The Justice Department sharply escalated an investigation into former President Donald Trump’s longtime confidant and lawyer Rudy Giuliani Wednesday by executing search warrants at his Manhattan home and office. The actions were part of a long-running probe into Giuliani’s dealings with a shadowy cast of characters in Ukraine during Trump’s presidency, Politico reports.
The FBI also arrived Wednesday morning at the D.C.-area home of another attorney who had dealings with Ukrainians and remains close to Giuliani and Trump, Victoria Toensing, and took her cellphone pursuant to a search warrant, according to a person familiar with the episode. Toensing’s home was not searched and officials indicated that she is not a focus of the probe, the person said.
The raids are a highly unusual intrusion into a former president’s inner circle and a rare case of law enforcement deploying such aggressive tactics against attorneys.
An attorney for Giuliani, Robert Costello, confirmed the raids and said in a statement they focused on a single incident in which Giuliani allegedly failed to register as a foreign agent. Costello said he twice offered to discuss the allegations with prosecutors, but they declined to disclose the specific focus of their inquiry.
“The electronics taken…are replete with material covered by the attorney-client privilege and other constitutional privileges. Mr. Giuliani respects the law and he can demonstrate that his conduct as a lawyer and a citizen was absolutely legal and ethical,” Costello said.
Costello also contended that the acts were part of a political vendetta by the Justice Department against friends and supporters of Trump — a manifestation of what Costello called “hatred” driven by “Trump derangement syndrome.”
Bernie Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner and a longtime friend of Giuliani’s, confirmed the search of Giuliani’s apartment. He said he was on the phone with Giuliani as agents were searching his home.
“I find it extremely concerning that the mayor has been attempting to cooperate through his attorney, Mr. Costello, for almost two years and they ignored those attempts, only to show up today to execute a search warrant for materials and all they had to do was ask for it, which raises the question as to why the search warrant was executed. Why did they send seven people to his house?” Kerik said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Toensing’s law firm said she cooperated with the FBI and described the seizure of her phone as unnecessary.
“Ms. Toensing is a former federal prosecutor and senior Justice Department official,” the statement said. “She has always conducted herself and her law practice according to the highest legal and ethical standards. She would have been happy to turn over any relevant documents. All they had to do was ask. Ms. Toensing was informed that she is not a target of the investigation.”
The high-profile moves appeared to signal the end of a months-long disagreement between federal prosecutors in Manhattan and officials at Justice Department headquarters in Washington about whether to intensify the investigation of Giuliani.
Law enforcement officials had sought approval to secure a search warrant for Giuliani’s apartment last summer, but DOJ headquarters denied them because of internal rules barring investigative moves that could sway campaign results within 60 days of the election. Officials again sought approval for the raid after the presidential election, but received more push-back.
Rudy Giuliani has spent years at the center of a saga involving the relationships between wealthy Ukrainians and American politics. While Trump was president, Giuliani worked with Ukrainians to find and distribute material about the relationship between a scandal-plagued Ukrainian energy company and Hunter Biden — Biden’s son.
Trump famously told Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky in July 2019 to get in touch with Giuliani, part of a transcript that the Trump White House made public as it sought, and failed, to defuse the controversy.
Trump aides later communicated that the president would withhold military aid from Ukraine unless its president promised to publicly announce an investigation of the company in question. That episode triggered the first impeachment proceedings against Trump, which resulted in a House vote in favor of impeachment but a largely party-line acquittal in the Senate.
Igor Novikov, a former adviser to Zelensky who worked with him during Trump’s first impeachment, told POLITICO the raid of Giuliani’s home was good news.
“It’s a welcome development,” he said. “There’s a lot more to his Ukraine endeavors than what’s been made public so far. And having directly witnessed a lot of it, Rudy Giuliani definitely needs to face the consequences.”
Months after the first impeachment trial ended, Giuliani shared material purported to be from Hunter Biden’s laptop with The New York Post. And after Election Day, news broke that the FBI was investigating the president-elect’s son for possible financial crimes.
As Giuliani sought to uncover information that could be damaging to Biden and beneficial to Trump, the former New York mayor became associated with a controversial cast of Ukrainians.
One member of Ukraine’s parliament who he worked with on a documentary, Andrii Derkach, was also called a longtime Russian agent by the U.S. Treasury Department. And in January of this year, Treasury sanctioned Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who also worked with Giuliani on his research of Hunter Biden. Treasury said it targeted Telizhenko “for having directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign influence in a United States election.”
Derkach has been at the forefront of foreign-based efforts to denigrate Biden. Last year, POLITICO reported that he sent packets of Kremlin-backed disinformation about the Bidens to pro-Trump lawmakers. The U.S. intelligence community concluded that the effort was part of a foreign plot to damage Biden.
Two men who worked with Giuliani on Ukraine-related issues and hired him to support a business venture, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were charged in a federal criminal indictment in 2019.
The indictment of Parnas and Fruman focused campaign finance violations and claims they defrauded investors through a company ironically called “Fraud Guarantee.” However, the grand jury also mentioned their effort to have the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, removed from her post at the behest of an unnamed Ukrainian government official.
According to the indictment, Parnas and Fruman hid the source of political donations they made in order to further that goal. Giuliani has not been charged in the case and has denied any wrongdoing, but he acknowledged taking $500,000 from Fraud Guarantee in exchange for advice on the business.