Yesterday, Senator Lindsey Graham appeared on Face the Nation and blurted out an apparent confession of what, if true, would be a scandal of Nixonian proportions. Graham reported he had spoken with Attorney General William Barr that morning. “The Department of Justice is receiving information coming out of the Ukraine from Rudy,” he reported, explaining that Barr “told me that they’ve created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified.”
Graham explained why, in his opinion, this state of affairs is appropriate: “Rudy Giuliani is a well-known man. He’s a crime fighter. He’s loyal to the president. He’s a good lawyer.” On the contrary, he is describing an arrangement that is not only the appearance of a conflict of interest but a massive abuse on its face.
First, Giuliani is not a government official. He is representing Donald Trump as an individual, a fact he has made perfectly clear. He boasted to the New York Times last May that he was seeking to uncover “information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.” The distinction between “will” and “may” was Rudy’s open acknowledgement that he was looking out for Trump, not the U.S. government, and that the interests of the two might not be the same. He was even more clear in a letter to Ukrainian President Zelensky, which his former partner, Lev Parnas, produced. The letter stated Giuliani was representing Trump “as a private citizen, not as President of the United States”:
So, can any private citizen have their lawyer send allegations to Barr? What is this special “process” he created to let Rudy supply him with allegations? Is it a 1-800 number, a drop box, or what? Has Barr told the Democratic candidates how the process works so they can have their lawyers feed their own leads to him?
The second problem here is that Giuliani is not only representing a presidential candidate as his personal client. He is working in close contact with foreign partners who have a combination of personal interests and foreign-policy goals that do not line up with U.S. interests. He has not disclosed who is paying him for his work, but he was paid half a million dollars by Parnas, who was in turn paid by Dymtro Firtash, a Russian oligarch whose work tends to advance Russian foreign-policy interests. This raises the strong possibility that Giuliani is effectively a paid backchannel for Russian propaganda, and he now has a special line into the Department of Justice.
Third, Giuliani himself is the reported subject of a criminal investigation. Two of his partners have already been arrested, and the Department of Justice is reportedly pursuing the possibility of charges against Giuliani as well. (He allegedly pursued his own profit-making scheme in Ukraine, and seems to have committed campaign finance violations, by funneling foreign donations to Republican allies.)
Normally, people who are being investigated by the DOJ don’t have a special back channel that lets them feed allegations of their own to the attorney general. I am pretty sure that, if the DOJ opened up an investigation of me, and arrested two of my partners as they tried to leave the country with one-way tickets, I couldn’t just open up my own back channel to their boss.
Graham defends this on the grounds that Giuliani is a “crime fighter,” a label Trump himself has used. But there is no “crime fighter” badge that lets you go into private practice with a bunch of crooks, and have your allegations given special attention by the authorities. Or, at least, there shouldn’t be.
Now, just because Graham confessed this gigantic scandal doesn’t mean the confession is true. Graham is, um, a complicated figure. He might be lying about what Barr told him, or Barr might have been lying to him.
The Department of Justice refused to comment on Graham’s statement, though. This seems like the kind of transparent violation the leading law enforcement agency ought to be able to say is not happening and cannot happen. (If Hillary Clinton’s ally said in 2016 the attorney general had a special process to let her private lawyer feed dirt on Trump to the Department of Justice, there is a 100 percent chance the department would insist this was false.) That DOJ cannot even deny an obvious abuse is a sign things have gotten pretty far out of hand.
Update: Barr confirmed today that the Department has “established an intake process,” because it “has an obligation to have an open door to anybody.” But if it has an obligation to have an open door to anybody, hasn’t that open door always existed? Why did Barr have to establish a new one?