Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
In May of 2019, President Trump held an Oval Office meeting in which he tried to enlist National Security Adviser John Bolton in his plot to enlist Ukraine to smear his domestic enemies. Trump told Bolton to call Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and instruct him to meet with Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, according to a manuscript of Bolton’s book obtained by the New York Times.
Giuliani’s role is the deepest, darkest cesspool in the Ukraine scandal.
Probably for that reason, Trump and his lawyers have consistently denied knowledge of Giuliani’s activities. Last November, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump repeatedly denied having directed Giuliani’s work in Ukraine:
“Well, you have to ask that to Rudy, but Rudy, I don’t, I don’t even know,” Trump replied. “I know he was going to go to Ukraine, and I think he canceled a trip. But, you know, Rudy has other clients other than me. I’m one person.”
“So, you didn’t direct him to go there on your behalf?” O’Reilly followed up. “No, but you have to understand, Rudy is a great corruption fighter,” Trump said … “No, I didn’t direct him, but he is a warrior, he is a warrior.”
Earlier this month, Trump was asked about a signed letter by Giuliani to Zelensky, stating that he was representing Trump as a personal lawyer, with Trump’s knowledge and permission. Trump again dissembled. “I don’t know anything about the letter, but certainly Rudy is one of the great crime fighters in the history of our country,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.
It seems odd that Giuliani would put such a statement in writing, identifying himself as Trump’s representative working with his consent, if Trump did not in fact consent to the arrangement.
Trump of course denies Bolton’s account: “I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of N.Y.C., to meet with President Zelensky,” he tells the Times. “That meeting never happened.”
Giuliani’s response is more, uh, layered. At first, he called the account of the meeting “absolutely, categorically untrue.” Asked again if Bolton — who is known for taking detailed, contemporaneous notes of his meetings — was simply making it up, Giuliani shifted to calling Bolton a rat:
Note that Giuliani’s idea of “a real scumbag” is not somebody who conceals an illegal scheme from authorities but someone who spills the beans.
Why are Republicans so desperate to hide all this from the public and the Senate before it renders a verdict? Bear in mind that the full details of Giuliani’s work have not yet been exposed. Two of his associates were arrested, and Giuliani is the subject of an investigation. Giuliani represented Trump for no pay, and was compensated by one of his partners, Lev Parnas, who was in turn paid by a Russian oligarch who works closely with Vladimir Putin. Giuliani and his partners were allegedly using their political influence to shake down Ukrainian authorities for energy contracts.
Today, the Washington Post has another scoop — Giuliani met with Ukrainian officials to lobby on behalf of his former client, a Kiev mayor who Zelensky was planning to sack. The Post does not establish whether Giuliani had any current financial interest in this, or was just helping out a past client for old times’ sake. In any case, he had clearly been authorized by Trump as a representative in Ukraine, and used that power not only for Trump’s improper goals (smearing his enemies) but also his own. At yesterday’s Senate impeachment trial, Trump’s lawyers were asked who paid for Giuliani’s work, and refused to address the question at all.
Meanwhile, Trump and his legal team maintain that this whole agenda was being driven in service of Trump’s alleged desire to clean up corruption in Ukraine. As pathetic as Trump’s defense may be, no element is as incriminating on its face as Giuliani’s work. Even conceding it existed is to admit guilt. But Bolton apparently has the receipts.