Rudy Giuliani is currently under federal investigation for his interactions with Ukrainian officials as former President Donald Trump’s personal emissary. The probe is part of a broader inquiry into Trump affiliates’ murky motivations in Ukraine. Trump’s July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeking a public investigation into his then political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter came off as a thinly veiled quid pro quo for continued U.S. support. That call ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment; the Ukraine call that could lead to Giuliani’s demise took place three days earlier, on July 22, with senior presidential adviser Andriy Yermak. CNN published the audio Monday evening of the phone conversation that shows Giuliani pushing Yermak to announce an investigation into Biden.
The recording fills in gaps from partial accounts of the call that have been previously reported. During the 40-minute conversation, with U.S. diplomat Kurt Volker also on the line, Giuliani floated an unfounded theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia that did the meddling in the 2016 presidential election, before pushing Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation into the matter, giving it further credence. “I got information from a reliable investigator, international investigator, that there was a certain amount of activity in Ukraine during the 2016 election … to produce dirt on then-candidate Trump and Paul Manafort,” Giuliani explained to Yermak on the call. “Another one was involved with (George) Soros … Soros apparently is behind a lot of this.” Any time the Soros name is dropped, you know what comes next is going to be a doozy.
Giuliani then pivoted to what Trump wanted from the Ukrainians. “All we need from the president [Zelensky] is to say, I’m gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out. … Somebody in Ukraine’s gotta take that seriously,” Giuliani said. By that time, Trump was already concocting a narrative rewriting the history of Joe Biden, as vice president, pushing Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general for failing to prosecute corruption among elites in the country. Trump was using the move to imply that Biden was protecting his son Hunter’s business interests.* Biden’s position at the time, however, was that of the Obama administration and had bipartisan support in Congress, as well as among U.S. allies, including Europe, and global financial institutions.
At the time of the call, Ukraine was battling Russia-backed separatist troops in the east of the country and the Trump White House was attempting to bolster its leverage over the newly elected Ukrainian president by withholding U.S. military aid. On the call, Giuliani explained that announcing Biden-themed investigations would thaw any frost that the stated conspiracy theories had put on Kiev’s relationship with Trump. “That would clear the air really well,” Giuliani explained. “And I think it would make it possible for me to come and make it possible, I think, for me to talk to the president (Trump) to see what I can do about making sure that whatever misunderstandings are put aside. … I kinda think that this could be a good thing for having a much better relationship.” Giuliani also floated a potential meeting between Zelensky and Trump as a reward, something the newly elected Ukrainian president was actively seeking to bolster support as the country fended off Moscow.
The call, like many of Trump’s own calls, used the jargon of a quid pro quo while continuously sidestepping explicit transactional language. Trump World has claimed that all of this is just a president and his advisers engaging in statecraft, the simple prodding of an ally into action. The language is reminiscent of state negotiations; the crucial difference is that Trump and Giuliani were using the American government and resources as leverage to obtain a personal, political favor from Ukraine. This wasn’t a trade deal or a military agreement; this was a shakedown.
Correction, June 8, 2021: This post originally misstated that Trump accused Biden of working to protect his son Beau’s business interests. Trump accused Biden of working to protect his son Hunter’s business interests.