When prominent politicians become associated with the target of a criminal probe, their usual strategy is to downplay the link. Donald Trump is oddly going the opposite route with Rudy Giuliani. His lawyer is facing apparently unresolved investigations that could plausibly lead to his prosecution, yet Trump decided to put him on television in prime time. From this perch, Giuliani denounced crime and what he called Democrats’ “pro-criminal, anti-police, socialist policies.”
In case you’ve forgotten about Rudy’s legal peril, it was the subject of extensive reporting last fall. Giuliani worked with two Russian-linked figures with a series of shady business ties to undertake a combination of business and political work in Ukraine. The two partners, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have already been charged by federal authorities.
Giuliani has been reported as the subject of a federal investigation. Several, actually: an investigation by the U.S. Attorney in New York and the Department of Justice in Washington for his business dealings in Ukraine and an FBI counterintelligence investigation for his political relationship.
Trump let the Ukrainian government know Giuliani represented his interests in Ukraine. (Among other evidence, Trump told Ukraine’s president to speak to Rudy several times in their famous phone call.) Giuliani reportedly pursued hundreds of thousands of dollars in business deals with Ukrainian officials while operating in this capacity. It’s quite obviously corrupt on its face for an official to try to make business deals with a foreign government while also operating in a public capacity. If you’re a Ukrainian negotiating with Giuliani, you know perfectly well that if he walks away unhappy, your country’s relationship with its most powerful ally will be in jeopardy. There’s no such thing as a legitimate personal side deal with a representative of a powerful government you need to placate.
Parnas, Giuliani’s client, was paid for his work with Giuliani by Russian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, whom American reporters have described as a proxy agent for Vladimir Putin. Was Giuliani unaware of the source of the financing? Almost certainly not. Parnas, according to his lawyer, was instructed by Giuliani to approach Firtash and hire them as representatives to help resolve his legal problems with the Justice Department.
And that’s not all! This month, U.S. Intelligence cited Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian, as a source of Russian interference in the 2020 elections. Giuliani has been working openly with Derkach.
So, in sum, Rudy’s previous partners have been arrested and charged with federal crimes, his current partner has been named by a published intelligence document as an ongoing threat to American elections, and he was reported, as of last fall, to be the subject of a wide-ranging investigation.
Where that investigation stands, and where it will go, obviously remains to be seen. It’s possible investigators don’t find any evidence of crimes by Giuliani. It’s also possible they do, but Attorney General William Barr leans on them not to bring charges against Rudy (or at least to wait until after the election). Barr, of course, clumsily attempted to muscle the head of the office running this investigation out of his job last month. It is currently being run by his deputy.
So why has Trump decided to put a spotlight on his extremely vulnerable associate? Politico suggests Trump is just so loyal to his longtime friend. A New York Times feature suggests Trump continues to see Giuliani as “America’s Mayor,” bestriding the 9/11 rubble, rather than a potential felon.
Both those explanations could be true. Alternatively — or additionally — Trump might expect Barr to quash the case against Giuliani, at least before the election, so that he can display his Ukraine fixer as if it proves impeachment was a witch hunt. (See, if Rudy is brazenly showing off his confidence, could he have really committed any crimes on Trump’s behalf?)
It’s also possible Trump is deliberately raising Giuliani’s profile, so that Barr has a pretext not to let the department charge him with any crimes. DOJ policy discourages bringing charges that influence the election within 60 days of voting. Exactly who or what qualifies for this exemption is a matter of interpretation. But Trump and Giuliani might think that elevating Giuliani’s profile would make it easier for Barr to rule that he can’t be indicted. (Unless the DOJ moves very fast — the election is 68 days away.)
Whatever the reason, Giuliani’s appearance is confirmation of their shared belief that “law and order” has nothing to do with following the law and everything to do with maintaining a social order in which Trump and his buddies can operate with impunity.