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Westlake Legal Group > Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates

Amid Show of Support, Trump Meets With Giuliani Over Lunch

WASHINGTON — President Trump had lunch on Saturday with Rudolph W. Giuliani amid revelations that prosecutors were investigating Mr. Giuliani for possible lobbying violations, and speculation that his position as the president’s personal lawyer was in jeopardy.

The lunch, at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Sterling, Va., was among several shows of the president’s support for Mr. Giuliani on Saturday. They seemed meant to tamp down questions about Mr. Giuliani’s status with a client famous for distancing himself from advisers when they encounter legal problems of their own.

Mr. Trump, during a Saturday night appearance on Fox News, called Mr. Giuliani “a great gentleman” and said he is still his lawyer. “I know nothing about him being under investigation. I can’t imagine it,” he told the host Jeanine Pirro.

Before the lunch, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump spoke on the phone, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Also beforehand, Mr. Trump praised Mr. Giuliani on Twitter as a “legendary ‘crime buster’ and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC.”

Mr. Giuliani “may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer,” the president’s tweet continued.

And Mr. Trump dismissed the investigation into Mr. Giuliani as a “a one sided Witch Hunt” carried out by the “Deep State.”

The president echoed language he had used to minimize the special counsel’s investigation into whether he or his campaign worked with Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to try to help him win the presidency.

Mr. Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and New York mayor, was retained last year to help defend the president in the special counsel’s investigation.

But his efforts to undermine the investigation’s origins and its conclusions helped lead Mr. Trump into an impeachment inquiry. The inquiry focuses on whether Mr. Trump, with assistance from Mr. Giuliani, abused the presidency to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations for his political benefit, including into whether Ukrainians played a role in spurring the inquiry of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are now investigating whether Mr. Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine may have run afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, The New York Times reported on Friday.

Mr. Giuliani has defended his work in Ukraine and said it did not require him to register under FARA.

Mr. Trump was not enamored with the negative publicity around Mr. Giuliani, people close to the president said, but he remains loyal because of his lawyer’s willingness to aggressively defend him during the special counsel’s inquiry.

It is not clear what was discussed at the lunch.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_162594609_dbbb74c6-c935-4cf1-b213-9f719b21b78c-articleLarge Amid Show of Support, Trump Meets With Giuliani Over Lunch Ukrainian-Americans Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Mueller, Robert S III Giuliani, Rudolph W Biden, Joseph R Jr

The presidential motorcade leaving the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., on Saturday.CreditCheriss May for The New York Times

The lunch is unlikely to end speculation over whether the president will ultimately consider Mr. Giuliani a liability. Another of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers, Michael D. Cohen, met privately with the president in Florida in March 2018, a month before the F.B.I. searched his home, hotel room and office. Mr. Trump publicly embraced Mr. Cohen, until it became clear he might speak against the president.

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked over text message about the significance of the lunch, Mr. Giuliani directed a reporter to Mr. Trump’s show of support on Twitter.

He said his relationship with Mr. Trump was “the same as ever,” but declined to answer additional questions, explaining he was watching the New York Yankees’ playoff baseball game against the Houston Astros.

The two people familiar with the discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani said they believed it would be difficult to prove that Mr. Giuliani violated FARA.

The law requires American citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians or government officials, regardless of whether they paid for the representation.

Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged that he and two of his associates, who were arrested on campaign finance charges on Wednesday, worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including a former American ambassador to Ukraine and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden.

Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

But Mr. Giuliani said that he had undertaken that work on behalf of Mr. Trump, not the Ukrainian prosecutors. He said he had in fact turned down an offer to represent one of the prosecutors because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president.

What concerns some of Mr. Trump’s advisers more than a possible FARA prosecution related to his Ukraine work is that Mr. Giuliani, who has been representing the president pro bono, is facing a contentious and potentially costly divorce from his third wife, Judith Nathan, and that he may have taken on clients overseas who could be problematic for him with prosecutors.

While Mr. Trump has been reluctant to separate from Mr. Giuliani, some of his advisers hope he will. They remain concerned about Mr. Giuliani’s public commentary about the president and the Ukraine issue.

Kenneth P. Vogel reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York. Annie Karni contributed reporting from Washington.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

In Show of Support, Trump Meets With Giuliani Over Lunch

WASHINGTON — President Trump had lunch on Saturday with Rudolph W. Giuliani amid revelations that prosecutors were investigating Mr. Giuliani for possible lobbying violations, and speculation that his position as the president’s personal lawyer was in jeopardy.

The lunch, at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Sterling, Va., was among several shows of the president’s support for Mr. Giuliani on Saturday. They seemed meant to tamp down questions about Mr. Giuliani’s status with a client famous for distancing himself from advisers when they encounter legal problems of their own.

Mr. Trump, during a Saturday night appearance on Fox News, called Mr. Giuliani “a great gentleman” and said he is still his lawyer. “I know nothing about him being under investigation. I can’t imagine it,” he told the host Jeanine Pirro.

Before the lunch, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump spoke on the phone, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Also beforehand, Mr. Trump praised Mr. Giuliani on Twitter as a “legendary ‘crime buster’ and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC.”

Mr. Giuliani “may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer,” the president’s tweet continued.

And Mr. Trump dismissed the investigation into Mr. Giuliani as a “a one sided Witch Hunt” carried out by the “Deep State.”

The president echoed language he had used to minimize the special counsel’s investigation into whether he or his campaign worked with Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to try to help him win the presidency.

Mr. Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and New York mayor, was retained last year to help defend the president in the special counsel’s investigation.

But his efforts to undermine the investigation’s origins and its conclusions helped lead Mr. Trump into an impeachment inquiry. The inquiry focuses on whether Mr. Trump, with assistance from Mr. Giuliani, abused the presidency to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations for his political benefit, including into whether Ukrainians played a role in spurring the inquiry of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are now investigating whether Mr. Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine may have run afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, The New York Times reported on Friday.

Mr. Giuliani has defended his work in Ukraine and said it did not require him to register under FARA.

Mr. Trump was not enamored with the negative publicity around Mr. Giuliani, people close to the president said, but he remains loyal because of his lawyer’s willingness to aggressively defend him during the special counsel’s inquiry.

It is not clear what was discussed at the lunch.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_162594609_dbbb74c6-c935-4cf1-b213-9f719b21b78c-articleLarge In Show of Support, Trump Meets With Giuliani Over Lunch Ukrainian-Americans Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Mueller, Robert S III Giuliani, Rudolph W Biden, Joseph R Jr

The presidential motorcade leaving the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., on Saturday.CreditCheriss May for The New York Times

The lunch is unlikely to end speculation over whether the president will ultimately consider Mr. Giuliani a liability. Another of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers, Michael D. Cohen, met privately with the president in Florida in March 2018, a month before the F.B.I. searched his home, hotel room and office. Mr. Trump publicly embraced Mr. Cohen, until it became clear he might speak against the president.

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked over text message about the significance of the lunch, Mr. Giuliani directed a reporter to Mr. Trump’s show of support on Twitter.

He said his relationship with Mr. Trump was “the same as ever,” but declined to answer additional questions, explaining he was watching the New York Yankees’ playoff baseball game against the Houston Astros.

The two people familiar with the discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani said they believed it would be difficult to prove that Mr. Giuliani violated FARA.

The law requires American citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians or government officials, regardless of whether they paid for the representation.

Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged that he and two of his associates, who were arrested on campaign finance charges on Wednesday, worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including a former American ambassador to Ukraine and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden.

Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

But Mr. Giuliani said that he had undertaken that work on behalf of Mr. Trump, not the Ukrainian prosecutors. He said he had in fact turned down an offer to represent one of the prosecutors because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president.

What concerns some of Mr. Trump’s advisers more than a possible FARA prosecution related to his Ukraine work is that Mr. Giuliani, who has been representing the president pro bono, is facing a contentious and potentially costly divorce from his third wife, Judith Nathan, and that he may have taken on clients overseas who could be problematic for him with prosecutors.

While Mr. Trump has been reluctant to separate from Mr. Giuliani, some of his advisers hope he will. They remain concerned about Mr. Giuliani’s public commentary about the president and the Ukraine issue.

Kenneth P. Vogel reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York. Annie Karni contributed reporting from Washington.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Warren Dares Facebook With Intentionally False Political Ad

Westlake Legal Group merlin_162445950_8279f9c5-affd-4bca-ba9c-f116a8b65ac6-facebookJumbo Warren Dares Facebook With Intentionally False Political Ad Zuckerberg, Mark E Warren, Elizabeth United States Politics and Government Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Social Media Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Elections (US) Presidential Election of 2020 Political Advertising Online Advertising Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet Computer and Video Games

WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren is playing a game of dare with Facebook.

The Democratic presidential candidate bought a political ad on the social network this past week that purposefully includes false claims about Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and President Trump to goad the social network to remove misinformation in political ads ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The ad, placed on Facebook beginning Thursday, starts with Ms. Warren announcing “Breaking news.” The ad then goes on to say that Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg are backing the re-election of Trump. Neither Mr. Zuckerberg nor the Silicon Valley company has announced their support of a candidate.

“You’re probably shocked, and you might be thinking ‘how could this possibly be true?’ Well, it’s not,” Ms. Warren said in the ad.

In a series of tweets on Saturday, Ms. Warren said she had deliberately made an ad with lies because Facebook had previously allowed politicians to place ads with false claims. “We decided to see just how far it goes,” the senator from Massachusetts wrote, calling Facebook a “disinformation-for-profit machine” and adding that Mr. Zuckerberg should be held accountable.

Ms. Warren’s actions follow a brouhaha over Facebook and political ads in recent weeks. Mr. Trump’s campaign recently bought ads across social media that accused another Democratic presidential candidate, Joseph Biden, of corruption in Ukraine. That ad, viewed more than 5 million times on Facebook, falsely said that Mr. Biden offered $1 billion to Ukrainian officials to remove a prosecutor who was overseeing an investigation of a company associated with Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

This past week, the Biden campaign demanded that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube take down the ad. Facebook refused, telling the Biden campaign that it would keep the Trump ad up because of its belief that statements by politicians add to important discourse and are newsworthy, even if they are false. Twitter and YouTube have also kept the ad online.

Ms. Warren’s false ads on Facebook are now set to escalate her growing feud with the world’s biggest social network.

Ms. Warren has turned into a vocal critic of tech companies and their power. She has called for behemoths like Facebook and Google to be broken up. In a leaked audio recording published this month of a meeting that Mr. Zuckerberg had with Facebook employees, he was heard saying that Facebook would sue if Ms. Warren were to enact the breakup plan as president. In response, Ms. Warren doubled down, saying that America needed to “fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy.”

This month, Ms. Warren’s campaign also sent an email seeking donations with the subject line “re: Mark Zuckerberg.” And at a rally in San Diego, as she talked about the power of huge corporations, she told the crowd, “Break them up. And yes, Mark Zuckerberg, I’m looking at you.”

For Facebook, the situation is tricky. The social media company has struggled in recent years with what to allow and disallow on its site, especially after revelations that Russian operatives used the platform during the 2016 presidential election to post disinformation to inflame the American electorate. Facebook has moved to clamp down on false content. Yet when the company removes or buries messages, ads, photos and videos, it is often called out for bias and censorship. Facebook has faced particular wrath from conservatives, who have said the social network intentionally suppresses what they say.

“Facebook believes political speech should be protected,” a spokesman for Facebook said on Saturday. “If Senator Warren wants to say things she knows to be untrue, we believe Facebook should not be in the position of censoring that speech.”

Ms. Warren declined to comment on Saturday beyond her Twitter thread and Facebook ads.

Truth in social media advertising is likely to become a bigger issue ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Mr. Zuckerberg is scheduled to speak about Facebook’s political speech policies this coming week at Georgetown University.

Presidential candidates have all been spending huge sums on ads on Facebook and other social media platforms to reach voters. Some campaigns have focused on advertising specifically on Facebook given its sheer size — it has more than 2.2 billion users worldwide — and the ability to spread ads and content cheaply and quickly across the platform.

Like her rivals for the Democratic nomination, Ms. Warren has spent a significant amount of money on Facebook advertising, which is a crucial way to reach potential grass-roots donors. Over all, her presidential campaign has spent more than $3.3 million on Facebook ads, according to numbers disclosed by the company.

Unlike the social media companies, some broadcast media outlets have refused to run the false Trump campaign ad that said Mr. Biden acted corruptly in Ukraine. CNN and NBCU, which declined to run the ad, said it violated their standards.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work

Westlake Legal Group 11dc-giuliani1-facebookJumbo Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Parnas, Lev Lutsenko, Yuri V Justice Department impeachment Giuliani, Rudolph W Fruman, Igor Campaign Finance Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter Berman, Geoffrey S

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.

Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

Federal law requires American citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians or government officials, regardless of whether they pay for the representation. Law enforcement officials have made clear in recent years that covert foreign influence is as great a threat to the country as spies trying to steal government secrets.

A criminal investigation of Mr. Giuliani raises the stakes of the Ukraine scandal for the president, whose dealings with the country are already the subject of an impeachment inquiry. It is also a stark turn for Mr. Giuliani, who now finds himself under scrutiny from the same United States attorney’s office he led in the 1980s, when he first rose to prominence as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and later ascended to two terms as mayor of New York.

It was unclear how far the investigation has progressed, and there was no indication that prosecutors in Manhattan have decided to file additional charges in the case. A spokeswoman for the United States attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, declined to comment.

Mr. Giuliani said that federal prosecutors had no grounds to charge him with foreign lobbying disclosure violations because he said he was acting on behalf of Mr. Trump, not the Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, when he collected the information on Ms. Yovanovitch and the others and relayed it to the American government and the news media.

“Look, you can try to contort anything into anything, but if they have any degree of objectivity or fairness, it would be kind of ridiculous to say I was doing it on Lutsenko’s behalf when I was representing the president of the United States,” Mr. Giuliani said. Mr. Lutsenko had chafed at Ms. Yovanovitch’s anticorruption efforts and wanted her recalled from Kiev.

Mr. Giuliani also said he was unaware of any investigation into him, and he defended the pressure campaign on Ukrainians, which he led, as legal and above board.

CNN and other news organizations reported that federal prosecutors were scrutinizing Mr. Giuliani’s financial dealings with his associates, but it has not been previously reported that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are specifically investigating whether he violated foreign lobbying laws in his work in Ukraine.

Ms. Yovanovitch told impeachment investigators on Friday that Mr. Trump had pressed for her removal for months even though the State Department believed she had “done nothing wrong.”

Mr. Giuliani had receded from the spotlight in recent years while he built a brisk international consulting business, including work in Ukraine. But he re-emerged in the center of the political stage last year, when Mr. Trump retained him for the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference.

Russia’s sabotage also ushered in a new focus at the Justice Department on enforcing the laws regulating foreign influence that had essentially sat dormant for a half-century and under which Mr. Giuliani is now being investigated.

Through his two associates who also worked to oust the ambassador, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Mr. Giuliani connected early this year with Mr. Lutsenko, who served as Ukraine’s top prosecutor until August. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman had previously connected Mr. Giuliani to Mr. Lutsenko’s predecessor, Viktor Shokin, late last year.

Mr. Parnas had told people that Ms. Yovanovitch was stymieing his efforts to pursue gas business in Ukraine. Mr. Parnas also told people that one of his companies had paid Mr. Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for an unrelated American business venture, and Mr. Giuliani said he advised Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman on a Ukrainian dispute.

Mr. Lutsenko had sought to relay the information he had collected on Mr. Trump’s targets to American law enforcement agencies and saw Mr. Giuliani as someone who could make that happen. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Lutsenko initially spoke over the phone and then met in person in New York in January.

Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Mr. Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the F.B.I. He did not say who told him.

Mr. Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms. Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr. Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr. Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr. Lutsenko and other sources.

Mr. Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr. Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defense of Mr. Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.

He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr. Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr. Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.

“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr. Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr. Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”

The president sought to distance himself earlier on Friday from Mr. Giuliani, saying he was uncertain when asked whether Mr. Giuliani still represented him. “I haven’t spoken to Rudy,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “I spoke to him yesterday quickly. He is a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.”

Mr. Giuliani later said that he still represented Mr. Trump.

The recall of the ambassador and the efforts by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani to push for investigations in Ukraine have emerged as the focus of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.

The impeachment was prompted by a whistle-blower complaint about Mr. Trump pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in a July phone call to pursue investigations that could help Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. At the time, the Trump administration had frozen $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine for its fight against Russian-backed separatists.

The State Department’s inspector general has turned over to House impeachment investigators a packet of materials including the memos containing notes of Mr. Giuliani’s interviews with Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Shokin.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is the latest to scrutinize one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers. His former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, implicated the president when he pleaded guilty last year to making hush payments during the 2016 campaign to women who claimed affairs with Mr. Trump, which he has denied.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan mentioned Mr. Trump as “Individual 1” in court papers but never formally accused him of wrongdoing.

Michael S. Schmidt and Kenneth P. Vogel reported from Washington, and Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum from New York.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work

Westlake Legal Group 11dc-giuliani1-facebookJumbo Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Parnas, Lev Lutsenko, Yuri V Justice Department impeachment Giuliani, Rudolph W Fruman, Igor Campaign Finance Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter Berman, Geoffrey S

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.

Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

Federal law requires American citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians or government officials, regardless of whether they pay for the representation. Law enforcement officials have made clear in recent years that covert foreign influence is as great a threat to the country as spies trying to steal government secrets.

A criminal investigation of Mr. Giuliani raises the stakes of the Ukraine scandal for the president, whose dealings with the country are already the subject of an impeachment inquiry. It is also a stark turn for Mr. Giuliani, who now finds himself under scrutiny from the same United States attorney’s office he led in the 1980s, when he first rose to prominence as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and later ascended to two terms as mayor of New York.

It was unclear how far the investigation has progressed, and there was no indication that prosecutors in Manhattan have decided to file additional charges in the case. A spokeswoman for the United States attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, declined to comment.

Mr. Giuliani said that federal prosecutors had no grounds to charge him with foreign lobbying disclosure violations because he said he was acting on behalf of Mr. Trump, not the Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, when he collected the information on Ms. Yovanovitch and the others and relayed it to the American government and the news media.

“Look, you can try to contort anything into anything, but if they have any degree of objectivity or fairness, it would be kind of ridiculous to say I was doing it on Lutsenko’s behalf when I was representing the president of the United States,” Mr. Giuliani said. Mr. Lutsenko had chafed at Ms. Yovanovitch’s anticorruption efforts and wanted her recalled from Kiev.

Mr. Giuliani also said he was unaware of any investigation into him, and he defended the pressure campaign on Ukrainians, which he led, as legal and above board.

CNN and other news organizations reported that federal prosecutors were scrutinizing Mr. Giuliani’s financial dealings with his associates, but it has not been previously reported that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are specifically investigating whether he violated foreign lobbying laws in his work in Ukraine.

Ms. Yovanovitch told impeachment investigators on Friday that Mr. Trump had pressed for her removal for months even though the State Department believed she had “done nothing wrong.”

Mr. Giuliani had receded from the spotlight in recent years while he built a brisk international consulting business, including work in Ukraine. But he re-emerged in the center of the political stage last year, when Mr. Trump retained him for the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference.

Russia’s sabotage also ushered in a new focus at the Justice Department on enforcing the laws regulating foreign influence that had essentially sat dormant for a half-century and under which Mr. Giuliani is now being investigated.

Through his two associates who also worked to oust the ambassador, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Mr. Giuliani connected early this year with Mr. Lutsenko, who served as Ukraine’s top prosecutor until August. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman had previously connected Mr. Giuliani to Mr. Lutsenko’s predecessor, Viktor Shokin, late last year.

Mr. Parnas had told people that Ms. Yovanovitch was stymieing his efforts to pursue gas business in Ukraine. Mr. Parnas also told people that one of his companies had paid Mr. Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for an unrelated American business venture, and Mr. Giuliani said he advised Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman on a Ukrainian dispute.

Mr. Lutsenko had sought to relay the information he had collected on Mr. Trump’s targets to American law enforcement agencies and saw Mr. Giuliani as someone who could make that happen. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Lutsenko initially spoke over the phone and then met in person in New York in January.

Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Mr. Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the F.B.I. He did not say who told him.

Mr. Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms. Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr. Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr. Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr. Lutsenko and other sources.

Mr. Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr. Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defense of Mr. Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.

He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr. Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr. Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.

“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr. Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr. Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”

The president sought to distance himself earlier on Friday from Mr. Giuliani, saying he was uncertain when asked whether Mr. Giuliani still represented him. “I haven’t spoken to Rudy,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “I spoke to him yesterday quickly. He is a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.”

Mr. Giuliani later said that he still represented Mr. Trump.

The recall of the ambassador and the efforts by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani to push for investigations in Ukraine have emerged as the focus of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.

The impeachment was prompted by a whistle-blower complaint about Mr. Trump pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in a July phone call to pursue investigations that could help Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. At the time, the Trump administration had frozen $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine for its fight against Russian-backed separatists.

The State Department’s inspector general has turned over to House impeachment investigators a packet of materials including the memos containing notes of Mr. Giuliani’s interviews with Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Shokin.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is the latest to scrutinize one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers. His former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, implicated the president when he pleaded guilty last year to making hush payments during the 2016 campaign to women who claimed affairs with Mr. Trump, which he has denied.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan mentioned Mr. Trump as “Individual 1” in court papers but never formally accused him of wrongdoing.

Michael S. Schmidt and Kenneth P. Vogel reported from Washington, and Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum from New York.

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Giuliani’s Ukraine Team: In Search of Influence, Dirt and Money

Westlake Legal Group 10dc-rudy-facebookJumbo Giuliani’s Ukraine Team: In Search of Influence, Dirt and Money Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 Parnas, Lev Naftogaz of Ukraine KIEV, Ukraine Giuliani, Rudolph W Fruman, Igor America First Action

WASHINGTON — When Rudolph W. Giuliani set out to dredge up damaging information on President Trump’s rivals in Ukraine, he turned to a native of the former Soviet republic with whom he already had a lucrative business relationship.

Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman with a trail of debts and lawsuits, had known Mr. Giuliani casually for years through Republican political circles. Last year, their relationship deepened when a company he helped found retained Mr. Giuliani — associates of Mr. Parnas said he told them he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars — for what Mr. Giuliani said on Thursday was business and legal advice.

Even as he worked with Mr. Parnas’s company, Fraud Guarantee, Mr. Giuliani increasingly relied on Mr. Parnas to carry out Mr. Trump’s quest for evidence in Ukraine that would undercut the legitimacy of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference on his behalf in the 2016 election and help him heading into his 2020 re-election campaign.

Mr. Giuliani dispatched Mr. Parnas and an associate, Igor Fruman, a Belarusian-American businessman, to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, where, despite fending off creditors at home, BuzzFeed reported, they ran up big charges at a strip club and the Hilton International hotel. Their mission was to find people and information that could be used to undermine the special counsel’s investigation, and also to damage former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a prospective Democratic challenger to Mr. Trump.

Over the past year, the two men connected Mr. Giuliani with Ukrainians who were willing to participate in efforts to push a largely unsubstantiated narrative about the Bidens. They played a key role in a campaign by pro-Trump forces to press for the removal of the United States ambassador to Ukraine on the grounds that she had not shown sufficient loyalty to the president as he pursued his agenda there.

They met regularly with Mr. Giuliani, often at the Trump International hotel in Washington. And all the while, they were pursuing their own business schemes and, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday, illegally funneling campaign contributions in the United States in the service of both their political and business activities.

The indictment, along with interviews and other documents, show Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and their associates as somewhat hapless operators, scrambling recklessly to use their new connections to the highest levels of American politics to seek financial gain while guiding Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, into a Ukrainian political culture rife with self-dealing and ever-shifting alliances.

The indictment provided new details about the dealings of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, as well as a pair of associates, including David Correia, who with Mr. Parnas helped found Fraud Guarantee, the fraud prevention and mitigation company that retained Mr. Giuliani. The four men were charged with campaign finance violations related to their efforts to enlist public officials in their moneymaking efforts and their political efforts in Ukraine.

The indictment does not name or identify Mr. Giuliani or Mr. Trump. But it helps show how Mr. Giuliani, who was retained by Mr. Trump as a personal lawyer to fend off one challenge to his presidency — the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III — helped steer his client into another: dealings with Ukraine that are now at the heart of the impeachment inquiry by House Democrats.

The congressional committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry have subpoenaed Mr. Giuliani for records related to his efforts in Ukraine, including records related to Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and Semyon Kislin, another Ukrainian-born businessman.

Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman had been asked to appear before House investigators this week, but declined to appear. And on Thursday, the congressional committees issued subpoenas demanding they produce documents by Wednesday, while signaling that the committees still expected the pair to testify to Congress.

The two men did get something useful for their Ukrainian efforts from Pete Sessions, then a Republican member of Congress from Texas, who is not identified in the indictment. It says that after making substantial campaign donations to him, Mr. Parnas asked Mr. Sessions for help last year in pressing the Trump administration to remove the United States ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch. Mr. Sessions subsequently wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticizing Ms. Yovanovitch and seeking to have her dismissed.

Mr. Parnas had told associates that she was not open to his proposals related to the lucrative gas business in Ukraine, where Mr. Parnas pitched a natural gas deal to the chief executive of Naftogaz, as The New York Times reported last month.

Ms. Yovanovitch had also come under fire from a Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who was connected to Mr. Giuliani by Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman and played a key role in Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to promote investigations into Mr. Trump’s rivals.

While the indictment did not identify any officials by name, it said that Mr. Parnas, in his effort to oust Ms. Yovanovitch, acted, “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”

Mr. Giuliani also said he provided legal advice to Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman after their efforts in Ukraine brought them into conflict with a powerful oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky.

Mr. Kolomoisky said in interviews in the Ukrainian news media that Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman traveled to see him in Israel in April, ostensibly to talk about their plans to sell gas to Ukraine. But, he said, the two men then pushed him to arrange a meeting between Mr. Giuliani and Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani had been seeking to press Mr. Zelensky to agree to investigate the Bidens and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election, and had been working with Mr. Parnas to lay the groundwork for the effort, as The Times first reported in May.

Upon returning to Ukraine, Mr. Kolomoisky threatened in May to expose Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman. Mr. Giuliani, in turn, posted on Twitter that the oligarch had “defamed” Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, “and I have advised them to press charges.” He also warned Mr. Zelensky not to surround himself with allies of Mr. Kolomoisky.

Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and Mr. Giuliani were frequently spotted together over the past year at the Trump International hotel in Washington, and were overheard discussing politics and energy projects, including a methane initiative in Uzbekistan. Mr. Giuliani and his associates were to be paid at least $100,000 for the project, on which Mr. Parnas offered advice.

The project did not pan out, Mr. Giuliani said.

Mr. Parnas said in an interview last month that he and Mr. Fruman were self-financing their efforts on behalf of Mr. Giuliani’s political work in Ukraine and that those “have nothing to do with our business.”

He added, “My only business with Giuliani was a long time ago,” and involved an insurance company that Mr. Parnas suggested he owned that Mr. Giuliani “offered some advice on.”

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Giuliani at first seemed to acknowledge having advised Fraud Guarantee in 2018, then backtracked.

“I can’t acknowledge it’s Fraud Guarantee, I don’t think,” he said.

“I can acknowledge I gave them substantial business advice,” he said, adding that one of his companies trains institutional customers in security work, including “how to investigate crimes, from murder to terrorism to fraud.” He said that “most of it is subdivisions of government, but every once in a while it is a private enterprise.”

Late last month, he seemed to minimize the campaign finance issues facing Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, saying in an interview, “I referred them to a campaign finance expert, who pretty much resolved it.”

On Thursday, Mr. Giuliani said he did not regret working with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman in Ukraine. “I have to presume they’re innocent,” he said, adding: “There are a lot of motives going on trying to smear people, so I wouldn’t say that I regret it, no. Who else would I have turned to?”

In April 2018, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman incorporated a company called Global Energy Producers ostensibly as a vehicle to engage in the trade of liquefied natural gas — a commodity American officials have long urged Ukraine to buy from the United States.

In weeks, the company attracted notice in Republican finance circles with major donations to committees supporting Mr. Trump and his allies. It gave $325,000 to America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC; $50,000 to a political action committee affiliated with the Trump-endorsed candidate for Florida governor in 2018, Ron DeSantis, and $15,000 to a super PAC supporting the 2018 Senate campaign of the West Virginia attorney general, Patrick Morrisey.

The donation spree prompted legal filings by a former business partner of Mr. Parnas who was trying to collect more than $510,000 from Mr. Parnas from a 2016 federal judgment.

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Giuliani Pressed for Turkish Prisoner Swap in Oval Office Meeting

Westlake Legal Group merlin_128860991_515f45cd-79d9-4cb1-8039-df1c6a6e01e9-facebookJumbo Giuliani Pressed for Turkish Prisoner Swap in Oval Office Meeting Zarrab, Reza (1983- ) United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Turkey Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Tillerson, Rex W Sessions, Jefferson B III Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Nuclear Weapons Mukasey, Michael B Iran Giuliani, Rudolph W Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Embargoes and Sanctions Brafman, Benjamin Bharara, Preet Atilla, Mehmet Hakan

During a contentious Oval Office meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed for help in securing the release of a jailed client, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, as part of a potential prisoner swap with Turkey.

The request by Mr. Giuliani provoked an immediate objection from Mr. Tillerson, who argued that it would be highly inappropriate to interfere in an open criminal case, according to two people briefed on the meeting.

The gold trader, Reza Zarrab, had been accused by federal prosecutors of playing a central role in an effort by a state-owned Turkish bank to funnel more than $10 billion worth of gold and cash to Iran, in defiance of United States sanctions designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

But at the White House meeting in early 2017, Mr. Giuliani and his longtime friend and colleague, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, pushed back on Mr. Tillerson’s objections.

Rather than side with his secretary of state, Mr. Trump told them to work it out themselves, according to the two people briefed on the meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

In the end, no such prisoner swap took place. But the episode has opened a new chapter in Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to interject himself into the Trump administration’s diplomacy while at times representing clients with a direct interest in the outcome.

The Oval Office meeting occurred before Mr. Giuliani became Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer for the special counsel’s Russia investigation. In recent weeks, Mr. Giuliani’s campaign to press Ukrainian officials to investigate the son of one of Mr. Trump’s political rivals, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., has thrust him into the middle of the House impeachment inquiry. And on Wednesday, two of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in that campaign were arrested on charges of violating federal campaign finance laws.

Mr. Giuliani, in an interview on Thursday, defended his actions in the gold trader case, which were first reported on Wednesday by Bloomberg.

Mr. Giuliani, well known for his hawkish views on Iran, said he had been willing to represent Mr. Zarrab because the proposed prisoner swap would have secured the release of an American pastor who was being held in Turkey on terrorism-related charges the United States considered fabricated.

He likened his efforts — which also included apprising Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, of what he wanted — to maneuvers during the Cold War to trade enemy spies for Americans detained overseas.

Mr. Giuliani questioned how his actions were any different. “It happened to be a good trade,” he said. “I expected to be a hero like in a Tom Hanks movie.”

But his involvement, as a private citizen and friend of the president in the months after Mr. Trump passed him over for the role of secretary of state, left some in the administration uncomfortable, given the strained and complicated relationship between the United States and Turkey.

Mr. Giuliani’s moves also ran counter to a long-running American effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program as the United States was trying to punish players, like Mr. Zarrab, who helped the regime evade sanctions.

The case, called the single largest evasion of Iranian sanctions in United States history, revolved around a scheme by the Turkish bank in 2012 and 2013 to send billions of dollars in gold and cash to Iran in exchange for oil and natural gas.

Mr. Zarrab, who has Turkish and Iranian citizenship, was arrested in Florida in March 2016 on a family trip to Disney World, and was accused of an illicit operation that relied on false documents and front companies to move the assets to Iran from the accounts of Halkbank, the second-largest state-owned lender in Turkey.

Getting him out of the United States was a high priority for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, because Mr. Zarrab had information that would later implicate senior bank officials, as well as Turkish government officials, in the scheme.

Indeed, after the prison swap failed, Mr. Zarrab became a key witness and testified that in 2012, Mr. Erdogan, then Turkey’s prime minister, had ordered that two Turkish banks be allowed to participate in the sanction-evasion scheme.

Mr. Giuliani said that he was brought into the effort by Mr. Muskasey, who had been hired by Mr. Zarrab’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman.

The two men had been pressing their case with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early 2017 when Mr. Tillerson joined the conversation, according to the two people briefed on the meeting. Mr. Tillerson, who could not be reached for comment, was surprised to find Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mukasey at what he thought would be a regular private meeting with the president, the people said.

Mr. Trump asked Mr. Giuliani to tell Mr. Tillerson what he wanted, which prompted Mr. Tillerson’s objections.

Mr. Mukasey’s spokesman did not return a request for comment.

Mr. Giuliani, in the interview on Thursday, disputed the account provided to The New York Times of his discussion with Mr. Tillerson about Mr. Zarrab — and the assertion that Mr. Tillerson replied that such a step was inappropriate. But Mr. Giuliani did not specify what aspects of the account he found inaccurate, saying he could not discuss the meeting because of attorney-client privilege.

“This is a completely malicious story coming from the consistent attack on me to try to destroy my credibility,” Mr. Giuliani said.

He added that at the time, “nobody ever complained” to him from the Trump administration about his role in the case.

Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mukasey were persistent in the effort. Court filings show that they discussed the matter with State Department officials in Turkey before meeting with Mr. Erdogan himself, and that Mr. Sessions and Preet Bharara, then the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, were informed “on a confidential basis.”

Mr. Giuliani argued in court filings that “none of the transactions in which Mr. Zarrab is alleged to have participated involved weapons or nuclear technology, or any other contraband, but rather involved consumer goods, and that Turkey is situated in a part of the world strategically critical to the United States.”

And Mr. Mukasey, in an April 2017 court filing, asserted that “senior U.S. officials have remained receptive to pursuing the possibility of an agreement.”

But officials at the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan remained opposed to the Zarrab trade, as did Mr. Tillerson. Mr. Giuliani, in the Thursday interview, said he wasn’t sure why the proposal fell apart.

What’s clear is that Mr. Zarrab pleaded guilty in October 2017 to the charges, and became a key witness in federal criminal cases prosecuted in New York that led to the conviction of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Halkbank.

During Mr. Atilla’s criminal trial in late 2017, the judge overseeing the case criticized Mr. Giuliani’s role in trying to secure Mr. Zarrab’s freedom, noting that such a move might benefit Iran.

“Most respectfully, the Giuliani and Mukasey affidavits appear surprisingly disingenuous in failing to mention the central role of Iran in the indictment, and indeed, failing to mention Iran at all in their affidavits,” the judge, Richard M. Berman, said, citing statements in which the men suggested Mr. Zarrab’s release might help the United States.

Mr. Atilla was sentenced to 32 months in prison. But he was released early from jail in July and then returned to Turkey, where he was greeted at the airport like a hero in Istanbul by Turkey’s treasury and finance minister, Berat Albayrak, who is also Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law. Mr. Zarrab’s whereabouts have not been disclosed by the United States government.

The American pastor, Andrew Brunson, was also released, without a trade involving Mr. Zarrab, in October 2018. The move was credited with an overall improvement in relations between Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdogan.

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Who Is Gordon Sondland, and What Was His Mission to Ukraine?

Westlake Legal Group 04sondland1-facebookJumbo Who Is Gordon Sondland, and What Was His Mission to Ukraine? Zelensky, Volodymyr United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates

BRUSSELS — Gordon D. Sondland, the blunt-spoken hotelier who is President Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, was boasting on Ukrainian television that Mr. Trump had honored him with a “special assignment” — “overseeing” relations between the two countries “at the highest levels.”

Mr. Sondland had arrived in Kiev on July 25, the day of the now-infamous telephone call between President Trump and the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. He had spoken to Mr. Trump minutes before the call, he said, and met with Mr. Zelensky for an hour the next morning, before his television interview.

At the time, his television remarks might have been the kind of diplomatic bluster one would expect of Mr. Sondland, a big, loquacious man who has been a prominent Republican donor and fund-raiser for years and loves to remind people of the good relationship he has developed with Mr. Trump.

But in the glare of the impeachment inquiry swirling in Washington, Mr. Sondland’s mission is now being scrutinized in an entirely different light, to assess whether it was to give a lift to American relations with Ukraine, or actually to serve as Mr. Trump’s personal fixer.

“We can make sure that all the reforms and all of the initiatives that we are undertaking with Ukraine stay on track and happen quickly,” Mr. Sondland said in the television interview.

[The Trump administration blocked Mr. Sondland from sitting for a deposition on Tuesday with House investigators.]

What Mr. Sondland did not say, and what has become clear in the messages released on Thursday by House Democrats, is that one of the main initiatives was getting Mr. Zelensky to agree publicly to a statement committing Ukraine to pursue investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals, especially former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son, Hunter, and into supposed meddling from Ukraine in the 2016 election.

In return, Mr. Zelensky would get the White House meeting he craved and, implicitly, Washington would release military aid held up on Mr. Trump’s request.

Asked in the interview about progress in Ukraine-America relations, including questions like membership of NATO and energy security, Mr. Sondland urged patience.

“It’s not a question of saying no,’’ Mr. Sondland said of the Zelensky government. ‘‘It’s a question of saying when. There are certain things that they have to do. There are preconditions to anything.”

Mr. Sondland also spoke to Ukraine’s state-run news agency after the call and said: “The conversation was very successful. They found a common language immediately.” He said the two leaders discussed Ukraine’s war, energy security and “the rule of law.”

Mr. Sondland, 62, arrived in Brussels as ambassador to the European Union in June of last year, having raised a lot of money for Mr. Trump after building a lucrative hotel chain in the Pacific Northwest.

He sees his job as pressing Mr. Trump’s agenda, which is tightly focused on trade and the impediments that led to a $151 billion trade deficit in goods with the European Union, a figure Mr. Sondland often cites.

Mr. Sondland has said that his grandparents were from Ukraine. His parents were both refugees from the Nazis, and he was the first in his family to be born in the United States.

In September 2018, Mr. Sondland posted a video to introduce himself and his family to Europeans, featuring shots of him making coffee, relaxing at home, showing off his collection of art, climbing into a jet that he likes to pilot, and walking his dogs on the beach with his wife, Katherine Durant, a businesswoman, and introducing his son Max and daughter Lucy.

Ms. Sondland backed out of hosting a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump in 2016, citing Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments toward immigrants and the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier. But in the end Mr. Sondland donated $1 million through his companies to the inaugural committee for Mr. Trump.

That relationship seems to have led to his apparent responsibility in Ukraine after the previous ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, displeased the White House and was removed several months before the end of her term.

Mr. Sondland’s “special assignment” from Mr. Trump was never formally announced, but it was instrumental in the negotiations with Mr. Zelensky’s team and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, who was pressing for these essentially political investigations.

Officials in Mr. Sondland’s embassy say that the Ukrainian effort was not a part of their own work with the European Union, and that they were not aware of the extent of Mr. Sondland’s activities in Ukraine.

In his interview with Ukrainian television, Mr. Sondland said the American-Ukrainian relationship was in the hands of “what are called the three amigos’’ — himself, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Kurt D. Volker, the special representative for Ukraine negotiations.

Mr. Sondland arrived in Kiev the day of the phone call, on July 25, and has said that he spoke to Mr. Trump minutes before the call took place, and then met with Mr. Zelensky for an hour the next morning along with Mr. Volker, who quit his role after the whistle-blower’s complaint about the call was made public.

The whistle-blower has described the two men as having “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelensky.”

In a message to a Zelensky adviser on July 25, ahead of the call, Mr. Volker said he was assured by the White House that if Mr. Zelensky could convince Mr. Trump that he “will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”

That message made no reference to Mr. Biden or his son, just to Mr. Trump’s conviction that 2016 election meddling came from Ukraine, not Russia. Nor did it mention the frozen military aid.

Mr. Sondland has declined to comment, referring all questions to the White House. But he seems from the messages to have been instrumental in trying to get Mr. Trump what he wanted in a fashion that would get Mr. Zelensky the White House meeting he wanted, as well as the unfreezing of the military aid.

From the messages released, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., a career diplomat who had previously been ambassador to Ukraine from May 2006 to May 2009, was extremely uncomfortable with the implicit quid pro quo insisted upon by the White House.

Ukrainian “faith” in Washington was already shaken by the withholding of aid, Mr. Taylor said in a message to Mr. Sondland, and if in the end Ukraine made the statement Mr. Trump wanted and was denied the military assistance anyway, Mr. Taylor messaged, “the Russians love it. (And I quit.)”

Mr. Sondland’s predecessor, Anthony L. Gardner, appointed by President Barack Obama, said that such a special assignment to Ukraine was “extremely unusual,’’ since it has little to do directly with the European Union.

But Mr. Sondland told reporters last month that he saw Ukraine as among a handful of “low-hanging fruit” areas of policy where the European Union could work together with Washington.

The July visit was the third Mr. Sondland made to Ukraine. He was in Odessa in February and in Kiev again in May, when he attended Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, which Vice President Mike Pence was ordered not to attend by Mr. Trump.

Instead, the delegation was led by Mr. Perry and included Mr. Volker, Mr. Sondland and Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin. They then briefed Mr. Trump in the White House about Mr. Zelensky and his eagerness to combat corruption, but Mr. Trump was not convinced.

Mr. Sondland continued building a relationship with Mr. Zelensky, hosting him at a June dinner at the United States mission to the European Union in Brussels after a July 4 party that featured Jay Leno, who is a friend of Mr. Sondland.

The party and the dinner were also attended by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser; Mr. Perry; the Polish prime minister; and Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counselor who is mentioned in the whistle-blower memo as having listened in to the July 25 telephone call.

On Aug. 9, according to the texts released, Mr. Sondland thought he was finally making progress on getting a date for the Zelensky visit to the White House. But he was unsure, messaging Mr. Volker: “I think POTUS really wants the deliverable,” meaning a public Zelensky statement about his commitment to investigate the Bidens and 2016.

Even though the Ukrainians seemed to agree, Mr. Trump still would not set a date for a meeting.

Mr. Perry, Mr. Sondland and Mr. Pence also met with Mr. Zelensky in Warsaw on Aug. 31, when Mr. Trump canceled his own visit, citing a hurricane. That meeting appeared routine, according to Mr. Perry’s readout.

“The Vice President reiterated the U.S.’ support of Ukraine’s security and rightful claim to Crimea,’’ the statement read. ‘‘President Zelensky articulated his administration’s commitment to defeating corruption and pledged to launch much anticipated reforms.”

On Sept. 1, Mr. Taylor texted Mr. Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Mr. Sondland responded by ending the text exchange and reverting to a telephone call.

But by Sept. 9, matters remained unclear. Mr. Taylor, the acting ambassador, messaged: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Mr. Sondland responded: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.’’

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Who Is Gordon Sondland, and What Was His Mission to Ukraine?

Westlake Legal Group 04sondland1-facebookJumbo Who Is Gordon Sondland, and What Was His Mission to Ukraine? Zelensky, Volodymyr United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates

BRUSSELS — Gordon D. Sondland, the blunt-spoken hotelier who is President Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, was boasting on Ukrainian television that Mr. Trump had honored him with a “special assignment” — “overseeing” relations between the two countries “at the highest levels.”

Mr. Sondland had arrived in Kiev on July 25, the day of the now-infamous telephone call between President Trump and the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. He had spoken to Mr. Trump minutes before the call, he said, and met with Mr. Zelensky for an hour the next morning, before his television interview.

At the time, his television remarks might have been the kind of diplomatic bluster one would expect of Mr. Sondland, a big, loquacious man who has been a prominent Republican donor and fund-raiser for years and loves to remind people of the good relationship he has developed with Mr. Trump.

But in the glare of the impeachment inquiry swirling in Washington, Mr. Sondland’s mission is now being scrutinized in an entirely different light, to assess whether it was to give a lift to American relations with Ukraine, or actually to serve as Mr. Trump’s personal fixer.

“We can make sure that all the reforms and all of the initiatives that we are undertaking with Ukraine stay on track and happen quickly,” Mr. Sondland said in the television interview.

[The Trump administration blocked Mr. Sondland from sitting for a deposition on Tuesday with House investigators.]

What Mr. Sondland did not say, and what has become clear in the messages released on Thursday by House Democrats, is that one of the main initiatives was getting Mr. Zelensky to agree publicly to a statement committing Ukraine to pursue investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals, especially former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son, Hunter, and into supposed meddling from Ukraine in the 2016 election.

In return, Mr. Zelensky would get the White House meeting he craved and, implicitly, Washington would release military aid held up on Mr. Trump’s request.

Asked in the interview about progress in Ukraine-America relations, including questions like membership of NATO and energy security, Mr. Sondland urged patience.

“It’s not a question of saying no,’’ Mr. Sondland said of the Zelensky government. ‘‘It’s a question of saying when. There are certain things that they have to do. There are preconditions to anything.”

Mr. Sondland also spoke to Ukraine’s state-run news agency after the call and said: “The conversation was very successful. They found a common language immediately.” He said the two leaders discussed Ukraine’s war, energy security and “the rule of law.”

Mr. Sondland, 62, arrived in Brussels as ambassador to the European Union in June of last year, having raised a lot of money for Mr. Trump after building a lucrative hotel chain in the Pacific Northwest.

He sees his job as pressing Mr. Trump’s agenda, which is tightly focused on trade and the impediments that led to a $151 billion trade deficit in goods with the European Union, a figure Mr. Sondland often cites.

Mr. Sondland has said that his grandparents were from Ukraine. His parents were both refugees from the Nazis, and he was the first in his family to be born in the United States.

In September 2018, Mr. Sondland posted a video to introduce himself and his family to Europeans, featuring shots of him making coffee, relaxing at home, showing off his collection of art, climbing into a jet that he likes to pilot, and walking his dogs on the beach with his wife, Katherine Durant, a businesswoman, and introducing his son Max and daughter Lucy.

Ms. Sondland backed out of hosting a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump in 2016, citing Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments toward immigrants and the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier. But in the end Mr. Sondland donated $1 million through his companies to the inaugural committee for Mr. Trump.

That relationship seems to have led to his apparent responsibility in Ukraine after the previous ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, displeased the White House and was removed several months before the end of her term.

Mr. Sondland’s “special assignment” from Mr. Trump was never formally announced, but it was instrumental in the negotiations with Mr. Zelensky’s team and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, who was pressing for these essentially political investigations.

Officials in Mr. Sondland’s embassy say that the Ukrainian effort was not a part of their own work with the European Union, and that they were not aware of the extent of Mr. Sondland’s activities in Ukraine.

In his interview with Ukrainian television, Mr. Sondland said the American-Ukrainian relationship was in the hands of “what are called the three amigos’’ — himself, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Kurt D. Volker, the special representative for Ukraine negotiations.

Mr. Sondland arrived in Kiev the day of the phone call, on July 25, and has said that he spoke to Mr. Trump minutes before the call took place, and then met with Mr. Zelensky for an hour the next morning along with Mr. Volker, who quit his role after the whistle-blower’s complaint about the call was made public.

The whistle-blower has described the two men as having “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelensky.”

In a message to a Zelensky adviser on July 25, ahead of the call, Mr. Volker said he was assured by the White House that if Mr. Zelensky could convince Mr. Trump that he “will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”

That message made no reference to Mr. Biden or his son, just to Mr. Trump’s conviction that 2016 election meddling came from Ukraine, not Russia. Nor did it mention the frozen military aid.

Mr. Sondland has declined to comment, referring all questions to the White House. But he seems from the messages to have been instrumental in trying to get Mr. Trump what he wanted in a fashion that would get Mr. Zelensky the White House meeting he wanted, as well as the unfreezing of the military aid.

From the messages released, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., a career diplomat who had previously been ambassador to Ukraine from May 2006 to May 2009, was extremely uncomfortable with the implicit quid pro quo insisted upon by the White House.

Ukrainian “faith” in Washington was already shaken by the withholding of aid, Mr. Taylor said in a message to Mr. Sondland, and if in the end Ukraine made the statement Mr. Trump wanted and was denied the military assistance anyway, Mr. Taylor messaged, “the Russians love it. (And I quit.)”

Mr. Sondland’s predecessor, Anthony L. Gardner, appointed by President Barack Obama, said that such a special assignment to Ukraine was “extremely unusual,’’ since it has little to do directly with the European Union.

But Mr. Sondland told reporters last month that he saw Ukraine as among a handful of “low-hanging fruit” areas of policy where the European Union could work together with Washington.

The July visit was the third Mr. Sondland made to Ukraine. He was in Odessa in February and in Kiev again in May, when he attended Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, which Vice President Mike Pence was ordered not to attend by Mr. Trump.

Instead, the delegation was led by Mr. Perry and included Mr. Volker, Mr. Sondland and Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin. They then briefed Mr. Trump in the White House about Mr. Zelensky and his eagerness to combat corruption, but Mr. Trump was not convinced.

Mr. Sondland continued building a relationship with Mr. Zelensky, hosting him at a June dinner at the United States mission to the European Union in Brussels after a July 4 party that featured Jay Leno, who is a friend of Mr. Sondland.

The party and the dinner were also attended by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser; Mr. Perry; the Polish prime minister; and Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counselor who is mentioned in the whistle-blower memo as having listened in to the July 25 telephone call.

On Aug. 9, according to the texts released, Mr. Sondland thought he was finally making progress on getting a date for the Zelensky visit to the White House. But he was unsure, messaging Mr. Volker: “I think POTUS really wants the deliverable,” meaning a public Zelensky statement about his commitment to investigate the Bidens and 2016.

Even though the Ukrainians seemed to agree, Mr. Trump still would not set a date for a meeting.

Mr. Perry, Mr. Sondland and Mr. Pence also met with Mr. Zelensky in Warsaw on Aug. 31, when Mr. Trump canceled his own visit, citing a hurricane. That meeting appeared routine, according to Mr. Perry’s readout.

“The Vice President reiterated the U.S.’ support of Ukraine’s security and rightful claim to Crimea,’’ the statement read. ‘‘President Zelensky articulated his administration’s commitment to defeating corruption and pledged to launch much anticipated reforms.”

On Sept. 1, Mr. Taylor texted Mr. Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Mr. Sondland responded by ending the text exchange and reverting to a telephone call.

But by Sept. 9, matters remained unclear. Mr. Taylor, the acting ambassador, messaged: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Mr. Sondland responded: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.’’

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Facebook’s Hands-Off Approach to Political Speech Gets Impeachment Test

Westlake Legal Group 00facebook-facebookJumbo Facebook’s Hands-Off Approach to Political Speech Gets Impeachment Test United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Social Media Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 Political Advertising Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

WASHINGTON — The 30-second video ad released by the Trump campaign last week is grainy, and the narrator’s voice is foreboding. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., it says, offered Ukraine $1 billion in aid if the country pushed out the man investigating a company tied to Mr. Biden’s son.

Saying it made false accusations, CNN immediately refused to air the advertisement.

But Facebook did not, and on Tuesday, the social network rejected a request from Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign to take it down, foreshadowing a continuing fight over misinformation on the service during the 2020 election as well as the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

In a letter to the Biden campaign, Facebook said the ad, which has been viewed five million times on the site, did not violate company policies. Last month, the social network, which has more than two billion users, announced that politicians and their campaigns had nearly free rein over content they post there.

Even false statements and misleading content in ads, the company has said, are an important part of the political conversation.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

The decision by the company illustrates its executives’ hardened resolve to stay out of the moderation of political speech, despite the use of the social network to spread discord and disinformation in the 2016 presidential campaign. On Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released a sobering report warning of fresh signs of interference by Russia and other foreign nations in the 2020 election.

The company’s position stands in contrast to CNN, which rejected two ads from the Trump campaign last week, including the one the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down. The cable channel said it rejected the ad because it “makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets.”

Facebook has been dogged by accusations of censorship by conservative politicians, including President Trump, who argue that the Silicon Valley company gives greater attention to liberal points of views on the social network.

But by removing itself as the moderator of political content — including in paid ads on the site — Facebook has left itself open another avenue of criticism. In a series of tweets Monday evening, Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination, said Facebook allowed President Trump to spread false information widely, and called on the company to take down the attack ad against Mr. Biden, one of her top rivals.

“Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once because they were asleep at the wheel while Russia attacked our democracy — allowing fake, foreign accounts to run ad campaigns to influence our elections,” Ms. Warren wrote.

Facebook declined to comment.

The ad the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down, released by the Trump campaign on Sept. 27, starts with staticky shots of Mr. Biden meeting with Ukrainian officials during his time in the Obama administration.

“Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company,” a narrator says, using video from an event in which Mr. Biden mentions the money. “But when President Trump asks Ukraine to investigate corruption, the Democrats want to impeach him.”

The $1 billion figure was mentioned at an event in 2018 at the Council on Foreign Relations, in which Mr. Biden was talking about how the Obama administration tried to root out corruption in Ukraine. He said he had held back financial aid to push the country to make reforms.

There is no evidence that Mr. Biden, during his time as vice president, pushed for the dismissal of the Ukrainian prosecutor general to help his son Hunter Biden. The former vice president, along with other members of the Obama administration and other international leaders, pushed for the removal of the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, because of accusations that he ignored corruption.

Days after the ad was broadcast on television and social networks the Biden campaign wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, asking to reject the ad. The video “spreads false, definitively debunked conspiracy theories regarding Vice President Joe Biden,” Greg Schultz, a Biden campaign manager, wrote to the Facebook leaders.

Mr. Schultz wrote that the vice president’s call for a new prosecutor in Ukraine’s investigation of a company was supported by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He included clippings from The Washington Post and Factcheck.org that debunked the claims of Mr. Biden’s motives of squashing the investigation to benefit his son.

After CNN rejected the ad last week, Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Mr. Trump’s campaign, said that the ad was “entirely accurate and was reviewed by counsel.”

“CNN spends all day protecting Joe Biden in their programming,” Mr. Murtaugh wrote in a statement. “So it’s not surprising that they’re shielding him from truthful advertising, too.”

The Biden campaign also urged Fox News to reject the Trump campaign ad last week. But the cable channel declined to do so, saying that it was “not in the business of censoring ads from candidates on either sides of the aisle.”

The ad has also appeared on YouTube and Twitter. A spokesman for Twitter said on Tuesday that the ad complied with its policies. A YouTube official likewise said the ad complied with its policies.

T.J. Ducklo, a spokesman for Mr. Biden, wrote in an email that “Donald Trump has demonstrated he will continue to subvert our democratic institutions for his own personal gain, but his shortcomings are no excuse for companies like Facebook to refuse to do the right thing.”

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