Watchdog group files criminal complaint against Rudy Giuliani: He “manipulated federal funds”

Federal prosecutors are already said to be probing Trump attorney Giuliani after indicting two of his associates

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published February 21, 2020 10:40AM (EST)

President Donald Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani looks at his cellphone outside the White House on the South Lawn (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani looks at his cellphone outside the White House on the South Lawn (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

A government watchdog group has filed a criminal complaint to federal prosecutors in New York calling for an investigation into President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani's shadow foreign policy efforts in Ukraine.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called on the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), which was once led by Giuliani, to launch an investigation after Trump admitted last week that he directed the attorney to go to Ukraine and pressure leaders to pursue baseless allegations against his political rivals. The effort came as Trump directed a freeze on nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine appropriated by Congress, an order which violated federal law, according to the Government Accountability Office.

SDNY prosecutors are already said to be investigating Giuliani after indicting two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who played a key role in the Ukraine scandal were later charged with funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Prosecutors are expected to bring additional charges against the two men and have sought further information about Giuliani's overseas dealings.

CREW called for SDNY prosecutors to "investigate Rudy Giuliani for criminally violating the Hatch Act," which "broadly prohibits the manipulation of federal funds and federal programs to advance a partisan agenda, including prohibiting anyone from causing anyone else to make a contribution of anything of value to a candidate by denying or threatening to deny any federal payment or benefit of a program authorized by Congress."

The group argued that the Ukraine scheme, which already led to the president's impeachment, also violated the Hatch Act.

"Evidence suggests that Giuliani, who is President Trump's personal attorney, manipulated federal funds – specifically aid to Ukraine – for partisan political purposes, which is prohibited by the act," the group said in a statement. "Giuliani and his potential co-conspirators likely violated the Hatch Act by threatening to withhold congressionally-authorized security assistance to Ukraine to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations that would be politically beneficial to Giuliani's client, President Trump."

Noah Bookbinder, the group's executive director, said the law was intended to prevent exactly the type of agenda that Giuliani pursued on behalf of the president.

"Rudy Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine to advance the political interests of President Trump led to the President's impeachment, but they also violated our country's criminal laws," he said. "Holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in money Congress appropriated to keep America safe in order to advance a partisan political agenda is not only dangerous and anti-democratic, it also violates a key federal law meant to prevent the powers of the federal government from being used for political gain."

"The Southern District of New York should conduct a speedy and thorough investigation into any potentially criminal behavior by Rudy Giuliani and his cohorts that may have threatened the democratic foundations and national security interests of the United States," he added.

The Trump administration has repeatedly flouted the Hatch Act, according to the independent Office of Special Counsel. CREW counted more than 50 Hatch Act violations by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway alone, but the White House has claimed that Conway was immune from testifying to Congress on the matter. Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, press secretary Stephanie Grisham and numerous other Cabinet and administration officials have been accused of violating the law, as well.

CREW's 12-page complaint against Giuliani acknowledged that Hatch Act prosecutions are "rare" but "not unprecedented." Former President Richard Nixon's personal attorney pleaded guilty in 1974 to a Hatch Act violation for "attempting to trade an ambassadorship appointment for contributions" to Nixon's re-election campaign. The violation made clear that the law applies to both "government officials and private persons," the group said.

"Giuliani's conduct is similar," the complaint added, "if not more egregious."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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