Facing intensive public scrutiny, Rudy Giuliani this weekend cancelled a planned mission to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Trump’s political opponents and try to coax Kiev prosecutors into doing the same.
But the web of outrageous allegations and conspiracy theories that undergird Giuliani’s aborted trip raise a question: what exactly is President Trump’s personal lawyer up to?
By Giuliani’s own admission, he is brazenly attempting to enlist the Ukrainian government in efforts to further Trump’s political objectives. Those appear to include digging up dirt on former Vice President and 2020 candidate Joe Biden, discrediting the prosecution of ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and propagating a narrative that supposed Ukrainian support for Hillary Clinton was the “real” foreign interference in the 2016 election.
“[Giuliani] dragged Ukraine into the very dirty world of American politics,” Daria Kaleniuk, director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev, told TPM.
Giuliani nixed his trip amid outcry that he is openly soliciting opposition research from a foreign government. But the bombastic Trump attorney doesn’t appear cowed.
In a Sunday interview with The Guardian, Giuliani said Attorney General Bill Barr should consider opening an investigation into Biden’s ties to Ukraine. Trump told Politico that discussing a possible investigation into Biden would be “appropriate.”
We unpack the wide-ranging pseudo-scandal below.
Peddling debunked allegations that Biden rescued his son from a Ukraine investigation
A primary aim of Giuliani’s trip: attempting to dig up further allegations that Biden leveraged his position as the White House’s “point man” on the Ukraine crisis to protect his son, Hunter Biden.
After Ukrainians disgusted by endemic graft took to the streets for the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, Biden was frequently dispatched to Kiev to assist with anti-corruption reforms. At around that time, his son took a position on the board of a Ukrainian gas firm, Burisma, that was embroiled in corruption allegations related to the deposed government.
By 2016, the fight against graft had ground to a halt. Critics faulted the country’s then-general prosecutor, a man named Viktor Shokin, for failing to take up this mantle.
The U.S. and its Western allies began to agitate for Shokin’s dismissal. Biden took the lead, later boasting that in 2016 he threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan to the Ukrainian government if Shokin weren’t fired.
“I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,” Biden recalled. “Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.”
Giuliani has claimed that Shokin was investigating Burisma, and that the Vice President worked to oust Shokin in a bid to quash the probe.
There’s no evidence indicating that Burisma was under investigation at the time. In fact, British prosecutors who had frozen millions of dollars of Burisma’s assets ended their own investigation into the company, saying that Ukrainian prosecutors working under Shokin failed to send corroborating evidence necessary to keep the probe running.
After Shokin’s firing, he was replaced by the country’s current prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko.
In March 2019, Lutsenko began to give interviews to The Hill’s John Solomon. He said that he intended to open an investigation into Hunter Biden’s activity at Burisma, and to review the elder Biden’s role.
The Hill quoted Lutsenko as saying that he would “be happy to have a conversation with” Attorney General Bill Barr about the allegations.
Trying to rehabilitate Paul Manafort’s reputation
Another aim of Giuliani’s trip was discrediting allegations that Manafort got deeply enmeshed in government corruption while working as a consultant for President Victor Yanukovych, who was deposed in 2014.
Manafort was removed from the Trump campaign in August 2016 after a secret handwritten ledger kept by Yanukovych’s party was uncovered in Ukraine. The off-the-books ledger earmarked $12.7 million in cash payments for the Trump campaign manager.
The Mueller investigation later secured convictions against Manafort in part over tax fraud allegations that stemmed from tens of millions of dollars he received for his work in Kiev and then moved undeclared into the United States.
Uncovering information that would supposedly discredit the investigations into Manafort could help set the political scene for a future pardon, a possibility that Trump has dangled before.
The “real” 2016 meddling: Ukraine helping Clinton
The Manafort allegations flow into a separate, third conspiracy theory that Giuliani has set out to prove: the “real” foreign meddling in the 2016 election came from Ukraine, and not Russia.
Specifically, that Ukrainian officials worked with the Clinton campaign to release damaging material on Manafort during summer 2016.
Trump told Sean Hannity last month that Barr is reviewing the allegations of Ukrainian support for the Clinton campaign, which the President called “incredible.”
Giuliani is actively trying to advance these probes
According to several media reports, Giuliani has spent the past few months actively trying to advance these probes. The Times reported Giuliani has held several meetings with Lutsenko, Ukraine’s current prosecutor general, including a January sit-down in New York.
“This isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop,” Giuliani told the New York Times. “And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”
Giuliani has also reportedly advocated for Barr to open a DOJ investigation into the Biden allegations.
“I believe the president has the same view that I have — that the attorney general should make this call,” Giuliani told the Guardian.
Conservative media runs long with the scandal
The conservative media has enthusiastically promoted these supposed Ukraine-Biden-Clinton links.
No one deserves more credit for fanning the flames than The Hill’s conservative opinion columnist Solomon, who began publishing the first of many articles on the multi-pronged conspiracy in March.
The opinion columnist – who previously tried to make the case that it was the Democrats who really colluded with Russia in 2016 — based most of his stories on interviews with Lutsenko, the outgoing Ukrainian prosecutor general.
But the Ukraine story didn’t really break into the mainstream until May 1, when the New York Times ran a report quoting Giuliani on the allegations that Biden quashed Ukraine’s investigation into his son. That story repeated the allegations pushed by Giuliani and Solomon, before stating in the 19th paragraph that “no evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal.”