House Dems to probe Giuliani's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Trump opponents

The chairmen characterized Giuliani's efforts to pressure Ukraine on the Bidens and Paul Manafort as aiming to help Trump's re-election campaign.
Image: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani smiles as he arrives to President Donald Trump's campaign rally on Aug. 15, 2019, in Manchester, N.H.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani arrives as a Trump campaign rally on Aug. 15, 2019, in Manchester, N.H.Elise Amendola / AP file

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By Ken Dilanian

House Democrats announced Monday that they will investigate the role of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in what they characterized as efforts to influence the government of Ukraine to help the Trump re-election campaign.

The chairmen of the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees sent letters to the White House and State Department seeking documents in connection to what they called a scheme by Giuliani “to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity.”

“As the 2020 election draws closer, President Trump and his personal attorney appear to have increased pressure on the Ukrainian government and its justice system in service of President Trump’s re-election campaign, and the White House and the State Department may be abetting this scheme,” Reps. Eliot Engel of New York, Adam Schiff of California and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, wrote, noting that one of the targets of this alleged activity appears to be “former Vice President Joe Biden and his family.”

The New York Times has reported extensively on an effort by Giuliani to push the Ukrainian government to investigate whether there was anything improper about the overlap between Biden’s diplomatic efforts in Ukraine and his son’s role with a gas company there.

Giuliani also sought to have the country’s government look into whether Ukrainian officials tried to harm Trump’s 2016 campaign by releasing damaging information on the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, the Times reported.

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Biden has insisted there was nothing amiss.

Giuliani and officials at the White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

Giuliani has said he is acting as a private citizen. He told the Times in May that his efforts in Ukraine had the president's full support, adding, “He basically knows what I’m doing, sure, as his lawyer.”

The chairman cited a recent CNN report that the Trump administration is threatening to withhold security assistance to Ukraine, which they said was “only the latest in a series of actions in which President Trump appears to undermine U.S. foreign policy to placate Russia and place his personal interests above the national interest.”

The House Democrats cited a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which they said Trump apparently focused on the investigations, telling Zelensky that he is “convinced the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve [the] image of Ukraine, [and] complete [the] investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.”

The next day, Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine, was dispatched to meet with Zelensky, the Democrats say. Days later, they say, Giuliani met Andriy Yermak, an aide to Zelensky, in Spain, where the Ukrainian president’s personal attorney, who has no official administration or diplomatic position, reportedly suggested a “possible heads of state meeting” between Trump and Zelensky.

The State Department subsequently acknowledged that Volker used his office to facilitate the meeting between the two, the Democrats say. Although officials say Giuliani “does not speak on behalf of the U.S. Government,” Yermak "publicly stated that 'it was not clear to him whether Mr. Giuliani was representing Mr. Trump in their talks,'” the Democrats wrote.

“If the President is trying to pressure Ukraine into choosing between defending itself from Russian aggression without U.S. assistance or leveraging its judicial system to serve the ends of the Trump campaign, this would represent a staggering abuse of power, a boon to Moscow, and a betrayal of the public trust,” the chairmen wrote.

“That the State Department has apparently acted as a broker between President Trump’s personal attorney and Ukrainian officials raises serious concerns that the Department is complicit in a corrupt scheme that undercuts U.S. foreign policy and national security interests in favor of the President’s personal agenda.