On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that federal investigators had executed a search warrant on the home and office of Rudy Giuliani, as part of an investigation into the former New York mayor and Trump presidential attorney’s dealings with Ukraine and potential foreign influence peddling.
Giuliani’s attorney confirmed the news of the search to the Wall Street Journal and “said the search warrant describes the investigation as a probe into a possible violation of foreign lobbying rules.” Investigators seized electronic devices from Giuliani’s home and office, the Associated Press reported.
The search continues Giuliani’s long-term transformation from the onetime mob-busting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York to the scandal-plagued defender of a president entangled in unprecedented combinations of civil, criminal, and impeachment investigations. The New York Times reported that prosecutors had been seeking to acquire a warrant to conduct a search on Giuliani as early as last year, but senior officials in Donald J. Trump’s Department of Justice had blocked those efforts.
The search is notable because it needed approval by senior officials in the DOJ due to the nature of searches of attorneys that might yield potential privileged materials.
“DOJ does not authorize searches of lawyer offices for materials that might include attorney-client stuff without special justification,” former prosecutor and Slate contributor Frank Bowman told me. “It has to go through main Justice unlike the usual process where any [assistant U.S. attorney] with a pen and a form can effectively issue a grand jury subpoena.”
Bowman said that the search was also notable for its implication that Attorney General Merrick Garland is not going to shy away from politically sensitive investigations into possible criminal actions by associates of the former president, or even potentially Trump himself.
“It tells us something significant about the new broom at DOJ, in that Garland is apparently prepared to have DOJ pursue the facts where they lead, including into the potentially annoying swamp that involves Rudy and all that comes with him,” Bowman said. “I do think that’s pretty significant because there’s a lot to be said on the side of leaving those sleeping dogs lie and moving on, and I think it’s interesting that he’s prepared to say that if the facts support the warrant, we’re going to issue the darn warrant.”
Giuliani’s attorney Robert Costello called the search “legal thuggery.”
“Why would you do this to anyone, let alone someone who was the associate attorney general, United States attorney, the mayor of New York City and the personal lawyer to the 45th president of the United States,” Costello said in a statement reported by the Times.
On Wednesday afternoon, Giuliani tweeted that he would be appearing on his regularly scheduled radio program “for a live statement” at 3 p.m. on WABC radio. The radio network apparently preempted that program and aired another host and Giuliani subsequently deleted the tweet.
Giuliani is reportedly under investigation for efforts to lobby on behalf of foreign officials as part of a campaign to compel Ukraine to manufacture dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden; at the time Biden was emerging as the top political rival to the former president. Trump was impeached by the House for his efforts to coerce Ukraine into smearing Biden, then acquitted by the Senate. The search warrant in the investigation into Giuliani marks the closest a criminal probe into the matter has come to touching Trump.
“To me, the more interesting question is not whether Giuliani is corrupt but whether his corruption infected the integrity of our elections,” University of California, Irvine School of Law professor and Slate contributor Richard Hasen told me. “Based on his role bolstering the big lie that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump, I would not be surprised to see proof of his earlier involvement in an attempt to circumvent laws against foreign interference in American elections.”
Giuliani helped block the 2019 impeachment probe into Trump by refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena of his communications related to the Ukraine matter. Now federal investigators apparently have taken possession of whatever of those communications may have remained on his electronic devices.
Around the time of that 2019 investigation, two of Giuliani’s colleagues—Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—were indicted for crimes related to influence peddling and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires agents representing foreign interests to register with the government. According to their attorney at the time of their arrest, Parnas and Fruman had assisted Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump.” The pair are set to go to trial in October. As Hasen wrote at the time of their arrest, the indictments showed “that foreign interference in American elections is a feature and not a bug of the Trump campaign and presidency.”
The impeachment investigation and the indictment of Parnas and Fruman centered in part on Giuliani and Trump’s efforts to remove the former Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, who was allegedly seen as an obstacle to the Trump camp’s plans to get Ukraine to act against Biden. Yovanovitch testified before Congress in 2019 that she was the victim of a “smear campaign” by Giuliani before Trump removed her from her ambassadorship in an apparent effort to induce a Ukrainian investigation into then-candidate Biden and his son Hunter. Giuliani reportedly may have also been working on behalf of Ukrainian interests who sought the ouster of Yovanovitch without registering that he was working for them, which is at the center of the current investigation.
As an eleventh hour effort to unsettle the 2020 presidential campaign, Giuliani pushed out a story about the supposedly scandalous contents of a laptop that had belonged to Hunter Biden. At the time, he acknowledged that there was perhaps a “50/50” chance that the Ukrainian official who helped Giuliani dig up Hunter Biden dirt was a “Russian spy.”
Trump’s personal attorney prior to Giuliani, Michael Cohen, had his home and office searched by federal criminal investigators in April 2018. Four months later, he pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes, saying in court that he had committed them at Trump’s behest, and he started cooperating with the government as part of various investigations into his former client.