Federal investigators recently executed search warrants at the Manhattan residence and office of Rudy Giuliani, who was former President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer while he was in office. As reported by the New York Times, the search warrants are part of an ongoing investigation that is focused, at least in part, on Giuliani’s role in the Trump administration’s decision to fire Marie Yovanovitch, the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was recalled in May of 2019:
The long-running inquiry reached a turning point this week when F.B.I. agents seized telephones and computers from Mr. Giuliani’s home and office in Manhattan, the people said. At least one of the warrants was seeking evidence related to Ms. Yovanovitch and her role as ambassador, the people said.
In particular, the federal authorities were expected to scour the electronic devices for communications between Mr. Giuliani and Trump administration officials about the ambassador before she was recalled in April 2019, one of the people added.
Giuliani is reportedly being investigated for possible violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which can carry criminal penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, as a result of his efforts to convince federal officials to fire ambassador Yovanovitch. If Giuliani was acting as the agent of one or more Ukrainian nationals when he was lobbying Trump to have Yovanovitch removed, then under FARA he was required to register with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent – something which Giuliani failed to do.
In recent appearances on Fox News, Giuliani appears to have confirmed that he is being investigated for FARA violations, and described the search warrants as “purportedly based on one single failure to file for representing a Ukrainian national or official that I never represented.” Giuliani denied the allegation that he lobbied on behalf of any Ukrainian officials, stating, “I was representing my client when I did this – I wasn’t representing any Ukrainians, I was representing Donald J. Trump.”
Even before the recent search warrants were carried out, however, many of Giuliani’s communications about the firing of the ambassador had already been made public as a result of the 2019 impeachment proceedings against Trump. And those communications – in the form of emails, WhatsApp messages, and phone logs between Giuliani and his associates – show that, in seeking Yovanovitch’s removal, Giuliani had not been acting at the direction of or on behalf of Trump. Rather, it was Ukrainian officials who sought the recall of the U.S. ambassador, and on at least four well-documented occasions, Giuliani represented their interests while lobbying Trump to fire her:
- On Jan. 23-26, 2019, Giuliani met with Yuriy Lutsenko, a Ukrainian prosecutor who wanted Yovanovitch removed, in Ukraine to discuss both the removal of the ambassador and the announcement of the opening of a criminal investigation into Joe Biden. During this meeting, Giuliani convinced Trump to join the meeting by phone so that he could hear from Lutsenko directly.
- On Feb. 17, 2019, Giuliani traveled to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump and convince him to fire Yovanovitch. Although this meeting initially appeared to be a success, and Trump informed Giuliani that he would be removing her the following week, the order to fire Yovanovitch was ultimately not carried out at this time.
- On or about March 24, 2019, Giuliani and his associate, Lev Parnas, met with Trump, this time at the White House, and once again convinced Trump to fire Yovanovitch. Yet, once again, Yovanovitch remained in her post.
- On April 23, 2019, Giuliani and Trump spoke once again about Yovanovitch, and Trump once again agreed to fire her. This time, the president’s direction to remove her was successful, and she was given orders to return to Washington the following day.
Even before the recent search warrants were issued, the publicly-available record of Giuliani’s communications already set forth compelling evidence that (1) Ukrainian nationals directed an effort to have the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed, and asked Giuliani to assist in this effort; (2) at the behest of those Ukrainian officials, Giuliani spent months lobbying Trump and other members of the federal government fire the ambassador; and (3) Giuliani failed to register under FARA despite his awareness that he was required to do so, as demonstrated by his efforts to disguise the nature of his relationship with the foreign nationals whose interests he was acting to advance.
Background: Giuliani is Introduced to Parnas and Fruman
The campaign to have Yovanovitch removed from her post dates back to at least April 30, 2018, when Soviet-born business partners Parnas and Igor Fruman attended a private dinner with Trump for Republican donors at Trump’s D.C. hotel. At the time, Parnas and Fruman had only recently begun fundraising for Republican political candidates, and 18 months later, in October of 2019, the pair were indicted, along with two of their associates, on four counts of conspiracy to violate the ban on foreign donations and contributions in connection with federal and state elections. As noted in that indictment,
In or about March 2018, Parnas and Fruman began attending political fundraising events in connection with federal elections … with the purpose of enhancing their influence in political circles and gaining access to politicians. Parnas and Fruman, who had no significant prior history of political donations, sought to advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.
During the April 2018 dinner at Trump’s hotel, Parnas and Fruman recorded themselves telling Trump, “[W]e’ve got to get rid of the ambassador.” This was not the only time that Parnas and Fruman met with a politician to lobby for Yovanovitch’s removal, and federal prosecutors believe that, in doing so, they were acting as agents for one or more Ukrainian officials:
At and around the same time PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raising those funds for Congressman-1 PARNAS met with Congressman-1 and sought Congressman-1’s assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine (the “Ambassador”. Parnas’ efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials. emphasis added
Shortly after the dinner with Trump, in the “summer or fall of 2018,” Parnas and Fruman were introduced to Giuliani. Parnas and Fruman hired Giuliani to “offer advice on technology and regulatory issues” to their company, Fraud Guarantee, for which Parnas and Fruman paid Giuliani $500,000, which was wired to him in two installments. (It is unclear what work Giuliani did for Fraud Guarantee, but the company ultimately never became operational, and, in February of 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission brought a civil suit against Parnas and Fruman alleging they had obtained the half a million dollars paid to Giuliani by defrauding an investor.)
In addition to representing Fraud Guarantee, Giuliani, in his capacity as pro bono attorney for president Trump, was also pursuing a scheme to manufacture a scandal for Biden in Ukraine, in the hope of damaging Biden’s prospects in the 2020 Democratic primary. Giuliani has claimed that these efforts began on Nov. 28, 2018, when a former colleague contacted him with information that allegedly implicated Biden in a scheme to help Ukraine interfere in the 2016 election by laundering money to Hillary Clinton. (As even Giuliani acknowledges, these allegations turned out to be baseless.) One week later, on Dec. 6, 2018, Parnas, Fruman, and Giuliani were all in attendance at a White House Hanukkah party where they reportedly met with Trump to discuss the scheme to create a scandal for Biden in Ukraine. Following the party, Parnas confided to others that, in a private meeting with Trump and Giuliani, he and Fruman had been given a “special assignment” by the president:
[A]ccording to what Parnas told his confidants, the topic turned to Ukraine that night. According to those two confidants, Parnas said that “the big guy,” as he sometimes referred to the President in conversation, talked about tasking him and Fruman with what Parnas described as “a secret mission” to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Although Giuliani’s attorneys have dismissed this account as nothing more than Parnas’ “delusions of grandeur,” WhatsApp messages exchanged between Parnas (in green) and Giuliani (in blue) on the day following the White House Hanukkah party give credence to Parnas’ version of events:
Giuliani’s messages to Parnas – about “need[ing] to get [him] up to speed” – are suggestive of the very scenario Parnas has alleged: that on or around Dec. 6, he was given a “special mission” in Ukraine that he was to carry out with Giuliani. And Parnas’ messages to Giuliani provide additional corroboration that these early December meetings were in fact linked to efforts to remove Yovanovitch. For instance, communications between Parnas and Giuliani on Dec. 7 include Parnas sending Giuliani a copy of a letter from former Republican Rep. Pete Sessions to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in which Sessions– or, as he is known in the Parnas-Fruman indictment, “Congressman-1” – encouraged Pompeo to have Yovanovitch removed from her post:
The Quid Pro Quo With Lutsenko
Federal investigators have not yet charged Giuliani with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and at this time, federal investigators have not confirmed the identity of any Ukrainian officials on whose behalf Giuliani is suspected of working. However, the New York Times has reported that there is one official in particular that investigators are interested in: Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general.
At least one of the search warrants for Mr. Giuliani’s devices mentioned Mr. Lutsenko and some of his associates, including one who helped introduce him to Mr. Giuliani.
Lutsenko’s longstanding animosity towards Ambassador Yovanovitch was no secret in Ukraine. During the impeachment hearings in 2019, Ambassador Yovanovitch testified that Lutsenko’s opposition to her was due, in part, to her support for specialized anti-corruption units that were outside of Lutsenko’s chain of command as prosecutor general.
I think that he felt that I and the embassy were effective at helping Ukrainians who wanted to reform, Ukrainians who wanted to fight against corruption, and he did not you know, that was not in his interest. I think also that he was, I mean, it’s hard to believe, I think he was personally angry with me that we weren’t we did work with [the Prosecutor General’s Office], but he wanted us to work with him in different ways, you know, and that we didn’t have a closer relationship, and that I was not facilitating trips for him to the United States with our cabinet members, when there was, frankly, nothing to talk about because he wasn’t a good partner for us.
In February of 2019, a Ukrainian government official warned Yovanovitch that Lutsenko had begun working with Giuliani in an effort to have her recalled from Ukraine:
[O]ne of the senior Ukrainian officials was very concerned, and told me I really needed to watch my back. … He basically said [ ] that there were two individuals from Florida, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who were working with Mayor Giuliani, and that they had set up the meetings for Mr. Giuliani with Mr. Lutsenko. And that they were interested in having a different ambassador at post, I guess, because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine[.]
It was through Giuliani that Lutsenko’s scheme to fire the U.S. ambassador became linked to Trump’s desire to create a scandal for Biden in Ukraine. An arrangement was reached for an exchange of favors – a quid pro quo – in which Ukrainian officials would assist Trump by opening a criminal investigation into Biden, and Trump would assist the Ukrainian officials by firing Yovanovitch. This quid pro quo was developed while President Petro Poroshenko was still in office, and predated President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s unexpected victory in Ukraine’s April 2019 presidential election. After Zelenskyy took office – and after he rejected the prior quid pro quo that had been in the works with the Poroshenko administration – a new quid pro quo scheme was developed, under which Trump blocked U.S. military aid to Ukraine, and Zelenskyy was informed the money would not be provided until he publicly announced an investigation into Biden.
Prior to Zelenskyy’s election, the withholding of military aid was not the focus of the deal. Instead, as shown in WhatsApp exchanges between Parnas and Lutsenko from March of 2019, the announcement of a criminal investigation into Biden had been explicitly contingent on Trump removing Yovanovitch from her office:
The “printout of Burisma payments to Seneca” that Lutsenko mentions in this exchange is a reference to unsubstantiated allegations against Burisma, whose board of directors included Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. In response to Lutsenko dangling alleged proof of Hunter Biden’s misconduct, Parnas responded that Lutsenko could go ahead and send him the documents – to which Lutsenko responded that he would send the documents to Yovanovitch’s replacement, once she had been fired as the ambassador to Ukraine.
Although Lutsenko had begun actively assisting in efforts to open a Biden investigation in Ukraine in or about January of 2019, Lutsenko’s WhatsApp communications to Parnas repeatedly emphasize that his assistance was contingent on promises made by Parnas and Giuliani that Yovanovitch would soon be fired. As the months dragged on, though, Yovanovitch still remained at her post, and Lutsenko grew increasingly frustrated with what he saw as the failure of Parnas and Giuliani to uphold their end of the bargain:
The “female fool” that Lutsenko refers to in this exchange is, of course, Ambassador Yovanovitch. It was Lutsenko, first and foremost, who wanted the U.S. government to remove Yovanovitch. It was only after being informed of Lutsenko’s desire to see Yovanovitch fired that Giuliani began a five-month campaign of using his contacts with the president and other senior executive branch officials to pressure them to have her recalled from Ukraine.
January 23-26, 2019: The initial meeting with Lutsenko
In January of 2019, Lutsenko flew to New York to meet with Giuliani and discuss a potential criminal investigation into Biden. He brought with him Ukrainian records that he alleged would assist in this effort.
Although Lutsenko was able to meet with Giuliani face-to-face in New York, there was another former Ukrainian prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, was forced to join in these meetings by telephone. It is likely that Shokin, whose dismissal in 2016 is the foundation of the Biden conspiracy theories in Ukraine, had intended to join Lutsenko on the trip to New York, so that Shokin could also provide assistance in manufacturing political dirt against Biden. Unfortunately for Shokin, his request for a visa to visit the United States had been denied in early January 2019 – and, according to Giuliani, Shokin had believed it was Yovanovitch who ordered the denial of his visa application, and suggested she had done so because she was “close to Biden.”
After Parnas informed Giuliani of the visa denial, Giuliani began to use his contacts in the White House to try and have the visa decision reversed:
Giuliani even enlisted the president’s personal assistance, and expressed to Parnas that he was confident that he would be able to persuade the State Department: “It’s going to work[,] I have N[umber] 1 in it” Giuliani wrote, referring to Trump. Nevertheless, Giuliani’s efforts were unsuccessful.
The meetings with Lutsenko in New York went ahead in late January, with Shokin attending by phone, and memos documenting these meetings were later provided by Giuliani to Pompeo, as part of Giuliani’s efforts to secure Pompeo’s assistance in removing the ambassador.
As confirmed by Giuliani’s electronic communications, he was in contact with Trump both before, during, and after the meetings in New York. In fact, just minutes before the meeting with Lutsenko on Jan. 26, Giuliani messaged Parnas to tell him that he was speaking with “big guy” – one of the group’s code names for Trump.
Additionally, Lutsenko himself would later tell other Ukrainian officials that, during his January visit with Giuliani in New York, Trump had called into the meeting by phone.
Lutsenko Attempts to Hire Giuliani
Giuliani’s representation of Donald Trump was pro bono. As Giuliani’s attorney explained to the court during his divorce proceedings in 2018, “[b]ased on a 30-year relationship with Mr. Trump, [Giuliani] was asked to serve in his capacity without compensation.” But Giuliani also did legal and consulting work for paying clients, and when Prosecutor General Lutsenko met with Giuliani in New York, preliminary arrangements were made by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, the agency Lutsenko led as chief prosecutor, to hire Giuliani to lobby the U.S. government on the Ministry’s behalf. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Lutsenko wanted Giuliani to arrange a meeting for him with the U.S. Department of Justice:
In January, Yuriy Lutsenko, then Ukraine’s prosecutor general, asked Mr. Giuliani to represent the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice and him personally on two matters, Mr. Giuliani said in an interview. Mr. Giuliani said he subsequently drew up two retainer agreements, for a total of about $500,000, and gave them to Mr. Lutsenko.
The proposed retainer agreement with the Ministry of Justice contained the same payment terms – $500,000, made in two installments – that Giuliani received from his representation of Parnas’ and Fruman’s company, Fraud Guarantee. But the retainer agreement with Lutsenko’s agency was ultimately withdrawn before it could be signed by Lutsenko:
The next day, Mr. Giuliani decided he couldn’t represent Mr. Lutsenko personally because he believed doing so would pose a conflict with his representation of the president, he said, but continued to consider the Ministry of Justice contract. He said he ultimately declined that one, too, and was never “paid a penny” in connection with the proposed arrangements.
After Giuliani decided against signing the contract with Lutsenko, he referred Lutsenko to attorneys Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, who prepared retainer agreements for their representation of Lutsenko, as well as his deputy, Kostiantyn Kulyk, in connection with meetings to “discuss with United States governmental officials the evidence of illegal conduct in Ukraine regarding the United States, for example, interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.” A separate retainer agreement was also drafted to arrange for Toensing and diGenova to represent former Ukrainian chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin. (Initially, the proposed retainer agreement with Toensing and diGenova provided for Giuliani to receive $300,000 from the General Prosecutor’s office, but Giuliani was not mentioned in later drafts of the retainer.)
February 17, 2019: Giuliani meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and convinces him to fire Yovanovitch
Throughout February and March of 2019, Giuliani used his contacts in the U.S. government to encourage the removal of Yovanovitch. Although it was Toensing and diGenova who signed a retainer agreement to represent Lutsenko and his deputy, Giuliani worked closely with them to carry out Lutsenko’s objective of having Yovanovitch fired. As messages exchanged between Toensing and Giuliani show, Giuliani met with Pompeo on February 8, 2019, in an effort to convince Pompeo to have the ambassador recalled:
When Giuliani’s efforts to convince Pompeo to fire Yovanovitch were not successful, he then arranged to meet with Trump himself to discuss the matter, and flew down to Florida while Trump was visiting his private club in Palm Beach. Parnas was not present for this particular meeting, as he was in Ukraine at the time to meet with Ukrainian officials, including Lutsenko – and also, according to Parnas, then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Parnas has alleged that he met with the Ukrainian president in order to deliver a separate quid pro quo on Trump’s behalf, in which Trump would agree to offer assistance and support to Poroshenko in his upcoming reelection campaign, and, in exchange, Poroshenko would announce an investigation into Biden. (Poroshenko did not accept the offer.) In the lead-up to his meetings with Lutsenko and Poroshenko, Parnas had needed to know where things stood with the Yovanovitch situation. He reached out to Toensing for more information, and she informed him that Giuliani was meeting with Trump to handle the matter:
The “Madam A” that Parnas refers to is “Madam Ambassador” Yovanovitch. Although Toensing had no answer for Parnas at the time, her response indicates that she expected to Giuliani to soon be in contact with Trump about the matter.
The next day, on Feb. 17, Toensing checked in again with Parnas, who informed her that Giuliani would be meeting with Trump later that morning:
Parnas’ messages indicate that Giuliani was to meet Trump at around 10:00 a.m. that morning. White House pool reports show that Trump spent that weekend at Mar-a-Lago, and that at 9:12 a.m., he arrived at his Palm Beach golf club, where he would spend the next five hours out of sight of pool reporters. Based on Parnas’ WhatsApp messages, Giuliani successfully met with the president at some point while he was there, and – based on Parnas’ updates to Toensing later that same evening, after Parnas had gotten a chance to speak to Giuliani on the phone – the meeting between Trump and Giuliani had gone well:
The messages between Toensing, Parnas, and Giuliani provide strong circumstantial evidence that on Feb. 17, 2019, Trump and Giuliani met to discuss the fate of Yovanovitch. The messages further indicate that Giuliani was successful in convincing Trump to fire her – and that Trump would do so “this week.”
Following the meeting at Mar-a-Lago, however, Ambassador Yovanovitch was not recalled from Ukraine. Either Trump did not carry through with giving the order for her to be recalled – or if he did give the order, the State Department did not convey the order to the ambassador, and Yovanovitch remained at her post.
March 20-24, 2019: Trump communicates with Giuliani and associates about renewed efforts to fire Yovanovitch
The next major push to remove Yovanovitch kicked off in March of 2019, when Giuliani and his associates worked with John Solomon of The Hill to arrange for him to publish articles that would support Giuliani’s allegations against Biden and Yovanovitch. As part of this effort, Solomon was represented by Toensing and diGenova, who also assisted in providing Solomon with the information that he was to publish in his articles. In preparing his articles, Solomon was in close contact with Giuliani, Parnas, Toensing, and diGenova through emails, calls, and text messages:
The initial plan was for Solomon to interview President Poroshenko, who would be prompted by Solomon to make allegations against Yovanovitch, Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter. It was Parnas who provided the Ukrainian officials with the questions that Solomon planned to ask them:
Once Lutsenko saw the questions, however, Lutsenko (in blue) messaged Parnas (in green) to inform him that Poroshenko was unlikely to agree to Solomon’s interview, as doing so would jeopardize Poroshenko’s own political standing.
After seeing the questions, Lutsenko responded that the proposed interview with Poroshenko would likely not work out: “These are not questions for an incumbent President in the middle of an election campaign, he cannot respond to questions about the ambassador, Biden, etc. … Lev, the President cannot comment on such issues.”
Poroshenko, as predicted, did not go through with the interview with Solomon, though Solomon was able to interview an anti-corruption prosecutor in Lutsenko’s office about Yovanovitch and Biden. The next day, however, Giuliani (in blue) contacted Parnas (in green) to pass on Solomon’s comments to Giuliani about how the interview had gone:
Solomon told Giuliani that the prosecutor’s comments about Yovanovitch and Biden had been “very weak,” “equivocal at best,” and “not consistent with the facts.” Solomon informed Giuliani he he did not have enough to publish the planned story about Yovanovitch: “I need Poroshenko and [Attorney General Lutsenko] on the record about the ambassador and Biden. Can you make that happen?”
Giuliani was able to make part of Solomon’s request happen, and set Solomon up to interview Lutsenko himself. Based on Lutsenko’s statements in that interview, Solomon published an article accusing Yovanovitch of engaging in corrupt activities in Ukraine to benefite Democrats in the 2016 election.
Giuliani and his associates were thrilled with the article, which garnered substantial media attention and was featured prominently on Fox News that evening, and brought the matter to Trump’s attention, who tweeted about Solomon’s article after seeing a segment about it on Hannity.
Within two days of Solomon’s article about Yovanovitch being published, Giuliani and his associates were informed that Trump had gone ahead and fired her. Notably, on the evening of March 22, Joe DiGenova, Toensing’s husband, appeared on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle as part of a segment about Yovanovitch’s “anti-Trump bias.” (This segment also included vague allegations about Biden having a “Ukraine connection” that could be troublesome for him, though the host, Laura Ingraham, seemed to suggest this was somehow related to Yovanovitch’s activities.) While on Ingraham’s show, DiGenova announced that Trump had just ordered the dismissal of Ambassador Yovanovitch:
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, contrary to what a lot of people thought, was still in her job. I learned this evening that the President has ordered her dismissal from her post as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, as a result of her activities there, which were complained of by Congressman Sessions. She is known and reported by people there to have bad-mouthed the President of the United Stated Donald Trump, to have told Ukrainians not to listen to him or obey his policy because he was going to be impeached. And finally her activities have caught up with her.
Parnas was watching The Ingraham Angle that night, and just before the show ended, Parnas messaged Toensing to tell her how much he appreciated her and DiGenova:
Toensing’s response to Parnas – “we can be really great if we have a retainer signed” – appears to be a reference to the retainer agreements with Lutsenko that Toensing had been attempting to finalize for weeks. In April, Toensing and DiGenova would eventually sign retainer agreements with three Ukrainian officials: Yuriy Lutsenko, Lutsenko’s deputy Kostiantyn Kulyk, and former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. The existence of these retainer agreements may suggest that DiGenova’s appearance on Ingraham’s show was related to, or within the anticipated scope of, his and Toensing’s work as foreign agents for the Ukrainian officials they had agreements with.
Early the next morning after DiGenova’s appearance on Ingraham’s show, Toensing reached out to Parnas for an update – as it was Parnas who was in contact with individuals who were allegedly tracking Yovanovitch’s movements in Ukraine – and Toensing expressed her hope that Yovanovitch might have already been removed from Kyiv:
Other messages sent by Parnas immediately following DiGenova’s appearance on The Ingraham Angle show that Parnas had reason to believe that Yovanovitch’s dismissal was imminent. Just after DiGenova’s segment ended, at 11:05 p.m. ET, Parnas sent a WhatsApp message to Harry Sargeant III, another partner in the Ukraine scheme, along with a brief message: “She’s gone.”
But although Parnas may have thought Yovanovitch would soon be gone – for real, this time – Parnas could not be sure of it. After all, this would not be the first time that Trump had expressed his wish to have Yovanovitch fired, only for that order to not be carried out.
Parnas’ desire to obtain confirmation of whether Trump’s orders had finally been carried out may explain why, in the days following, Parnas would receive a series of disturbing messages that purported to detail the ambassador’s movements in Kyiv. Although it has yet to be determined if the purported surveillance on Yovanovitch was genuine, the surveillance updates informed Parnas – accurately, as it turns out – that Yovanovitch hadn’t gone anywhere, as Parnas had expected. She was still the ambassador.
Despite Yovanovitch remaining in Ukraine, Parnas still seemed to have had a great deal of confidence during this mid-March time period that she would soon be fired:
What is not clear, however, is exactly why Parnas was so confident that Yovanovitch was, in his words, “gondo.” According to DiGenova’s statements on Fox News (and according to unnamed sources quoted by the Daily Wire and other publications), Trump had informed others that he was in the process of removing Yovanovitch. However, the available records produced by Parnas do not describe any specific communications from Trump at that time.
But available records do show that just two days later, on March 24, Giuliani and Parnas met with Trump at the White House:
Here, Parnas seems to be referring to Jay Sekulow, who was also Trump’s personal attorney, and who also represented Trump in the Senate impeachment trial. Parnas and Sekulow were together that night to celebrate the release of Attorney General Bill Barr’s misleading summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation, as shown by a photo posted to Parnas’ Instagram account:
And, according to Parnas’ messages to Toensing from earlier that evening, at 6:36 p.m., Parnas, Giuliani, and “Jay” had been “on [their] way to White House.” Although no meeting between Giuliani, Parnas, and Trump has yet been confirmed to have taken place on March 24, 2019, Parnas’ WhatsApp messages indicate such a meeting did in fact happen – and that Sekulow was there for it as well.
It isn’t clear how long Parnas and Giuliani remained at the White House, but, at some point, they made their way back to Trump’s hotel. And shortly after midnight, Parnas sent an excited update to his business associate Harry Sargeant:
These messages offer compelling evidence that on March 24, Parnas and Giuliani met with Trump at the White House, and it is likely that the fate of Yovanovitch would have been one of the topics of discussion.
April 23, 2019: The scheme to remove Yovanovitch finally succeeds
At some point in late March or early April, it must have become clear that – despite the apparent order from Trump directing Yovanovitch’s firing – the ambassador had not actually gone anywhere. In WhatsApp messages sent and received by Giuliani and his associates during this time period, there are often hints at the group’s frustration – and in the case of Lutsenko, the frustration was explicit.
And by then, Giuliani’s efforts to have Yovanovitch fired had begun to face serious opposition from other quarters in the U.S. government. In early April, six senior officials at the State Department sent Pompeo a group letter in opposition to the “ungrounded attacks” against her. A week after that, Democratic Representatives Steny Hoyer and Eliot Engel wrote to Pompeo in defense of Yovanovitch as well, and urged him to “make public statements personally defending your team and those who represent our country from these spurious disparagements.” The campaign to recall Yovanovitch was flagging, and seemed, for a time, like it would not succeed.
Then, just before noon on April 23, several outlets reported that, in just two days time, Biden would be officially announcing his presidential campaign. And that same afternoon, no more than a few hours after Biden’s 2020 campaign was confirmed, Toensing called Parnas and left him a voicemail:
Hey Lev, VT here. Uh, we’ve got a request to talk to, uh, the Big One. So I just wanted to get the latest from you if I could, I know it’s late there, I’m sorry.
Parnas seems to have received Toensing’s message, because early that afternoon, Parnas and Giuliani connected for a brief phone call. Just 15 minutes after that, Giuliani began making calls to the White House. Based on the records from the House Intelligence Committee, Giuliani doesn’t seem to have gotten through right away, but just after 3:50 p.m. he received a call from “-1” – a number that, from other available evidence, was almost certainly a call from Trump himself.
Giuliani spoke to the “-1” number for eight minutes and 28 seconds. Less than an hour later, Giuliani sent a message to Parnas confirming that the president had, once again, given the order to terminate Yovanovitch:
Parnas’ skepticism about whether Yovanovitch would really be fired – “I pray it happens this time” – is understandable, given that Trump had told Giuliani on two prior occasions he was firing Yovanovitch, only for his pledge to go nowhere. But this time, Giuliani appears to have been much more confident that Trump actually meant business, and Yovanovitch would soon be gone. Early the next morning on April 24, he appeared on Fox and Friends, where he expressed his belief that some “interesting information” would be coming out of Ukraine soon about Biden and his son:
And I’d ask you to keep your eye on Ukraine… I think you’d get some interesting information about Joe Biden from Ukraine. About his son, Hunter Biden. About a company he was on the board of for years, which may be one of the most crooked companies in Ukraine.
Giuliani’s optimism would turn out to be well founded. Later that afternoon, the State Department called Yovanovitch, and told her that she needed to be on the next plane back to Washington, D.C.
May 6, 2019: Yovanovitch’s recall is made public
Although the State Department had decided it was no longer possible for Yovanovitch to continue on in Kyiv, and ordered her to fly back to the United States, she was not officially removed from her post at that time. She remained the ambassador to Ukraine, and the sudden flight back to D.C. was portrayed, at least publicly, as a routine trip home.
In reality, Yovanovitch had been called back to Foggy Bottom so that the State Department could develop a plan for how she could leave her Kyiv post in a way that brought as little attention to the matter as possible. As David Hale, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, testified, “the gist of the plan was that she would go back to Kyiv and relatively quickly pack up her personal effects, meet with her staff, and find a graceful way to leave.” At the end of April, Yovanovitch flew back to Kyiv, and – to all appearances – seemed to resume her duties as ambassador.
As a result, Giuliani and the others on Trump’s team had been left with the mistaken impression that their efforts to have Yovanovitch fired had failed once again. On May 3, Giuliani sent a sarcastic complaint to Parnas over WhatsApp:
Giuliani’s lament to Parnas – “Please don’t tell anyone I can’t get the crooked Ambassador fired[,] or [that] I did three times and she’s still there” – is an acknowledgment by Giuliani that he had been attempting to influence the U.S. government to fire Yovanovitch. Although, from Giuliani’s perspective, his efforts had been a failure, as he had not succeeded in convincing the White House to permanently remove her.
Giuliani was wrong, though. This time, he had succeeded in getting Yovanovitch fired, he just didn’t know it yet. It wasn’t until three days later, on May 6, that the State Department publicly announced that Yovanovitch would be stepping down from her post, effective May 20.
Liability Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act
Based on Giuliani’s communications that have already been publicly released, it is clear why federal investigators suspect that Giuliani was acting at the behest of Ukrainian officials when he repeatedly lobbied Trump and other Cabinet-level officials to fire the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and that – in doing so while failing to register as a foreign agent – Giuliani violated the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
As a result of his efforts to get Yovanovitch fired, Giuliani “engage[d] in political activities for or in the interests of [a] foreign principal,” 22 U.S.C. § 611(c)(1)(I), and “represent[ed] the interests of [a] foreign principal before [an] agency or official of the Government of the United States,” 22 U.S.C. § 611(c)(1)(IV). This makes him a foreign agent for purposes of FARA, which defines the term “political activities” as “any activity that the person engaging in believes will, or that the person intends to, in any way influence any agency or official of the Government of the United States… with reference to formulating, adopting, or changing the domestic or foreign policies of the United States or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party.” 22 U.S.C. § 611(o).
Giuliani’s communications show that he repeatedly engaged in activities that, by his own admission, were aimed at influencing U.S. government officials – including Trump – to adopt a policy that was desired by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice. And that Giuliani would be carrying out these lobbying activities on the behalf of Ukrainian officials was explicitly contemplated by all involved; when they met in New York, Giuliani had provided Lutsenko with a draft agreement to retain his services, under which Giuliani would be paid half a million dollars to represent the Ministry’s interests before the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to Giuliani, he ultimately backed out of the agreement before it could be signed. Despite not signing the agreement, however,, Giuliani continued to meet with members of the U.S. government to advocate that they adopt policy positions that Lutsenko desired. Giuliani also worked closely with Toensing and diGenova – the attorneys that Giuliani referred Lutsenko to, and who ultimately did sign a retainer agreement with Lutsenko – to carry out Lutsenko’s objective of having Yovanovitch fired.
Even if Giuliani did not receive compensation from any Ukrainian officials, that would not provide immunity for him under FARA, which deems someone to have been acting as a foreign agent when their “activities [were] directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal.” 22 U.S.C. § 611(c)(1). The effort to have Yovanovitch fired was both directed and financed by Ukrainian officials, through their retainer agreements with Toensing and diGenova, whom Giuliani worked closely with in his efforts to assist the Ukrainian officials.
In doing so, Giuliani appears to have been acting as a foreign agent, and he was required to register that fact with the Justice Department. But Giuliani never did – a failure which appears to have been willful, based on his decision not to sign the retainer with Lutsenko, but to nevertheless continue to represent Lutsenko’s interests before the U.S. government. The lack of any direct contractual relationship between Giuliani and a foreign principal is not a bar to liability under the FARA, as Giuliani knew that in attempting to convince the president to fire the ambassador to Ukraine, he was representing the policy interests of both a foreign government agency (the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice) and certain foreign nationals (Lutsenko and Shokin).
In his public appearances following the execution of the search warrants, Giuliani has signaled that his defense to any criminal charges will be that he was acting not on behalf of any Ukrainian nationals, but rather on behalf of his client, Trump. Although it is clear that Giuliani was not acting at Trump’s direction, Giuliani has suggested he had nevertheless been acting to advance Trump’s personal interests in seeking Yovanovitch’s dismissal. According to Giuliani, he convinced Trump to recall the ambassador by telling him that Yovanovitch had “displayed an anti-Trump bias,” and was “an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter” – which Giuliani says is proof he was acting on Trump’s behalf in advocating that she be fired. But Giuliani’s description of how he influenced Trump to fire Yovanovitch is, in fact, exactly how lobbying works. Giuliani was representing the interests of a third party – in this case, Ukrainian government officials who wanted the ambassador to be fired – by attempting to influence a U.S. government official – in this case, the U.S. president – to enact the third party’s desired policy outcome, by convincing the U.S. official that it is the U.S.’s own interest to enact the policy.
This is an unusual FARA case in at least one way, however. At the same time that Giuliani was representing the interests of Lutsenko, he was simultaneously representing President Trump. In exchange for Trump agreeing to order the recall of Lutsenko’s political enemy from Kyiv, Lutsenko had agreed to announce a criminal investigation into Trump’s political opponent – a quid pro quo in which each agreed to use their position as a government official to enact a policy outcome that would be for the personal benefit of the other. Giuliani was the middle man in this arrangement, tasked with overseeing that both sides got the policy outcomes they desired. After Yovanovitch’s recall had been publicly announced, and Trump’s end of the quid pro quo was complete, Giuliani immediately turned his attention to the other end of the bargain, and stepped up his efforts on Trump’s behalf to pressure Ukrainian officials to open the criminal investigation into Biden that had been promised.
In effect, Giuliani was lobbying Ukrainian officials on behalf of an American official, and lobbying American officials on behalf of a Ukrainian official. Although Giuliani’s dual role makes for a somewhat unusual FARA case, it provided him no immunity from FARA’s registration requirements. Giuliani was still acting as an agent for a foreign national regardless of whether he was also acting as an agent for a U.S. national at the same time.
It is therefore not surprising that federal investigators were able to establish probable cause to believe that search warrants for Giuliani’s communications would turn up evidence of criminal conduct. And the evidence seized pursuant to those warrants may help investigators answers some of the unanswered questions surrounding Giuliani’s conduct in Ukraine that still remain – such as the identity of the parties ultimately responsible for funding the efforts to have Yovanovitch fired, and whether or not Giuliani himself was ever personally compensated for his role in this scheme.