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The latest news about SDNY’s investigation into Rudy Giuliani, explained

Prosecutors are looking into Giuliani’s money, into his Ukrainian ties, and into a long list of possible crimes.

Rudy Giuliani. AFP via Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The investigation into Rudy Giuliani and his associates by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) is heating up, according to a set of new reports — and new details suggest prosecutors are looking into matters near the heart of the Ukraine scandal.

The new reports cite subpoenas sent out to various associates of President Trump’s personal attorney by SDNY. The subpoenas reveal that prosecutors are looking into Giuliani’s business and finances, that they’re exploring his contacts with former top Ukrainian officials, and that they’re investigating a host of potential crimes.

Back in October, two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were indicted for campaign finance violations. Parnas and Fruman had already gained notoriety in the media for helping Giuliani make connections with Ukrainian officials who claimed to know of scandalous information that could be helpful to Trump. And their arrest happened in the midst of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry on that very topic.

The charges against Parnas and Fruman did not mention Giuliani; the pair were apparently charged in some haste, to prevent them from leaving the country. But word soon leaked out that Giuliani was under scrutiny by SDNY as well.

Overall, things don’t look great for Giuliani, who says he has not even been contacted by investigators. Generally, if investigators are reaching out to lots of your associates but not to you, it may mean that you’re the investigation’s target. But, though details are still scant on the overall probe, here’s what we’ve learned about it lately.

Prosecutors are investigating a lot of potential crimes

The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Rebecca Ballhaus, and Shelby Holliday had the first major story on the Giuliani associate subpoenas this week. They reported that the subpoenas they’d heard about “listed more than a half dozen potential charges under consideration.” These were:

  • Obstruction of justice
  • Money laundering
  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States
  • Making false statements to the federal government
  • Serving as agent of a foreign government without registering
  • Donating funds from foreign nationals
  • Making contributions in the name of another person or allowing someone else to use one’s name
  • Mail fraud
  • Wire fraud

That’s ... a lot. Many of these potential crimes relate to foreign influence — either about unregistered foreign lobbying or getting foreign money into the campaign finance system. Others are more typical crimes, such as obstruction and fraud.

And, of course, there’s the money.

Prosecutors want information on Giuliani’s money and business

According to Reuters’ Aram Roston, who quoted the exact text of one subpoena (given to a person or entity remaining anonymous), prosecutors are following the money — Giuliani’s money. This subpoena requests:

  • “All documents, including correspondence, with or related to Rudolph Giuliani, Giuliani Partners, or any related person or entity”
  • All “documents related to any actual or potential payments, or agreements to or with Giuliani”

Giuliani has said his legal work for Trump is unpaid. However, he has landed numerous wealthy foreign clients for both his legal work and his consulting firm Giuliani Partners.

One set of payments to Giuliani is particularly relevant to this scandal: In the fall of 2018, Parnas and Fruman agreed to pay him $500,000. They then started working closely together on matters related to Ukraine. There was much speculation about where Parnas and Fruman came up with this money, but according to the New York Times, they got a Republican donor from Long Island, Charles Gucciardo, to foot the bill. Still, prosecutors certainly seem interested in where Giuliani’s money is coming from.

Prosecutors want information on contacts with key Ukrainian officials

Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Tom Hamburger, Rosalind Helderman, and Josh Dawsey have learned about another notable aspect of the investigation: an interest in top Ukrainian officials.

“One person with knowledge of the investigation said there is a particular interest in interactions with three key figures in the saga of Giuliani’s pursuit of dirt on Biden and his son Hunter: Poroshenko and former Ukrainian prosecutors Yuri Lutsenko and Viktor Shokin,” the Post reporters write.

That would be:

  • Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine from 2014 until earlier this year, when Volodymyr Zelensky defeated him in an election
  • Viktor Shokin, who was Poroshenko’s prosecutor general until he was ousted under US and international pressure due to alleged corruption in 2016
  • Yuri Lutsenko, who succeeded Shokin as prosecutor general until this year, when Zelensky replaced him with his own choice for the post

Shokin and Lutsenko have both been involved in Trump allies’ effort to drum up dirt on the Bidens.

Shokin has claimed Vice President Joe Biden pushed for his ouster because Shokin was investigating Burisma, a gas company Biden’s son Hunter sat on the board of. But US officials like George Kent have testified that Shokin himself was extremely corrupt and ineffective as prosecutor general, and that’s the reason he was ousted. No evidence has surfaced of improper motives on Biden’s part.

Lutsenko, meanwhile, helped get the Biden allegations media coverage by talking about them to conservative journalist John Solomon earlier this year. He also combined them with his own (baseless and eventually retracted) allegations against the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Lutsenko is reportedly referenced, though not by name, in SDNY’s indictment of Parnas and Fruman, which accuses the pair of seeking to advance “the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.” According to NBC News’ Tom Winter, Dan De Lue, and Anna Schecter, that official is Lutsenko — and his “political interests” involve the ouster of Ambassador Yovanovitch.

Poroshenko meanwhile, hasn’t seemed as deeply involved in the dirt-digging, but both the Journal and the Post have reported that, when he was still president earlier this year, Parnas and Fruman pressed him to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden.

Prosecutors want materials on the main pro-Trump Super PAC

Finally, again according to the Wall Street Journal’s O’Brien, Ballhaus, and Holliday, subpoenas also “sought materials related to America First Action and America First Policies, two pro-Trump groups.”

America First Action is the main pro-Trump Super PAC, which was founded to help Republicans in the 2018 midterms, and America First Policies is its affiliated nonprofit arm.

Prosecutors’ interest in these groups is not exactly a surprise, since Parnas and Fruman were charged with making false disclosures regarding $325,000 they gave to America First Action in 2018. But it’s another reminder that this probe is delving into Trump’s political circle.

Overall, regardless of the outcome of the impeachment inquiry, it appears that Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman will remain in legal jeopardy for some time. Parnas, for his part, appears to have broken with Trump and Giuliani and is trying to get some sort of immunity in exchange for testifying to Congress — but it’s unclear whether that will happen.

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