Since at least October 2019, federal investigations have been looking into Rudy Giuliani’s effort to convince the White House and a reluctant State Department to grant a visa to a former Ukraine official, according to two people briefed on the matter.
These sources tell The Daily Beast that the visa issue is one aspect of the federal probe into whether Giuliani’s efforts during the Trump-Ukraine saga constituted illegal lobbying on behalf of foreign officials or individuals. According to people with knowledge of the matter, including Giuliani’s own legal team, federal investigators are also investigating his attempt to get the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired.
The feds are reportedly working to determine if Giuliani’s Ukraine work ran afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which demands Americans register with the Justice Department when lobbying on behalf of foreign interests. The former New York mayor and Donald Trump attorney and confidant has yet to be charged with a crime in this investigation, but the probe already resulted in the raid on Giuliani’s office and apartment late last month.
Several attorneys for Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment on this story. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Giuliani’s efforts to secure a visa for at least one Ukrainian official, the controversial former prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, became well known during the first Trump impeachment trial. Shokin’s name appeared as one of 12 people whose communications with Giuliani prosecutors sought under a search warrant executed by the FBI at the former mayor’s apartment late last month.
Giuliani first became involved in attempts to secure a visa for Shokin in early 2019 when he invited the former Ukrainian prosecutor to New York to interview him about his allegations of corruption against Biden and his son, Hunter. The failed effort to secure a visa proved to be a flashpoint between Giuliani and Yovanovitch and provided fodder for his campaign to have her fired.
European governments and anti corruption activists widely viewed Shokin, labeled by experts as a “protector of the country’s corrupt old guard,” as an obstacle to reform and uninterested in prosecuting cases that would reflect poorly on his political ally, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. As Vice President, Joe Biden called for Ukraine to fire then-prosecutor general Shokin as a condition of receiving a U.S.-backed IMF loan in 2015. But Shokin alleged, without evidence, that his ouster was an attempt by then Vice President Biden to block an investigation into Burisma, an energy company where Hunter sat on the board.
During former President Trump’s first impeachment trial, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, testified before the House impeachment panel that Shokin “was well and very unfavorably known to us” for his lackluster efforts at prosecuting corruption when Shokin applied for a tourist visa in January 2019. “And we felt, under no circumstances, should a visa be issued to someone who knowingly subverted and wasted U.S. taxpayer money,” Kent testified, referring to funds from U.S. anti-corruption assistance to the country.
The State Department declined to issue the visa, which put Yovanovitch at odds with the president’s attorney.
“And the next thing we knew, Mayor Giuliani was calling the White House as well as the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, saying that I was blocking the visa for Mr. Shokin, and that Mr. Shokin was coming to meet him and provide information about corruption at the embassy, including my corruption,” Yovanovitch told lawmakers during a deposition in late 2019.
Text messages between Giuliani and his business partner, Lev Parnas, obtained by the House intelligence committee show that the president’s lawyer felt confident he could enlist Trump’s help in obtaining the visa.“It's going to work,” he texted Parnas on Jan. 10, 2019, “I have no 1 in it,” in an apparent reference to the president.
While Giuliani’s efforts to secure a visa for Shokin are a matter of public record, what’s less clear is why federal investigators have looked into them as part of an investigation of potential FARA violations or how it may fit into the larger probe into Giuliani’s efforts to oust Yovanovitch.
The requirement for FARA registration hinges on whether actions taken to influence the American public or government were undertaken on behalf of a foreign principal. Giuliani has insisted that all of his work in Ukraine was conducted on behalf of his client, then-President Trump, and that he has not carried out any foreign lobbying activity.
The Justice Department long took a lax approach to enforcing FARA law until Robert Mueller and the Special Counsel’s Office’s prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. As a result of that probe, experts now remind potential foreign lobbyists that prosecutors may still bring charges even in the absence of a payment from or a formal written contract with a foreign principal.
In the coming weeks, the Giuliani legal team is expected to file a motion challenging the U.S. government’s use and review of information and communications seized by the feds from their multiple search warrants, including one in 2019 that allowed them to secretly view contents of Giuliani’s iCloud. A person with knowledge of the matter said the motion could come as soon as next week, and that Team Giuliani is actively working on the precise language.
Alan Dershowitz, a celebrity attorney and veteran of the Trump legal defense for his first impeachment trial, is currently advising Giuliani and his lawyers. Dershowitz told The Daily Beast earlier this week, “I’ve said to them that it would be very good to get people [including former President Trump] whose materials might have been seized to...become part of the [motion].”
In recent days, Dershowitz advised Giuliani’s legal team on potential options, such as a “motion to suppress [materials], to have a subpoena issued instead of doing a warrant and have the warrant[s] voided, and a motion to have a magistrate or judge appointed to address claims of [attorney-client] privilege.”