Opinion by George T. Conway III, Washington Post contributing columnist
To borrow the infamous line of his ex-presidential ex-client, it looks like Rudolph W. Giuliani is “going to go through some things.” Like possibly being charged with a crime. Worse, some people who might have tried to save him from that fate might have actually guaranteed it.
In law and in life, things have a way of coming full circle. The quoted words come from the former president’s supposedly “perfect” phone call with Ukraine’s president, and described what could happen to the American ambassador there, Marie L. Yovanovitch. It was Giuliani’s relentless efforts that got her recalled.
Now that’s what might land poor Giuliani in the dock. Last week, the FBI showed up at his apartment at dawn, armed with a search warrant that reportedly focused on Yovanovitch’s firing. Questions the seized materials might answer: On whose behalf was Giuliani acting? Just Donald J. Trump, legal client? Or was Giuliani also representing Ukrainian officials who wanted the corruption-fighting diplomat gone?
If the latter, Giuliani might have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Giuliani denies any obligation to register — because, he says, he drafted his retainer agreements to disclaim lobbying or foreign representation.
Whatever happens, the investigation marks yet another step in Giuliani’s unimaginable fall from grace. The once-respected former federal prosecutor, New York mayor (“America’s mayor”!), presidential candidate and possible Cabinet pick, stands reduced to a laughingstock: shirt-tucking star of the “Borat” sequel, headliner for a news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, and now defendant in a $1.3 billion defamation suit for having claimed that the long-dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez founded a voting software company that helped steal the presidency from Trump.
Rudolph W. Giuliani has at times given conflicting accounts of what he did with hard drives purportedly belonging to President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
Even before he peddled nutso election-fraud claims, Giuliani had firmly established himself as one of the world’s worst lawyers. He’s the bumbler who blurted out on national TV that his client, Individual-1, had reimbursed a $130,000 payment made to a porn star, a transaction that triggered a sprawling and ongoing New York grand jury investigation into Trump’s overall business affairs.
The former first client wasn’t too thrilled about that. But he ought to be even more ticked about what came next: not one, but two, impeachments, both Rudy-enabled. Nobody — other than perhaps the impeachee himself — did more than Giuliani to get his client charged with high crimes and misdemeanors.
According to a transcript published last week of a Giuliani phone call with one of the Ukrainian president’s top aides, it was Giuliani who first urged the Ukrainians to announce a bogus investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden so Ukraine could have “a much better relationship” with the United States. It was Giuliani who told the media that his Ukrainian adventure “isn’t foreign policy,” but was meant to “be very, very helpful to my client.”
It wasn’t. It also wasn’t helpful for Giuliani to fill the former guy’s head with fertilizer for the Big Lie about the 2020 vote. But at least he’s loyal, standing alongside his client — and urging “trial by combat” — at the insurrectionist rally on Jan. 6 that led to impeachment No. 2.
All this boggles the mind of anyone who has followed Giuliani’s lengthy career. It’s as though someone dropped him on his head. Still, as a former associate attorney general and former U.S. attorney, he surely understands that federal search warrants against lawyers don’t just fall off trees. The Justice Department doesn’t like them, out of respect for the attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors will use them if they have really strong evidence a lawyer is up to no good, and if very senior personnel in Washington agree. And, of course, only with the blessing of a federal court.
That’s terrible news for Giuliani — just ask Michael Cohen, the last presidential lawyer raided by the FBI. It’s not good for the former guy, either. Giuliani’s travails have left him facing potentially staggering legal bills, which in apparent desperation he’s beseeching Trump to pay. And most important, Giuliani faces the prospect of jail.
If Giuliani has anything to offer prosecutors to save himself, it would have to be Trump, the only bigger fish left. And it was arguably criminal for the then-president to have used his official powers to try to coerce foreign officials into aiding his reelection campaign. In fact, Giuliani’s admission that he wasn’t conducting foreign policy, but merely helping Trump personally, is exactly what would make the scheme prosecutable. The former guy just might want to rethink stiffing Giuliani on those bills.
That’s not the ultimate irony of Giuliani’s predicament. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan tried to get permission last fall for a Giuliani raid but were rebuffed by senior officials serving under Trump. And last June, for reasons still opaque, then-Attorney General William P. Barr ousted the U.S. attorney there and tried to handpick a successor.
If any of that was intended to protect Giuliani — or Trump himself — it might end up backfiring spectacularly. If a warrant had been executed before Jan. 20, it’s hard to imagine that Trump wouldn’t have pardoned Giuliani, out of spite, self-interest or both.
Now it’s too late. As Giuliani cautioned on the newly disclosed transcript, “be careful of the people around you, because they can very easily, they can very easily get you into trouble.” That might be the only advice he gave that turned out to be right.
Image Credits: Jacqueline Larma/AP