Every day, there’s another devastating story or desultory interview that seems to reveal shady foreign interloping on the part of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. But instead of backing down after the damaging headlines air, Giuliani keeps holding court—and there might actually be a method to his madness.
The latest tale of his corruption comes courtesy of The Washington Post, which alleges that on numerous occasions, Giuliani pushed Trump to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey. Much to his staff’s alarm, Trump reportedly asked why he couldn’t give Gulen over to “my friend” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan wants Gulen because he accuses him of attempting a coup in 2016. Gulen denies any involvement in the putsch and lives in exile in Pennsylvania. There is a good chance he will be left to rot in a prison, if not executed, if he is returned to Turkey.
Giuliani reportedly brought up Gulen so often that a former official called the subject his “hobby horse,” while another official described Giuliani’s conversations as “all Gulen.” According to the Post, White House aides report that Giuliani seemed to be working on behalf of the Turkish government.
That possibility is particularly troubling in light of the fact that Trump’s first disgraced national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had reportedly been offered $15 million to kidnap Gulen and deliver him to Turkey.
Giuliani’s work for Trump is unpaid, and it’s unclear how he makes an income.
But we know that investigators have been looking into his ongoing paid work for foreign clients (while he’s served as the president’s personal lawyer), including wealthy Ukrainian businessmen and the Mujahidin e-Khalq (MEK), an anti-Iranian militant group that has paid millions to American politicians and celebrities over the years—including Giuliani—to lobby and give speeches on their behalf. Giuliani is credited in part with helping to get the MEK taken off the State Department’s list of world terrorist organizations in 2012.
Wrote former ambassador Daniel Benjamin in late 2016:
Giuliani has been speechifying at hyperspeed for years, collecting $11.4 million for 124 appearances in just one year—and that was before signing up for the MeK gravy train around 2011. Perhaps he just didn’t have time to consider the character of his paymaster.
Giuliani is not registered as a foreign agent and claims that he is not working on behalf of Turkey. Or at least that’s what he said on Monday. On Tuesday, he texted the Washington Post that he “can’t comment on it” because “that would be complete attorney client privilege but sounds wacky.”
Two of the men Giuliani was working with on the Ukraine issue were arrested this week as they attempted to leave the country. They are accused of being part of a conspiracy to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections. On Wednesday, the FBI arrested a fourth defendant in the campaign finance case. The FBI and criminal prosecutors in Manhattan are also conducting a counterintelligence probe against Giuliani that has been underway for months.
Giuliani has often gotten ahead of a damaging news cycle by going on TV to spin a different narrative. If he’d gotten wind that he and his associates were under investigation, it may explain some of his more bizarre television antics over the past month.
Giuliani kicked things off by alleging that Hunter Biden had profited from corrupt dealings in the Ukraine. In the ensuing media blitz, he gave a series of contradictory, bizarre, and seemingly unhinged interviews. State Department, Pentagon, and National Security Council officials, as we know now from recent testimony and interviews, were unhappy with Giuliani’s “shadow diplomacy” to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens. They were were angered by his “circumvention of senior officials on the National Security Council, and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid administered by the Defense and State departments,” The Washington Post reported.
How did Giuliani respond? He went on TV and implicated them in his schemes. He posted screenshots of text messages he’d exchanged with State Department official Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, that implied the State Department was helping to orchestrate his Ukraine meetings.
The message seems pretty clear: if Giuliani is going down, he’s taking the whole Trump administration with him.
Then-national security advisor John Bolton seems to have realized this, reportedly saying that he wanted no part of “whatever drug deal” was being cooked up to pressure Ukraine. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” he told Fiona Hill, Trump’s former White House advisor on Russia and Europe, who testified under subpoena earlier this week.
Giuliani’s willingness to take everyone down with him may help explain why Trump hasn’t thrown him overboard. Reacting to the reports that Giuliani is under investigation, Trump tweeted: “So now they are after the legendary ‘crime buster’ and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani. He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer. Such a one sided Witch Hunt going on in USA. Deep State. Shameful!”
The president has punted reporters’ questions on Giuliani, saying, “You have to ask Rudy those questions. Don’t ask me.” Lest anyone interpret that as growing frustration, the two were seen very publicly having lunch together at the president’s golf course on October 12.
Republicans may want Giuliani to “stop talking” and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy may be not-so-subtly hint that Giuliani is a terrible lawyer, but for now at least, America’s mayor is going to keep taking names and giving interviews that are a publicist’s worst nightmare.
Barbara Boland is The American Conservative’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.