The State Department assisted President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in setting up a meeting with a Ukrainian official to “strongly urge” the new administration in Ukraine to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
Giuliani backed out of a planned trip to Kiev earlier this year that was meant to dig up dirt on Biden. But the New York Times now reports the former New York mayor instead traveled to Madrid to meet with a top aide to new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, with help from the State Department.
Giuliani told the Times that he “strongly urged” the Ukrainian official, presidential aide Andriy Yermak, to investigate whether there was any impropriety in Biden’s diplomatic efforts in Ukraine while his son worked for a gas company in the country.
Giuliani said he urged Yermak to “just investigate the darn things” and came away “pretty confident they’re going to investigate it.”
Giuliani claimed to the Times that he traveled for the meeting as a “private citizen,” but acknowledged that his travel was arranged with the help of the State Department.
The meeting was arranged with the help of Kurt Volker, a special envoy to Ukraine. Giuliani said he “briefed State Department officials on the back-channel communications” after returning from the trip. He would not say whether Trump was aware of the outreach.
The move concerned Ukrainian officials, who accused Giuliani of complicating their efforts to set up a meeting between Zelensky and Trump at the White House. Ukrainian officials are worried, according to the Times, that Giuliani’s outreach has created a perception that the meeting would be contingent on the Ukrainian government doing his bidding.
Giuliani “did not totally reject the suggestion that he was complicating relations between the two governments,” the Times reported.
A Ukrainian news outlet warned that Zelensky, who was elected in April, risks serious blowback if he works with Trump.
“If Ukraine supports the current president [i.e., Trump] and sells out Biden, it would become a cause of deep and irreversible processes which later will circle back on Ukraine in a very unpleasant manner,” the site said.
Giuliani was heavily criticized after the Times reported in May that he had actively worked to urge prosecutors appointed by Zelensky’s predecessor to investigate a gas company for which Hunter Biden had worked.
Later that month, the Washington Post reported that Giuliani had met with a former Ukrainian diplomat who had "made unproven claims that the Democratic National Committee worked with the Kiev government in 2016 to dig up incriminating information."
After Giuliani’s early efforts were reported, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., warned Ukrainian officials not to work with Giuliani.
The lawmakers warned that any coordination between the Ukrainian government and Trump’s personal attorney “risk severely jeopardizing support for Ukraine in Congress.”
Yermak told the Times that he did not interpret Hoyer’s message as a warning to avoid investigating Biden.
Giuliani denied that he did anything wrong by pressuring the Ukrainians to go after Trump’s enemies.
"I wouldn't do an unethical thing in my life, I'm a really good lawyer," he told CNN. "I'm proud of what I did."
But former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah suggested Giuliani may have gone too far this time.
“There was an outcry, he canceled it, and now he’s just back at it?” she wrote on Twitter. “This seems highly unethical and likely illegal.”
Igor Derysh is a New York-based political writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.