WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Federal prosecutors in New York City are investigating whether President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
The investigators are examining Giuliani's efforts to undermine the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Trump's broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.
The investigation into Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funnelling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Yovanovitch.
Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Yovanovitch and other targets of Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Giuliani shared that material this year with US government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.
Federal law requires US citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians or government officials, regardless of whether they pay for the representation. Law enforcement officials have made clear in recent years that covert foreign influence is as great a threat to the country as spies trying to steal government secrets.
A criminal investigation of Giuliani raises the stakes of the Ukraine scandal for the president, whose dealings with the country are already the subject of an impeachment inquiry. It is also a stark turn for Giuliani, who now finds himself under scrutiny from the same US attorney's office he led in the 1980s, when he first rose to prominence as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and later ascended to two terms as mayor of New York.
It was unclear how far the investigation has progressed, and there was no indication that prosecutors in Manhattan have decided to file additional charges in the case. A spokeswoman for the US attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, declined to comment.
Giuliani said that federal prosecutors had no grounds to charge him with foreign lobbying disclosure violations because he said he was acting on behalf of Trump, not the Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, when he collected the information on Yovanovitch and the others and relayed it to the US government and the news media.
"Look, you can try to contort anything into anything, but if they have any degree of objectivity or fairness, it would be kind of ridiculous to say I was doing it on Lutsenko's behalf when I was representing the president of the United States," Giuliani said. Lutsenko had chafed at Yovanovitch's anti-corruption efforts and wanted her recalled from Kyiv.
Giuliani also said he was unaware of any investigation into him, and he defended the pressure campaign on Ukrainians, which he led, as legal and above board.
CNN and other news organisations reported that federal prosecutors were scrutinising Giuliani's financial dealings with his associates, but it has not been previously reported that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are specifically investigating whether he violated foreign lobbying laws in his work in Ukraine.
Yovanovitch told impeachment investigators on Friday that Trump had pressed for her removal for months even though the State Department believed she had "done nothing wrong."