One thing that those of us who have worked with Rudy Giuliani know about him is that he is not stupid, and he is not naïve.
As a former federal prosecutor who worked on numerous counterintelligence investigations against Russian operatives, Giuliani is intimately familiar with the sophistication with which Russia’s intelligence agencies—first the KGB, and later FSB and GRU—can manufacture false documents as part of an effective disinformation campaign.
Sadly, Giuliani does not seem to care that he may be a pawn in Russia’s dirty tricks campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. But it is not surprising, since Giuliani clearly relished his role amplifying the October Surprise that Russian intelligence operatives and WikiLeaks unleashed on America during the 2016 presidential campaign. This artful release of a combination of genuine stolen emails from Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, along with totally false and manufactured attacks on Clinton on various social-media platforms, was a masterfully orchestrated disinformation campaign that may well have tipped the scales in Donald Trump’s favor.
Fast forward to 2019. For reasons of ego, financial gain, or perhaps an adrenaline rush and desire to stay relevant and in the good graces of the White House, Giuliani immersed himself in the morass of Ukrainian-U.S. politics and the same kind of financial dealings that had led to the indictments and convictions of Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates. Manafort was convicted of tax fraud and a series of financial crimes stemming in part from an FBI investigation triggered by a civil RICO case that I brought on behalf of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukraine prime minister, against Manafort, Gates, and others in federal court in New York.
In that civil case, we exposed some of the money-laundering activities that Manafort and Gates engaged in on behalf of Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin. The Mueller investigation later confirmed our reports that Manafort’s top associate in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, had been a longstanding Russian GRU operative assigned to be Manafort’s “handler.” Manafort had actually handed Kilimnik highly detailed polling data from swing states during the 2016 election campaign, which Kilimnik then took with him back to Moscow to be used by Russian troll farms to recalibrate their disinformation campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
Undeterred by the cautionary tale of Manafort’s lucrative but ultimately disastrous forays into the Ukrainian swamp of dirty money and illegal financial dealings, Giuliani teamed up with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Ukrainian Americans who were indicted on Oct. 10, 2019 by the Manhattan U.S. attorney at the time, Geoffrey S. Berman. Parnas and Fruman—who had close ties to Ukrainian/Russian organized crime and Russian intelligence—were charged with having orchestrated a corrupt scheme to disguise money from Ukrainian donors to the Trump campaign in violation of the U.S. campaign-finance laws.
It was known to federal law enforcement that Parnas and Fruman had introduced Giuliani to a former Ukrainian prosecutor in an effort to get Ukrainian authorities to open an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. Giuliani also strangely ended up representing a city in eastern Ukraine for “transportation planning” and other issues that seemed to some in the media (and undoubtedly federal prosecutors) as a thinly disguised mechanism to funnel large amounts of money of suspect origin to Giuliani and his newfound cohorts. After his indictment, Parnas provided information to federal prosecutors about Giuliani’s links to Fraud Guarantee, a company Parnas and Giuliani also used to pitch potential new investors in Ukrainian gas pipeline projects.
Reports of the federal investigation involving Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman, and others were confirmed in press reports from late October 2019 through at least February 2020. I myself confirmed to reporters that I and some of my Ukrainian clients had been contacted by the FBI in connection with the continuing federal investigation of Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine as part of their counterintelligence probe.
A more prudent lawyer, especially one such as Giuliani who was acting as personal counsel to the president, would have taken news reports that he is a subject of a federal investigation (he says that he has yet to be contacted about that reported investigation) as a signal that he should start acting more discreetly. But that’s not Giuliani’s style now. Instead, his response has always been to double down, like in the 2019 interview in which he said that there’s “nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” Giuliani also apparently continued to meet with Russian operatives attempting to meddle with the 2020 election, including Andriy Derkach, identified by the U.S. Treasury Department this year as a Russian agent.
According to The Washington Post, the White House was told last year by U.S. intelligence officials that Giuliani was the target of a Russian campaign to peddle misinformation to Trump. This was based on information regarding some of Giuliani’s meetings in Ukraine in December 2019, some of which had been relayed to federal investigators by Ukrainian contacts and clients of mine. The Post further reported that, after National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned Trump in a private conversation that Giuliani could be bringing back Russian misinformation from Ukraine, Trump dismissed the concerns, saying, “That’s Rudy.” Last week, Giuliani told The Daily Beast that “The chance that Derkach is a Russian spy is no better than 50/50,” and dismissed questions about whether he was working with a foreign election-interference operation as “a bunch of bullshit.”
That interview was in response to Giuliani’s release of “smoking gun” emails to the New York Post—supposedly showing influence-peddling by Biden and his son in Ukraine—that took his relationship with Russian intelligence operations to a whole new level. Giuliani can no longer be viewed as just another useful idiot like Carter Page, who was easily manipulated by Russian intelligence operatives into doing their bidding for them. Instead, Giuliani is acting more like a Julian Assange, who, over a period of time, became a knowing and willing conduit for Russian disinformation.
To anyone with counterintelligence experience, or even anyone with just plain common sense, the bizarre story of the trail of emails from the mysterious dropoff of a computer with a “Beau Biden Foundation” sticker on it at a Delaware computer repair shop to the thinly sourced publication of it by the New York Post on Oct. 14 has all the earmarks of a Russian intelligence operation. Giuliani must have known this, especially since the emails turned over to the New York tabloid within three weeks of the presidential election were supposedly obtained by the computer repair shop way back in April 2019, and the emails are only shared as image files—not in a file format that would contain header information and metadata.
Although the Giuliani camp and the New York Post have declined to share the original computer data, the FBI is already reported to have the computer where the emails originated. f it turns out that this is yet another October Surprise and disinformation hoax cooked up by Russian intelligence, the chances of the Barr Justice Department handing down additional indictments of the Trump band of “Biden-hunters” is slim to none. But hopefully, after November 3, the results of the continuing investigation into Giuliani and his friends associated with Russian intelligence will become fully known. One can only hope that the rule of law will assert itself once again.