Manhattan federal prosecutors investigating Rudy Giuliani reportedly have a bizarre episode in their crosshairs: the firing of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that federal prosecutors are focused in part on Giuliani’s dealings with Yuriy Lutsenko, the country’s former prosecutor general. As the chief law enforcement official in the country, Lutsenko was the target of efforts by the United States and Ukraine’s Western backers to tamp down on the corruption that largely defines the country’s political and economic system.
From the standpoint of Ukrainian officials and businessmen, the anti-corruption efforts pushed by then-Vice President Joe Biden and by Yovanovitch constituted a potentially mortal threat.
Trump fired Yovanovitch after a push from Giuliani to do so. Federal prosecutors are reportedly scrutinizing whether Giuliani advocated for Yovanovitch’s removal at the behest of Ukrainian officials, including Lutsenko, who, according to the Times, was named in a search warrant.
Lutsenko has publicly spoken about the axe he had to grind with Yovanovitch after her attempts to push him to take on high-level corruption cases.
“[Yovanovitch] was trying to control Ukraine’s law enforcement system,” Lutsenko, told a Ukrainian journalist in November 2019. “I never said this publicly, because I thought it would please the Kremlin, to announce that the American embassy was trying to establish total control over Ukraine’s law enforcement system.”
Giuliani has also cited information from and met with Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who has pushed the narrative that Ukraine, and not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election. A GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee report described that narrative as propagated by the Russian government.
Telizhenko, too, told this me that he was disgusted by what he saw as the U.S. Embassy’s attempts to meddle in Ukrainian affairs. A former deputy to another Ukrainian prosecutor general, Telizhenko accused the U.S. embassy in a 2018 interview of “picking a side.”
“You just can’t pick a side here, that’s my problem with the embassy,” Telizhenko told me at the time.
Reviewing Giuliani’s dirt-digging activities in Ukraine in light of this suggests that he was acting as much at the direction of Ukrainian officials as he was gathering information from them. Firing Yovanovitch did not just serve Giuliani’s purpose of removing an apparent obstacle to the dirt-digging campaign; it also achieved a long-lasting, clearly stated goal of the Ukrainians who helped him in eliminating a vocal and influential gadfly.
Messages released during the impeachment inquiry show Lutsenko asking a Giuliani associate repeatedly for updates on when the ambassador would be removed, at the same time as the former general prosecutor cast the aspersions on the Bidens that Giuliani sought.
The Trump attorney denied in a Thursday night interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he had lobbied on behalf of any Ukrainian or foreign official.
“I never, ever represented a foreign national,” Giuliani said. “In fact, I have in my contracts a refusal to do it because from the time I got out of being mayor, I did not want to lobby.”
Text messages released during the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry into Trump’s effort to extort Ukraine into manufacturing dirt on Biden show the scope of Lutsenko’s, and others’, effort to use Giuliani to dampen U.S. anti-corruption efforts.
After Yovanovitch gave a speech in March 2019 demanding the resignation of a scandal-embroiled senior Ukrainian prosecutor, Lutsenko fired off an angry message to Lev Parnas, a Giuliani associate currently under indictment on campaign finance charges.
“The ambassador openly called for the firing of the head of the Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor,” Lutsenko wrote in a March 5 text message to Parnas.
Lutsenko gave an interview to The Hill’s John Solomon that same month saying that he had revived an investigation into the Bidens, while another prosecutor — the same one whose firing Yovanovitch had demanded — told Solomon that remarks from Biden himself had allowed prosecutors “to start this case again.”
The allegations that Solomon reported and Giuliani pursued have been definitively debunked.
A few weeks later, Lutsenko reiterated his desire: Yovanovitch should be removed.
“it’s just that if you don’t make a decision about Madam [Yovanovitch], you’re placing into doubt all of my statements,” Lutsenko wrote. “Including about B.”
It’s not clear whether “B” refers to the Bidens, though Lutsenko uses it throughout the texts to refer to allegations around Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.
Parnas replied later that he “was asked to personally convey to you that America supports you and will not let you be harmed no matter how it looks now, everything will soon turn around and will be on the right track.”
Lutsenko replied a few days later that the investigation into the owner of the Ukrainian company where Hunter Biden worked was “moving along successfully.”
“There’s evidence about transfers to B,” Lutsenko wrote in a March 26 message to Parnas. “And yet you can’t even get rid of one fool.”
Parnas has said that he didn’t do anything in the dirt-digging campaign “without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”
Joseph Bondy, an attorney for Parnas, filed an exhibit in the Soviet-born businessman’s criminal case in December which purports to show Giuliani attempting to contact Parnas in November 2019, once his former associate began sharing information with the House Intelligence Committee.
In a transcript of a voicemail message, Giuliani says that he’s calling “to see if we can talk either about or with Lev.” He mentions that he has his lawyer present, and then appears to think he has hung up, but fails.
“That’s the soon-to-be gotten-rid of number,” Giulaini says, after failing to hang up.
“Mr. Giuliani’s entreaty to speak with Mr. Parnas went unanswered, and it is unknown whether Mr. Giuliani actually altered or destroyed any evidence associated with his cellphone, nor why he might have felt a need to get ‘rid of’ his number,” Bondy wrote in a court filing about the episode.