, Giuliani has started multiple companies -- including Giuliani Partners, Giuliani Security & Safety, and Giuliani Capital Advisors -- to advise clients on such matters as bankruptcy, security and policing strategy. Before he became Trump’s personal attorney but after Trump became president, Giuliani signed a one-year consulting contract with the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. “He has a very positive attitude toward Ukraine, so he undertook to lobby for us,” said the man who paid Giuliani, developer Pavel Fuks.

Is he allowed to do all this at the same time?

Giuliani’s work for Trump appears to exist in a legal gray area, largely because both men insist Giuliani is representing Trump the private citizen, not the president or candidate. Federal ethics laws are mostly silent on officeholders receiving personal legal services. But past presidents have paid market rates for personal attorneys, said Virginia Cantor, chief ethics counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The group filed a complaint in November with the Justice Department and the federal Office of Government Ethics arguing that Trump should disclose the value of any legal services he received on his annual financial disclosure.

Working for the president for free could create a conflict of interest if Giuliani has other clients with business before the federal government, Cantor said. “If President Trump wasn’t paying for these legal services, someone was paying large fees to allow Giuliani to be in position to provide these services,” she said.

And the mixing of Giuliani’s work for the president with his efforts on behalf of other foreign clients has obscured the source of his income and, especially, how he is paying expenses for his Trump-related trips abroad. Election laws limit what volunteers can spend out of their own pockets on travel.

Federal prosecutors are looking at Giuliani’s business dealings and whether he violated foreign lobbying laws.

Who pays for Giuliani’s trips?

In the case of Giuliani’s December trip to Ukraine to produce the pro-Trump documentary, One America News Network said it paid about $100,000 to cover travel and hotel expenses for Giuliani and its reporters.

On a trip in August to Madrid, where he and Parnas pressed a top Ukrainian presidential aide for an investigation of the Bidens, Giuliani was hosted by a Venezuelan energy executive, Alejandro Betancourt López, who had hired him to fight off a U.S. investigation into alleged money laundering and bribery. Giuliani said that he happened to be going to Madrid already for “business and vacation.” He told Reuters that he was there to work on behalf of two paying clients, whom he wouldn’t name. He later told the Daily Beast that the Madrid trip was three-fourths business and one-fourth personal, adding, “The Trump part would be considered personal because I don’t get paid for representing the president.”

Does Giuliani’s work make him a foreign lobbyist?

Some Democrats and ethics watchdogs have questioned whether Giuliani’s overseas work should be defined as lobbying and require him to disclose his activities with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That law requires individuals who try to influence U.S. policies or public opinion on behalf of foreign entities to disclose detailed information on their clients, activities, fees and expenses. Giuliani hasn’t registered as a foreign agent and says he doesn’t need to. In the case of his consulting contract with the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Giuliani says his work focused on emergency management and he never lobbied the U.S. government on the city’s behalf.

He has also denied that his 2017 effort to broker a swap of Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab for American pastor Andrew Brunson should be classified as lobbying because Zarrab was one of his legal clients and his efforts did not come at the behest of the Turkish government.

What legal trouble could Giuliani face?

Giuliani associates Parnas and Fruman, U.S. citizens who were born in the Soviet Union, were arrested in October and charged with laundering campaign donations and funneling foreign money to U.S. political campaigns. They have pleaded not guilty. Federal law requires donors to disclose their identities when making a contribution, and prohibits foreign nationals from giving money.

Giuliani’s Tangled Role With Trump Skirts Conflicts, Tests Laws

After their arrests, Bloomberg News reported that federal prosecutors had been investigating Giuliani for possible campaign finance violations and a failure to register as a foreign agent as part of a broad probe into his financial dealings.

Also, Parnas and Fruman reportedly used their connections to Trump and Giuliani to replace the head of a major Ukrainian gas company to facilitate a deal that would have benefited GOP donors and Trump friends. The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors are investigating whether Giuliani would personally profit from a natural gas business and pipeline from Poland to Ukraine advanced by Parnas and Fruman. Giuliani told the Journal that he had no knowledge of the energy company, and no personal interest in any business in Ukraine.

What does Giuliani say?

He says he has done nothing illegal or wrong. He says he and his associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to obtain damaging information about Yovanovitch and the Bidens in an effort to root out corruption in Ukraine and find exculpatory evidence for Trump during Mueller’s investigation. “I have never represented a client in circumstances where I had to register as a foreign agent,” Giuliani said in an interview in October. He said his work in foreign countries falls into two categories: security consultant and criminal defense lawyer.

What do the experts say?

Larry Noble, former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, said there are inherent conflicts in Giuliani’s many roles. “If he’s working for the president personally, under what authority are government people being asked to listen to him?” Noble said. “And under what situations does the president’s private lawyer look into campaign issues and claim they’re not campaign-related?”

Under federal election law, Giuliani can volunteer as much of his time as he likes for a campaign but can’t have third parties subsidize that work. “If somebody else is paying for it, it’s a campaign contribution,” Noble said, “and if a foreign national is paying for it, it’s illegal.”

But Craig Engle, a political lawyer with Arent Fox, said Giuliani’s representation of Trump is in line with unpaid representation of other high-profile government officials. When Senator Mitch McConnell sued the Federal Election Commission in 2002 to challenge portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, he was represented by counsel on such a pro bono basis. McConnell didn’t disclose the value of the services he received as a gift or as a campaign contribution.

Federal gift rules require federal employees to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest in accepting gifts, and guidance offered to employees warns about accepting items costing less than $20 if the giver is someone who could benefit from access to the recipient. But that doesn’t apply to the president.

“The president is a unique individual legally in the United States government,” Engle said.

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