On Wednesday, federal agents raided Rudy Giuliani’s apartment as part of an investigation into his dealings in Ukraine, which included digging up dirt on Joe Biden in that country. The investigation is being led by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. I spoke with Preet Bharara, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the district from 2009 to 2017 — and whose podcast, Stay Tuned, was recently acquired by Vox Media — about Giuliani’s predicament and where the investigation might go next.
How significant is this move by the Feds from your perspective? How much legal danger does Giuliani face here?
I think it’s extremely significant. I’m not one to say that when routine subpoenas are issued or interviews are conducted, but here you have a very prominent person — not just the former lawyer to the president of the United States but also the former U.S. Attorney of the office that’s involved in the investigation. The fact that you execute a warrant on someone’s residence does not necessarily mean there will be a charge, but given the circumstances, given the identity of Mr. Giuliani, given what you have to show to get a judge to authorize the warrant and the search — that’s a sign that he’s in deep trouble. We saw this play out with respect to Michael Cohen and to Paul Manafort. Very prominent targets, very sensitive cases. Both of those men were charged.
The two people you just cited also both went to prison. Is that where this could be going?
I used to head that office, and there are search warrants that get executed on people’s premises and their offices, and no charges follow. That happens, and Giuliani is presumed to be innocent. But what’s likely is that there has already been substantial investigation. The reporting was that they tried to execute these searches when Trump was in office, and they were stymied by higher-ups in the Justice Department. Bear in mind, they’re probably far along, given what showing they have to make of probable cause to do these searches in the first place. They likely already have a lot of Rudy Giuliani’s communications. You don’t need to have his devices in your possession to have email records; those are obtained from third parties, and they probably have all of that. It’s anyone’s guess what the charges will be and when they will come. But in my experience, when you do something like this, that you know will have a reputational effect on the subject, you’re usually thinking there’s a good likelihood of a charge.
The fact that they were trying to execute these searches under the Trump administration and were blocked from doing so seems unusual. What do you make of that?
I don’t know all the details, and I don’t know the timetable. There is an argument that it was legitimate not to permit the seeking of the warrants to go forward, given the proximity to the election and the importance of Giuliani to the election, so I’m not second-guessing that decision without more information. But the other odd thing about this is had the Justice Department allowed the searches to be done when Trump was president, and had the Southern District of New York been able to collect that evidence, and had they been able to either bring a charge or appear as if they were about to before Trump left office, Rudy Giuliani would have been a prime pardon recipient. So the perverse thing, depending on your perspective, is that it’s possible the delay by Justice cost Rudy Giuliani a Trump pardon.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.