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As impeachment trial ended, prosecutors took new steps in Giuliani-related probe, according to people familiar with case

  • Author: Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger, The Washington Post
  • Updated: February 14
  • Published February 14

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019, file photo, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani smiles as he arrives to President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

WASHINGTON - As the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump drew to a close in Washington earlier this month, federal prosecutors in New York contacted witnesses and sought to collect additional documents in an investigation related to Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, according to people familiar with their activities.

The recent steps - including an interview with a witness last week - indicate that the probe involving Giuliani and two of his former associates is moving forward, even as the Justice Department has set up a process to evaluate claims Giuliani is making about alleged wrongdoing in Ukraine related to former vice president Joe Biden.

Attorney General William Barr said this week that the department had established an "intake process" to accept information about Biden gathered by the president's personal attorney. Officials confirmed Giuliani's tips are being routed to the U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh.

At the same time, the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York - which Giuliani led in the 1980s - appears to be continuing its wide-ranging investigation of his activities and those of his former associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, including their efforts in Ukraine.

Prosecutors from that office recently sought information related to the former U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who the three men pushed Trump to oust, according to a person familiar with the request who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. They have also inquired about two companies with ties to Parnas, who along with Fruman was charged in October with campaign finance violations, according to people with knowledge of the queries.

The parallel developments mean that one part of the Justice Department is scrutinizing Giuliani while another is accepting information from him allegedly concerning a political rival of the president.

The remarkable dynamic comes at a moment of intense scrutiny for Barr, who intervened this week to lower the sentencing recommendation for Trump confidant Roger Stone in the wake of a tweet by the president - and over the objections of career prosecutors.

The unfolding Giuliani case could further test Barr, who told ABC News this week he is "not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody" and urged the president to stop tweeting about Justice Department criminal cases.

On Friday, Trump rejected the idea that he should stay out of such cases, tweeting that he has a "legal right" to weigh in on criminal investigations.

The president has already publicly decried the federal scrutiny of Giuliani. "So now they are after the legendary 'crime buster' and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani," he tweeted in October. "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!"

People familiar with the matter have said that Barr was briefed on the investigation in Manhattan related to Giuliani's associates shortly after taking office a year ago. His involvement since then, if any, is unclear.

The Washington Post reported late last year that Barr had counseled Trump in general terms that Giuliani had become a liability to him and a problem for the administration.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.

He has said his former office is pursuing the "most unfair, vindictive investigation they have ever conducted."

"I believe that the leaks and the investigation is intended to intimidate me as the president's lawyer," Giuliani told The Post in December. "I am fully confident that I did not commit any crimes of any kind."

An attorney for Parnas, Joseph Bondy, said: "It comes as no surprise to us at all that the Southern District is continuing its investigation, whether into the activities of Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas or others."

"As prosecutors have consistently said, they may well bring additional charges against additional people, as well as Mr. Parnas, and as always we're prepared to defend ourselves on any new allegations," Bondy said.

Lev Parnas, center, a Rudy Giuliani associate with ties to Ukraine, and his attorney Joseph Bondy, left, walk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A federal judge in New York has set an October trial date for Parnas and Fruman, along with two of their business partners, on charges that the men routed illegal foreign contributions to U.S. political campaigns. Prosecutors have said in court that their investigation is ongoing.

All four men have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors in Manhattan have been exploring a wide range of potential crimes - including wire fraud and failure to register as a foreign agent - as part of the investigation, as The Post previously reported. After the arrests of Parnas and Fruman in October, investigators sought information from witnesses about Giuliani's international consulting business.

Late last year, prosecutors subpoenaed a consulting firm founded by former FBI director Louis Freeh, which hired Giuliani to write an August 2018 letter to Romanian officials calling for an amnesty for people prosecuted for corruption, The Post previously reported.

As the House pursued its impeachment inquiry in the fall, little additional information emerged about the New York probe.

But people familiar with the investigation say the FBI took new investigative steps as the Senate impeachment trial drew to a close in early February.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have sought information about Giuliani and his consulting firm Giuliani Partners, as well as about Yovanovitch, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The ambassador was recalled from her post in May after a campaign by Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani painted her as disloyal to Trump.

Yovanovitch testified to Congress that she believed they perceived her as an impediment to their business interests in Ukraine. Prosecutors have alleged in court papers that Parnas and Fruman acted against her at the direction of one or more Ukrainian government officials.

In an interview last month on MSNBC, Parnas apologized to Yovanovitch, saying he now believes he was wrong about her.

In recent weeks, federal investigators have also continued to ask about Victor Shokin and Yuri Lutsenko, two former Ukrainian prosecutors who Giuliani has said provided him with information about Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Investigators have also made new inquiries about Naftogaz, Ukraine's state-owned gas company, with which Parnas and Fruman sought business last year. A top executive for the company was interviewed in November as part of the investigation.

Investigators also appear intently focused on Parnas' financial practices, according to the people familiar with their interest.

Prosecutors told a judge last year that Parnas appeared to have access to "seemingly limitless sources of foreign funding" and had received a $1 million loan in September from the lawyer for a Ukrainian gas tycoon under indictment in Chicago.

Recently, investigators contacted individuals who Parnas had urged to invest in his business ventures.

Giuliani has said that he was paid $500,000 in 2018 to advise one such enterprise, a company co-founded by Parnas called Fraud Guarantee that offered insurance to guard investors from losing money as a result of fraud.

A New York lawyer, Charles Gucciardo, funded Giuliani's half-million-dollar fee through an investment in the company, according to a statement from his attorney Randy Zelin.

Gucciardo made the investment because "he believed that Mr. Giuliani - the former Mayor of New York City; former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; and, the first name in cybersecurity - was in front of, behind, and alongside the Company," Zelin said in November.

Parnas used Giuliani's involvement in the company to urge others to invest, according to people familiar with the pitches.

Federal prosecutors also have recently sought information about an Atlanta-based data firm called Clickagy, the people said. Their interest in the company has not been previously reported.

Clickagy and Parnas' Fraud Guarantee shared a major investor, according to people familiar with the businesses. Clickagy used Parnas's connections in GOP circles to attempt to land a contract with America First, the primary pro-Trump super PAC, according to people familiar with the firm.

Clickagy's chief executive, Harry Maugans, declined to comment.

America First has said it is voluntarily cooperating with the investigation. A spokeswoman declined to comment on Clickagy.

In recent days, investigators have interviewed the investor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

He told The Post that he bought $250,000 of shares in Fraud Guarantee in 2016. The investor said that he has received no returns on his payment and that it is not clear to him whether Fraud Guarantee was a real business.

He said he was persuaded to invest in part because he said Parnas told him he could use his high-powered connections to pitch Trump on an idea the investor had to build a temple in Jerusalem on a platform high above the existing city.

The investor, whose interactions with Parnas were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, said he believed the proposal could bring together Judaism, Christianity and Islam - and usher in peace to the Middle East.

At a meeting in Florida, the investor showed Parnas a painting that he had commissioned of the temple, according to Artem Mirolevich, the painter, who was also present.

"Parnas said that Trump was the type of person who might be interesting in building something like this," Mirolevich said, noting that the investor had envisioned an 800-story structure built over the ancient city.

Mirolevich said that after the meeting, he unsuccessfully tried to persuade his friend not to invest with Parnas. "I told him: 'It's in the company's name. He's telling you there will be fraud. It's guaranteed,' " he said.

But the investor decided to proceed because he wanted to show Trump his idea for the temple in Jerusalem, he and Mirolevich said.

Bondy, the attorney for Parnas, declined to comment.

The investor said that after he paid Parnas, the Florida businessman became difficult to reach. But after months of little contact, Parnas invited him to attend his newborn son's Jewish circumcision ceremony in Boca Raton in October 2018, the investor said.

He said he was surprised when Giuliani was also among the guests. Around the same time, the investor said he received a letter informing him that Giuliani had joined Fraud Guarantee as an adviser.

After traveling extensively with Giuliani last year and assisting his efforts in Ukraine, Parnas is now a vocal critic of Trump and his attorney.

He turned over hundreds of pages of documents to House impeachment investigators. In media interviews, he has said his work in Ukraine was directed by Trump and Giuliani. His attorney also made public twovideos he said were recorded by Parnas's business partner, Fruman, showing the two men meeting with Trump twice in 10 days in 2018 at small gatherings for elite donors.

Parnas has said he is speaking out in part because he believes that the criminal investigation is an effort to undercut his account of wrongdoing by the president.

His attorney has asked that Barr recuse himself from the investigation and appoint a special prosecutor to handle the matter instead. A Justice Department spokeswoman has declined to comment on the request.

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The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Alice Crites, Shayna Jacobs and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.