During a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office, President Trump urged then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help coax the Justice Department into dropping a criminal case against one of Rudy Giuliani's clients, three people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News.
Tillerson said he would not do this, as he would be interfering in an ongoing investigation, and others in the room were shocked by the request, Bloomberg News reports. Giuliani, a longtime supporter of Trump, is now the president's personal lawyer, but wasn't at the time. After the meeting, Tillerson conferred with then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in the hallway, telling him that what Trump asked him to do was illegal and he objected to the request, Bloomberg News says.
Giuliani's client was an Iranian-Turkish gold trader named Reza Zarrab, and federal prosecutors in New York had charged him with dodging U.S. sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. Prosecutors said he had "close ties" with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and ultimately, Zarrab pleaded guilty and began cooperating. Zarrab testified against the head of international banking at Turkey's state-owned Halkbank and said Erdogan backed the bank's laundering effort. Erdogan has denied this.
Giuliani first told Bloomberg News that he did not discuss Zarrab's case with Trump, then backtracked, saying he might have. "Suppose I did talk to Trump about it — so what?" Giuliani said. "I was a private lawyer at the time." When asked if he spoke to Tillerson about the case, Giuliani responded, "You have no right to know that." For more on the matter, including concerns officials have over Trump's relationship with Erdogan, visit Bloomberg News.