Rudy Giuliani is in an enormous amount of trouble. His two partners, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have already been arrested, and Giuliani himself is under investigation. We learned last week that the investigation concerns his own potential profit. Over the last two days, a flood of leaks has detailed the potential crimes he may have committed. And today, the New York Times and Washington Post both have new stories about Giuliani pursuing business deals with Ukrainian government officials at the same time he was lobbying them on Trump’s behalf. All this misconduct is on top of the basic political shakedown Trump is getting impeached over.
Some of the draft agreements Giuliani was trying to strike included deals for Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, two Republican lawyers close to Trump. There does not appear to be much room for Giuliani to deny any of these reports. His “discussions with Ukrainian officials proceeded far enough along that he prepared at least one retainer agreement, on his company letterhead, that he signed,” reports the Times.
The first and most important thing to understand about these deals is that there is no possible set of mitigating circumstances that might make the negotiations remotely ethical. Ukraine was and is desperate for the support of the American government, because it has been fending off a low-grade Russian invasion for years and fighting to maintain its territorial integrity against Vladimir Putin’s barely disguised ambition to swallow it back into the Russian empire. Trump has repeatedly urged Ukrainian officials — both through his intermediaries, and in a phone call with its president — to deal with Giuliani.
The entire Trump administration spent months making it clear to Ukraine that getting diplomatic support (in the form of a desperately wanted presidential meeting) and military aid meant satisfying Trump, and satisfying Trump meant satisfying Rudy. Under these conditions, there is no way for Guiliani to negotiate a fair side deal. Any deal he makes is inherently a shakedown.
There is also no doubt that Giuliani acted explicitly on Trump’s orders. That does not mean everything Giuliani did was directed by Trump. But there is redundant proof that Trump empowered Giuliani to represent him in Ukraine. Without Trump’s explicit imprimatur, Giuliani had no opportunity to make any of the side deals he was trying to cut.
It is possible Giuliani was trying to wet his beak without Trump’s knowledge. That, however, seems unlikely. Giuliani’s partners were also hooked in with Trump. One Giuliani partner, Lev Parnas, met Trump on several occasions, and says the president pulled him aside last year and specifically directed his actions. Today’s revelation that diGenova and Toensing were included in one of the deals is also telling. The more people close to Trump who were involved in Rudy’s side shakedown, the less likely it is they were all acting without his permission.
When the scandal originally broke, Chris Wallace had an interesting report that linked Giuliani to Toensing and diGenova. Pay special attention to the last line:
FOX News has learned the president’s private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was not acting alone in trying to get dirt from Ukrainian officials on 2020 rival Joe Biden. Two high-profile Washington lawyers, Joe diGenova, who’s been a fierce critic of the Democratic investigation, and his wife Victoria Toensing, were working with Giuliani to get oppo research on Biden.
According to a top U.S. official, all three were working off the books apart from the administration. The only person in government who knows what they were doing is President Trump. [italics added.]
The final factor to keep in mind here is that Trump is notoriously, even obsessively, averse to people making money off his name. Yet that is exactly what his allies were doing in Ukraine. Now, it is possible that Trump considered Giuliani’s “free” legal representation — a loss leader that enabled Rudy to monetize his lucrative relationship with the president of the United States — adequate payment. It is also possible Giuliani promised to kick up a share of his proceeds to the boss.
Trump, using outside Russian military pressure as his muscle, empowered a ring of shady operators to jack up a U.S. ally for a combination of political and financial gain. Wherever this goes, it is already one of the worst scandals in the history of the American presidency.