Giuliani says State Dept. aided his effort to press Ukraine on Trump opponents

Giuliani pressed for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the release of damaging information on Paul Manafort.
Image: Rudy Giuliani, lawyer of US President Donald Trump, looks on before President Trump announces his Supreme Court nominee in the East Room
Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's lawyer, looks on before Trump announces his Supreme Court nominee in the East Room of the White House in Washington.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Allan Smith

President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani confirmed Thursday that the State Department assisted his efforts to press the Ukrainian government to probe two prominent Democratic opponents of the president: former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

Specifically, Giuliani has wanted Ukrainian officials to look into any impropriety related to the former vice president's push to crack down on corruption in Ukraine and his son Hunter Biden's involvement in a natural gas company there. Giuliani also sought to have Ukraine examine whether the Democratic National Committee worked in connection with Ukrainian officials to harm Trump's 2016 campaign by releasing damaging information on the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Giuliani has spoken with Ukrainian official Andriy Yermak, a lawyer and close ally of recently elected President Volodymyr Zelensky, on the phone and in an in-person meeting in Madrid over the last few weeks to encourage him to ramp up probes into the matters, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Trump's attorney confirmed to NBC News that the State Department helped put him in touch with Yermak.

"Times completely turned a story about astounding allegations of serious crimes of state concerning Dems into a piece trying to suggest I did something nefarious except they can’t say what it is," Giuliani told NBC News in a text message Thursday. "Typical spin against Trump or anyone close to him."

The State Department put Yermak "in contact with me," Giuliani said. "Not other way around, and I told him they should not be cowered [out of] fully investigating serious possible crimes like bribery, extortion, fraud, money laundering and illegal interference in 2016 election."

"That’s it," the former New York City mayor and federal prosecutor said. "Reported all to State."

Giuliani declined to say whether he spoke with Trump about any recent developments in his Ukrainian venture. 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.”

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A State Department spokesperson told NBC News that Kurt Volker, the U.S. envoy to settlement talks in Ukraine's yearslong war with Russia, put Yermark in contact with Giuliani at the Ukrainian official's request, adding that Giuliani "is a private citizen and acts in a personal capacity as a lawyer for President Trump" and he "does not speak on behalf of the U.S. Government."

"The United States strongly supports Ukraine as it deepens its democracy, fights corruption, pursues economic reform, and improves its ability to defend itself against Russia's ongoing aggression," the spokesperson said, adding, "We understand that the Ukrainian government taking shape under President Zelensky is committed to fighting corruption and other illegal activities and that investigations into such matters would be consistent within that overall approach."

Giuliani has zeroed in on the-then vice president's 2016 call — widely backed by the international community — for Ukraine to crack down on corruption, including removing a Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was seen as ineffective and was later removed by the country's parliament. One of the cases that Shokin was investigating, Giuliani noted, involved Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company whose board at the time included Biden's son Hunter.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg News, citing documents and an interview with a former Ukrainian official, reported the Burisma investigation had been dormant for more than a year by the time Biden called for the crackdown on corruption. The current Ukrainian prosecutor general told the news agency that he found no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden and his son. PolitiFact, meanwhile, reported that it found no evidence to "support the idea that Joe Biden advocated with his son's interests in mind."

Biden's campaign declined to comment for this story. Hunter Biden, who stepped down from Burisma's board this year, previously told the Times, "At no time have I discussed with my father the company's business, or my board service."

Giuliani and other allies of the president have also sought to paint a picture of "collusion" between the DNC and Ukraine in 2016, particularly as it relates to the release of information about Manafort, who is now serving a seven and a half year sentence in federal prison for undisclosed lobbying work in Ukraine, as well as tax and bank fraud.

The DNC has repeatedly denied working with the Ukrainian government to obtain dirt on Manafort. The incriminating Ukrainian information about Manafort that emerged during the campaign — a ledger showing $12.7 million in unreported payments from a Russia-backed Ukrainian political party — was released by a Ukrainian law-enforcement agency.

Both the DNC and the Times did not immediately respond to requests for comment from NBC News.

The Times reported that Yermak was sent to Washington to build relationships with U.S. officials, discuss sanctions related to a Russian oil pipeline and lay the groundwork for a meeting between Trump and the Ukrainian president. The newspaper also reported that the State Department officials who helped arrange Giuliani's communications with Yermak included Volker.

Yermak told the Times he asked Volker to arrange discussions with Giuliani, additionally saying it was unclear to him whether Giuliani was representing Trump in their discussions.

When Giuliani's Ukrainian efforts were first reported, his plans were met with swift criticism from Democrats.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation into those efforts in May, saying they might be illegal and adding "the possibility that a personal representative of the President is engaging with foreign governments in order to obtain personal or political gain is a matter that must be thoroughly examined." Murphy also expressed concern at the time that as far as he knew, "none of these meetings are being coordinated with the U.S. State Department or other government agencies."

Following the revelations about his efforts, Giuliani canceled a planned May trip to Ukraine to further talks regarding the investigations he wants the country to pursue, saying it could be viewed as "improper."

Giuliani told NBC News that month that his efforts were not to "take [Biden] out" of contention for the presidency. "I'm actually — he won't appreciate it — but I'm doing him a favor by trying to get it investigated now," he said. "Because it wasn't going to live through November of next year."