Rudy Giuliani is not a State Department employee. He has not been appointed by the president for some sort of special diplomatic role. He is ostensibly serving as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney.
And yet, he has — with Trump’s blessing — become a central figure in US foreign policy in Ukraine, promoting the “need” for an investigation into nonexistent Ukrainian election meddling; taking trips to advance an investigation into the Biden family; and, by his own admission, exerting control over US diplomatic staffing in that country to serve the interests of his client, even if they are at odds with those of the US government.
On Monday’s edition of Fox News’s The Ingraham Angle, Giuliani admitted he played a leading role in last spring’s ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine. Yovanovitch’s removal set the stage for the Trump administration’s efforts over the summer to leverage Ukrainian diplomacy into investigations of Joe and Hunter Biden that stood to benefit the president.
“I forced her out because she’s corrupt,” Giuliani said, before alluding to sketchily sourced information he dredged up during his just-completed trip to Ukraine and adding, “I came back with a document that will show unequivocally that she committed perjury when she said that she turned down the visa for [Viktor] Shokin because of corruption .... there’s no question that she was acting corruptly in that position, and had to be removed. She should have been fired, if the State Department weren’t part of the deep state.”
Giuliani spreads sketchily-sourced smears of Yovanovitch: "I forced her out because she's corrupt. I came back with a document that will show unequivocally that she committed perjury ... she should have been fired if the State Department weren't part of the deep state." pic.twitter.com/kQ13OOJvmy— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 17, 2019
Put succinctly, Giuliani’s allegation is that Yovanovitch acted “corruptly” by refusing to grant visas to travel to the United States to Ukrainians who wanted to come here to share information they purportedly have about corruption involving the Bidens and Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that Hunter Biden served on the board of.
But Yovanovitch recently testified that the visa application of Viktor Shokin, the disgraced former top prosecutor of Ukraine, was denied because he lied on it by claiming he wanted to come to America to visit family when his real purpose was to meet with Giuliani.
Even Republicans acknowledge that Yovanovitch’s explanation of what happened with Shokin’s visa application is more accurate than Giuliani’s. As Will Saletan of Slate pointed out in response to a tweet in which Giuliani made the same claim, the House Republicans’ impeachment report characterizes Giuliani’s effort to obtain a visa for Shokin, as “potential impropriety” that the Trump White House “shut down.”
The House *Republican* report on impeachment—the *Republican* report—specifically cites these visa denials as evidence that "the White House actively worked to stop potential impropriety" promoted by Giuliani. https://t.co/LPamTPc49U pic.twitter.com/5AnNOBuuKk— Will Saletan (@saletan) December 17, 2019
Shokin was pushed out as the country’s top prosecutor in May 2016 after then-Vice President Biden and other world leaders urged the Ukrainian government to do so, citing Shokin’s failure to curb corruption in the country.
Shokin has since claimed, without evidence, that Biden’s real motivation was curbing an investigation into Burisma at a time in which his son was serving as a board member. As flimsy as they may be, Giuliani is now broadcasting Shokin’s allegations to make it seem as though Trump had good reason to try and cajole the new Ukrainian government into investigating the Bidens.
It was a marked evolution from a statement Giuliani gave to the New Yorker in November. Then, he was even more explicit about why he wanted Yovanovitch gone: She was getting in the way of his pursuit of conspiracy theories.
“I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way,” he said. “She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody.”
Giuliani closed out his latest interview with Ingraham by pushing Infowars-style conspiracy theories about non-governmental organizations working in Ukraine, characterizing them as “Soros-like — they were left of left.”
The president's lawyer was on national TV last night pushing Infowars-style conspiracy theories. pic.twitter.com/NPvDf59taO— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 17, 2019
But as strange as it might be for the president’s personal lawyer to go on national TV and push unfounded conspiracy theories, that’s nothing new for Giuliani. What was new was his frank admission that he played a leading role in the ouster of Yovanovitch, a widely respected diplomat who served the country for more than three decades.
“Rudy Giuliani is going on television and admitting one of the central allegations of the abuse of power article of impeachment against the President,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) wrote on Twitter, in response to Giuliani’s latest TV hit. “Republicans cannot explain or defend this. The President’s actions were a corrupt abuse of power for personal gain.”
“He does this out of love”
While House Republicans try to distance the White House from Giuliani, Trump continues to embrace him. During a White House event on Monday, Trump deflected a question about how much Giuliani has shared with him about his recent trip to Ukraine by effusively praising Giuliani and his motivations for traveling to a number of European countries to investigate “corruption.”
“He’s a very great crime fighter,” Trump said. “He was probably the greatest crime fighter over the last 50 years. Very smart. He was the best mayor in the history of the city of New York. He’s a great person who loves our country, and he does this out of love ... he sees all of the hoax that happens, when they talk about impeachment hoax, or the Russian collusion delusion.”
JUST IN: President Trump reveals Rudy Giuliani has shared some evidence he gathered on recent trip to Ukraine, but ignored my question about Giuliani being under investigation by his DOJ. @CBSNews pic.twitter.com/HhNXgPIWDM— Paula Reid (@PaulaReidCBS) December 16, 2019
But while Trump wants you to believe his lawyer has altruistic motives for his European travels, Giuliani himself gave up his game in tweets he posted from somewhere in Kyiv earlier this month that explicitly acknowledged a link between ongoing US assistance to Ukraine and investigations into the Biden family — the very “quid pro quo” at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
Hours after Giuliani went on Fox News and admitted that he’s a decisive player in the Trump administration’s foreign policy, Marc Short, chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, went on MSNBC and tried to distance the administration from him.
“Rudy Giuliani is representing the president well as his personal attorney,” Short said. “He’s not a part of this administration.”
Short’s comments illustrate a dynamic that’s at play in the Trump administration’s relationship with Giuliani: The president’s lawyer has clearly played a key role in the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy and is leading Trump’s impeachment defense. But because he’s ostensibly nothing more than the president’s lawyer, administration officials can conveniently distance themselves from him when he says problematic things. That’s particularly useful as the administration and its congressional allies fight the impeachment process by trying to minimize the very presidential actions Giuliani insists on highlighting.