2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Giuliani speaks in Washington 2/2
By Karen Freifeld and Jan Wolfe NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal agents searched Rudolph Giuliani’s Manhattan apartment and office on Wednesday, stepping up their investigation into the Ukrainian dealings of former President Donald Trump‘s personal attorney. A lawyer for Giuliani, 76, confirmed that search warrants had been executed and that authorities had confiscated mobile phones. The orders included an accusation that Giuliani failed to register as a foreign agent, a violation of lobbying laws. Before the 2020 presidential election, Giuliani led an effort to unearth then-Democratic contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine. Biden defeated Republican Trump and is now president. He and his son have denied wrongdoing. In a statement, Giuliani’s attorney, Bob Costello, defended his client and suggested that the investigation was politically motivated. “Mayor Giuliani has not only denied this accusation, but has offered himself twice in the past two years through his attorney Bob Costello to prove that it is completely false,” the statement said. “Twice the offer was rejected.” Costello said the seized electronic devices were “crammed” with information protected by attorney-client privilege. A spokesperson for US Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan declined to comment. Federal agents also executed a search warrant Wednesday at the home of Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who are Giuliani’s spouses, associates and former prosecutors, and seized Toensing’s cell phone. Toensing and diGenova have also represented Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who has been indicted in the United States on bribery and extortion charges and has fought the extradition from Vienna. Federal prosecutors have been investigating Giuliani for nearly a year and a half. In November 2019, they searched for records of Giuliani payments as part of an active criminal investigation, according to a grand jury subpoena seen by Reuters. Prosecutors were investigating money laundering, wire fraud, campaign finance violations, false statements, obstruction of justice and violations of the federal Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), according to the subpoena. FARA requires that “certain agents of foreign directors” periodically disclose their relationships with them, including financial transactions. “SEISMIC MOMENT” While the search warrant does not mean that Giuliani committed a crime, it indicates that investigators had reason to believe that criminal conduct had occurred and convinced a judge that a search could reveal evidence of a crime. “This is a seismic moment in the investigation,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “It is a big problem to execute an attorney search warrant because of attorney-client privilege issues,” he added. “It is more important to execute a search warrant for a lawyer who worked for the former president.” Giuliani made a name for himself in the 1980s as Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor, taking on the leaders of the main Mafia families and Wall Street‘s “junk bond king” Michael Milken. He later gained national fame as “Mayor of the United States” for helping New York City recover from the attacks of September 11, 2001, and was named “Person of the Year” by Time magazine. But Giuliani’s image was tainted by his dealings with Ukraine and, more recently, by his promotion of unsubstantiated claims of fraud to overturn last year’s election results and give Trump a second term in the White House. COMPLEX ROLE Giuliani began representing Trump, a fellow Republican and longtime fellow New Yorker, in April 2018 in connection with then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In Washington Giuliani’s role was complex, and the former mayor frequently proclaimed himself a business consultant and lawyer in the private sector, even when he enjoyed extraordinary access to the corridors of power. While Giuliani has yet to be charged with a crime, two former associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have been charged with campaign finance violations and other crimes. Parnas and Fruman helped Giuliani investigate the Bidens and launch what prosecutors called an effort to remove then-US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Hunter Biden had served on the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian company. Michael Cohen, another former Trump personal attorney and now a harsh critic of his former boss, tweeted after Wednesday’s searches became public: “Here we go folks!” Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance, tax evasion and other crimes and was sentenced to three years in prison. He is now serving his sentence in home confinement.