Giuliani sought private meeting with Ukrainian president, documents show

The records, released by the House Democrats, also appear to show that former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was being monitored.
Image: Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Sept. 20, 2019.
Rudy Giuliani with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Sept. 20, 2019.Aram Roston / Reuters file

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By Tom Winter, Dareh Gregorian and Josh Lederman

Rudy Giuliani wrote a letter requesting a private meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy, then the president-elect of Ukraine, with President Donald Trump's "knowledge and consent," according to records released Tuesday by House Democrats.

The letter was part of the evidence turned over to the House impeachment investigators by lawyers for Lev Parnas, the Giuliani associate who is awaiting trial on campaign finance charges. It bolsters Democrats' argument that Giuliani was doing Trump's bidding by trying to dig up dirt on political rival Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

Trump has previously tried to distance himself from his attorney's effort, saying in November that "I didn't direct him."

The records turned over by Parnas' attorneys also appear to show that former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was being closely monitored by a Republican congressional candidate, her physical movements tracked in real time along with her computer and phone use.

A statement from House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and other top Democrats said the information would be forwarded to the Senate along with the articles of impeachment. "All of this new evidence confirms what we already know: the President and his associates pressured Ukrainian officials to announce investigations that would benefit the President politically," the statement said.

The letter, written on Giuliani's letterhead, was dated May 10, 2019.

"Dear President-Elect Zelensky: I am private counsel to President Donald J. Trump. Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as President of the United States. This is quite common under American law because the duties and privileges of a President and a private citizen are not the same. Separate representation is not the same," the unusual letter begins.

He congratulated on Zelenskiy on his election win, and then requested a sit-down with him to discuss a "specific request."

"In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you on this upcoming Monday May 13th or Tuesday May 14th. I will need no more than a half-hour of your time and I will be accompanied by my colleague Victoria Toensing, a distinguished American attorney who is very familiar with this matter," the letter says.

The subject of the "specific request" isn't mentioned, but the letter came one day after Giuliani told The New York Times he was traveling to Ukraine to find out information about work Biden's son had done for a Ukrainian gas company. "We're not meddling in an election. We’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do," Giuliani told the paper then.

Trump, in a July 25 phone call, asked Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as a well as a conspiracy involving Democrats and the 2016 election. That call led the House to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

Parnas texted Giuliani's letter to a Zelenskiy associate. The response was redacted in the release.

Giuliani then texts Parnas, "This guy is canceling meeting I think?"

The former New York City mayor didn't take the rejection well.

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"I am going to say I have been informed the people advising the PRES ELECT are no friends of the President. At least one was involved in delivering fraudulent evident falsely accusing the campaign and made horrible statements about his desire to defeat him," Giuliani wrote, according to the records.

“I am advised that the PRES ELECT is in the hands of people who are avowed enemies of the President.”

Giuliani told NBC News in a text message the letter "shows unequivocally I was acting in my role as defense counsel seeking exculpatory evidence."

The documents also include WhatsApp exchanges between Parnas and Robert Hyde, a GOP candidate for Congress in Connecticut, where they appear to be discussing Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was removed from her post at Giuliani's urging.

The exchanges, in March 2019, don't name the ambassador, but include links to stories about her, and are from the period of time when Giuliani and his associates were trying to get Yovanovitch fired. The messages suggest they’d learned that the president had already decided to remove her but may have changed his mind.

Hyde's messages indicate Yovanovitch's physical movements were being tracked in real time, along with her computer and phone use.

"She under heavy protection outside Kiev," Parnas is told in one exchange. "They are moving her tomorrow," the person says in another message.

Hyde, whose campaign website says he's a former Marine and Iraq war veteran, then sends an "update" saying "she will not be moved" and "special security unit upgraded force on the compound." He tells Parnas on March 27, "we have a person on the inside."

She also appeared to be the subject of discussion between Giuliani and Parnas a month later. "He fired her again," Giuliani wrote. "I pray it happens this time. I'll call you tomorrow my brother," Parnas responded.

Yovanovitch was recalled from her post on May 20. In his phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump said Yovanovitch was "bad news" and was "going to go through some things."

In testimony before the House last year, Yovanovitch said she had heard cryptic warnings from Ukrainian officials that Giuliani and Ukraine's then-prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, "had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me."

Yovanovitch’s attorney, Lawrence Robbins, told NBC News: “Needless to say, the notion that American citizens and others were monitoring Ambassador Yovanovitch’s movements for unknown purposes is disturbing. We trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation to determine what happened."

Hyde, who runs his own construction company, said in a text message to NBC News that he was drinking when he sent the WhatsApp messages to Parnas released publicly by the House. He also attacked Schiff in colorful terms.

An outspoken supporter of the president, Hyde was reportedly removed from the Trump National Doral Miami by police in May. He told the officer that "a hit man was out to get him" and that his computer had been hacked by the Secret Service, according to an incident report obtained by The Hartford Courant.

Other documents released by the Democrats include text exchanges between Parnas and Giuliani where they discussed efforts to get a visa for former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to come to the United States. Shokin was the prosecutor who Joe Biden helped get removed because of corruption allegations, and who accused the former vice president's son of wrongdoing.

They "declined his visa today," Parnas wrote. "I can revive it," Giuliani replied. "It's going to work. I have no 1 on it."

The documents also included Parnas' handwritten notes on stationary from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Vienna. The notes are undated, but the first says to get Zelenskiy "to announce that the Biden case will be investigated." It ends with asterisks around the name "Rudy."

They also detailed plans involving Dmytro Firtash, a former business associate of Paul Manafort — Trump's former campaign manager — and a Ukrainian oligarch who had Parnas on his payroll. The plans included removing Firtash’s spokesperson Lanny Davis and replacing him with Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, two of the president’s most ardent defenders on Fox News.

The notes say, “get rid of Lanny Davis (nicely!).”

The notes then appear to refer to efforts to get Firtash out of his legal troubles saying “Firtash toxic” and then “cut deal or get dismissed.”

DiGenova and Toensing now represent Firtash, and were able to get a meeting with Attorney General William Barr to plead his case. Toensing has said she hired Parnas as "a translator" to do work on Firtash's case.

Firtash was indicted in 2014 for what federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Illinois allege was his role in bribing Indian officials in order to get a lucrative mining deal to sell titanium to Boeing. He was arrested in Vienna in March 2014, released on $174 million bail, and has been contesting his extradition to the U.S. ever since.

Firtash was a major backer of Ukraine's Party of Regions, the pro-Russia party for which Manafort as a political consultant worked for many years, according to the federal criminal complaint against Firtash and a February 2006 State Department cable posted by WikiLeaks in 2010.

DiGenova and Toensing's law firm did not respond to a request for comment.

CORRECTION (Jan. 15, 2020, 2:27 p.m.) An earlier version of this article misstated the year Rudy Giuliani sent the letter requesting a meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy, then Ukraine’s president-elect. It was May 10, 2019, not 2018.

Allan Smith contributed.