Transcript: Rudy's Helpers

The full episode transcript for Article II: Inside Impeachment, Rudy's Helpers.
Image: Rudy Giuliani speaks to the crowd at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Florida on Dec. 19, 2019.
Rudy Giuliani speaks to the crowd at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Florida on Dec. 19, 2019.Saul Martinez / Getty Images

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Article II: Inside Impeachment

Rudy’s Helpers

Reporter: Mr. President, how much has Giuliani shared with you about his recent trip to Ukraine?

Donald Trump: Oh, not too much. But he's a very great crime fighter. He was probably the greatest crime fighter over the last 50 years, very smart. He was the best mayor in the history of the city of New York. He's a great person who loves our country. And he does this out of love. Believe me. He does it out of love. He sees what goes on. He sees what's happening. (MUSIC) He knows what he's doing. Thank you very much, everybody.

Reporter: Mr. President--

Steve Kornacki: From NBC News, this is Article II: Inside Impeachment. I'm Steve Kornacki. Today is Monday, December 23rd, and here's what's happening.

Rudy Giuliani: Ukrainians came to me. I didn't go after Joe Biden. They handed it to me. They said, "There's a lot of evidence of collusion in Ukraine."

Kornacki: Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer, has been a central figure in the impeachment story.

Gordon Sondland: If we wanted to get anything done with Ukraine, it was apparent to us we needed to talk to Rudy.

Dan Goldman: Right, you understood that Mr. Giuliani spoke for the President, correct?

Sondland: That's correct.

Kornacki: Now, his client, Donald Trump, has been impeached, and Giuliani himself is under federal investigation.

Goldman: "Rudy very much knows what's happening, and he is a very capable guy."

Kornacki: But it hasn't stopped the President's lawyer from his quest to find evidence that he says will exonerate Trump. And that search is happening with the help of a few key characters in Ukraine, names you might have heard throughout the impeachment process. So today on Article II, we're asking: Who is working with Rudy? Dan De Luce is a national security and global affairs reporter for the investigative unit at NBC News, and he joins us now. Dan, welcome back.

Dan De Luce: Thank you.

Kornacki: Rudy Giuliani, given the role that he and his activities have played in all this, you might expect that in the run-up and in the closing days of the impeachment drama in Congress, maybe he'd be keeping a bit of a low profile. That has not been the case though. These past few weeks, as we have been fixated on what's happening in the House and maybe in the Senate, tell us what Giuliani's been up to.

De Luce: That's right. He decided not to stay away but to very much double down. And he got on a plane and went to Budapest. And then he went to Ukraine. He went to Kyiv and met with several of the Ukrainians who he's been relying on to make his case, which he says supports President Trump's arguments about what really is the story about the 2016 election, that the impeachment case is unfair and a so-called "witch hunt."

And also, he brings a camera crew with him. And the one American news network, which is a new conservative channel that runs a lot of material sympathetic to President Trump, they're doing a documentary series. And Giuliani is playing a key role in this documentary series. And it's all about kind of the world according to Giuliani when it comes to this whole subject.

Kornacki: Big picture here, I think you were getting at it a little bit with this in the first question I asked you. But why should Americans be paying attention to these relationships Giuliani has?

De Luce: Think of it this way. We've already met, and seen, and heard from the witnesses in the impeachment case run by the Democrats in the House, right? So on national television, we heard from very senior diplomats, the former ambassador to Ukraine, the current top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and so on.

And so there's a lot of kind of dramatic testimony all adding up to what the Democrats see as an abuse of power. And really, these people that Giuliani is speaking to, and meeting with, and taking selfies with are sort of the other witnesses, if you like. And it is important to keep in mind who these people are and what their background is.

Several of them are from the decidedly pro-Russian camp in Ukrainian politics. Some of them were in a political party that was very much pro-Russia, promoting ties with Russia, instead of, you know, pursuing ties and relationships with NATO and the European Union.

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And they were tied to the former president, Yanukovych, who was forced from power when there were these huge protests (it's called the Orange Revolution) in 2014. So I think it is important because Giuliani sometimes doesn't mention the whole picture when he's referring to some of these people he regards as witnesses.

Kornacki: So let's get into some of these folks then individually and talk more specifically about what Giuliani has been looking for and who he's been talking to. So one of the people you wrote about who he has been traveling through Ukraine with, I'll let you put the name out there and pronounce it. (LAUGH) I actually have some Ukrainian blood. But, believe me, it has not helped me pronounce all these names. So.

De Luce: Yes. This is Andriy Telizhenko, who was a very low-ranking official in the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, D.C. in 2016, during the U.S. election. And at that time, he claims that a consultant with the Democratic National Committee approached him and other officials at the embassy, seeking what he claims was dirt on President Trump and Trump's then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

And he made these allegations in a Politico article way back in January 2017, before most of us were talking about these things. So in a way, he's one of the first people publicly from Ukraine to promote the idea, really a conspiracy theory, that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.

And of course Giuliani is keenly interested in Telizhenko's allegations. So they have become friends, according to Telizhenko. I met him when I was in Kyiv recently. And he accompanied Giuliani from Budapest to Kyiv and was filmed as part of this whole documentary series running on that television network.

Kornacki: Here's another name Giuliani has met with. This one I think a familiar name to anybody who's been watching these hearings, the Intelligence Committee hearings and even in the Judiciary Committee hearings the last few weeks: Viktor Shokin. Remind us though how he fits into this whole picture.

De Luce: Yeah. So this is another controversial figure in Ukraine. When he was a prosecutor earlier, after those big protests in 2014, and there was violence and a whole uprising against the pro-Russian president, he has been accused of failing to prosecute who was responsible for shooting at demonstrators.

And then when he became the top prosecutor, he was generally accused of failing to prosecute corruption. Corruption cases against the previous pro-Russian president just seemed to fade away and be dropped and dismissed. And this made him very unpopular with Western governments, with the United States, with the European Union, with the IMF, and so on.

All the Western governments tell the Ukrainian president at the time, Poroshenko, that, "You've got to drop this guy. He's just not doing his job." Vice President at the time Joe Biden leads that whole effort, which we have all heard about. And he pushes very hard on the Ukraine government to get rid of Shokin.

Fast forward. When it comes time for Giuliani to try to find what he wants to find about the Biden family and about the 2016 election, Viktor Shokin is eager to help him. And he offers him an affidavit. And Shokin just makes all these allegations in this affidavit. And later, Giuliani's waving around this piece of paper on television.

Giuliani: CNN put out a report that the allegations against Biden are not supported by anything. Yes, they are. They're supported by three affidavits. That's a lot better than whistleblowers. Three affidavits from Ukrainian prosecutors who say Joe Biden bribed the president of the Ukraine, that he put pressure on him, that the president of the Ukraine dismissed a case solely because of Biden's pressure. Now, they could be lying.

Archival Recording: Hold on.

De Luce: And it's basically Shokin's allegations claiming that Biden's son was involved in some kind of corruption with a gas company in Ukraine, claiming that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election, even though there really isn't any evidence of that.

Kornacki: So you're talking about Giuliani meeting with Viktor Shokin and Shokin being this prosecutor who was pushed out under international pressure by the Obama administration, other countries back in 2016. But then the wrinkle here is Giuliani has also gotten help from the prosecutor who then succeeded Shokin, who took office after Shokin. And that's Yuriy Lutsenko. Explain how that works.

De Luce: Yes. So this is an interesting case. Lutsenko did not have a reputation for corruption the way Shokin did. And he also did not have a pro-Russian political affiliation. He was in on the whole protest movement, and was a leader, and was in on the whole Orange Revolution, was even jailed by that previous regime. So he sort of had political bona fides as someone who opposed, you know, Russian domination of Ukraine.

But nevertheless, when he gets the job, he's a politician, keep in mind. He's not a trained lawyer or a prosecutor. And he has a very political approach to the job. And he does start going after some anti-corruption activists. And this does not ingratiate him with Western governments and with the U.S. embassy.

And the U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, and her colleagues convey their displeasure. And he starts to have a real personal hostility to Yovanovitch because he wants to get access to senior officials in Washington. He wants some cases pursued by the U.S. government. And he realizes, "Okay, here's the President's personal lawyer." He's ready to help him.

And he does help him initially. And then there's a bit of a falling out. He's not willing to go as far as Giuliani wants him to. He's not willing to actually open up an investigation of Joe Biden's son, of the Burisma gas company, or related to this conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

And, by the way, he wasn't getting what he wanted from Giuliani. Giuliani wasn't getting him meetings and access to the attorney general or to other top people in Washington. Lutsenko is described by a lot of journalists and analysts in Ukraine as a political opportunist. He was seen in Budapest recently with Giuliani. So it raised a question where it's going. But based on his interviews that he had given very recently, (MUSIC) it did sound like he wasn't shoulder to shoulder with Giuliani anymore.

Kornacki: We're gonna take a quick break, Dan, but we'll be back in just a minute.

Kornacki: So, Dan, we're asking this from the standpoint here of just being so familiar with Giuliani and the question of why would Giuliani be still taking such an active role, given where things have progressed here. But I guess to turn the question around, why are there folks in Ukraine who are still dealing with him? What opportunity do they see here?

De Luce: Well, I think they see a lot of opportunities. And most of these people he's meeting with are in the political outs. They are not in power, most of them. And so this is a way to have influence and to be useful because they see that the personal lawyer for the President of the United States is asking for something, and they have something they think they can give him.

They can help him make this case about this unproven theory about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 election. They can help him make allegations against Vice President Biden's family. In other words, they can be very useful to Giuliani and the Trump administration, the White House. And who knows the good things that might come from that?

I mean, I'll give you an example. Telizhenko was rumored to be under consideration to be the next Ukraine ambassador to the United States. He didn't end up getting the job, but his name was floating out there. So I think they all have had an incentive to try to be useful to this big superpower that Ukraine needs.

And, of course, the current government in Ukraine is in an impossible position. They don't want to take sides because they don't know what's gonna happen in the election in 2020 in the U.S. They don't want to burn their bridges with either political party in the U.S. They want bipartisan support. So they can't afford to throw their weight totally behind Trump and to try to help him, you know, make his case in the impeachment battle. So in a way, by being on the outs, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by helping Giuliani.

Kornacki: So in terms of what Giuliani is building towards here, I mean, is there a big reveal that he's aiming towards? What does he think this will all produce?

De Luce: I think that's the key question. I think there are a few benefits. First of all, he has decided, I think, very much the way others have on the Republican side that instead of trying to refute or argue all of the charges being made against the President, and how he handled President Zelenskiy, and how he handled military assistance to Ukraine, instead of trying to argue it sort of on the merits, they have come up with their own counter-narrative. Like, an entirely different story.

And they say it's based on facts. It sounds more like allegations at this point. He doesn't care about convincing Democrats. I think it's his way of showing Trump himself, the Trump administration, and Republican lawmakers, and even the Republican electorate that he is completely behind the President and that he's trying to basically wage a kind of media campaign in a way.

Now, the other thing is if you want to be cynical about it, you can also say: If he does get charged for some kind of illegal lobbying activity or some other kind of legal charge ('cause we know he's under investigation), he'll hope that he gets a pardon from the President, who's known to issue pardons in similar contexts. So that's the other game for him personally.

Kornacki: I was gonna preface this next question by saying "when this gets to the Senate trial," although I think now we have to say, "if this gets to a Senate trial." There's some suspense there about what exactly is going on. But if this impeachment does indeed go to the Senate and then there is a full-fledged trial there, is what Giuliani is working on in Ukraine likely to play a role in the Republican, in the Trump defense there?

De Luce: I think it will. I think it will in some shape or form. As you say, we don't know what the trial's gonna look like. And there does seem to be a pretty strong inclination by McConnell and others in the Republican leadership to have a very short trial, if they have one.

If they chose to have a longer process and have witnesses, then I think it would be highly likely that some of these Ukrainian friends of Giuliani's would make an appearance. And in fact, Telizhenko, the gentleman who worked at the embassy in 2016, he has received a letter from several Republican chairman inviting him for an interview.

And so you could see that that's like kind of a plan B if they chose to have witnesses. I think even in a short trial, some of what Giuliani has been saying and alleging and also what the White House has been saying, we would see that in the trial, at least in kind of a broad way, right?

That it was Ukraine who was interfering in the election. That the Democratic Party was colluding with Ukraine, another so far unconfirmed allegation. They will make the argument that the real issue here is what was Joe Biden's son up to on the board of this Burisma gas company. And you saw it creeping in even in the impeachment hearings in the House. Some of what Giuliani pushed was being taken up by some Republican lawmakers. (MUSIC)

Kornacki: Dan De Luce is a national security and global affairs reporter for the investigative unit at NBC News. Dan, thanks for being with us today.

De Luce: Thanks a lot.

Kornacki: Article II: Inside Impeachment is produced by Isabel Angel, Max Jacobs, Claire Tighe, Aaron Dalton, Preeti Varathan, Allison Bailey, Adam Noboa, and Barbara Raab. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steven Lickteig is the executive producer of audio. I'm Steve Kornacki. And the Article II team is taking the next few days off for the holidays. We'll be back on Monday.