(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump stood by Rudy Giuliani, calling him “a great guy and a wonderful lawyer” who’s under attack from the “Deep State,” a day after saying he didn’t know if the former New York City mayor was still his attorney.
Trump’s comment, posted on Twitter as he traveled via motorcade to his golf course in Northern Virginia, followed news that Giuliani is being scrutinized by federal investigators for his financial dealings following the indictment of two of his associates for violating campaign finance laws.
At the White House on Friday afternoon, asked whether Giuliani was still his lawyer, Trump told reporters, “I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to Rudy.” He then added: “He’s a very good attorney, and he has been my attorney. Yeah, sure.” On Saturday, Trump told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that Giuliani is still his lawyer and that he’s a “great gentleman.”
A law enforcement official, who asked to remain anonymous speaking about the sensitive matter, declined this week to discuss details about the scrutiny around Giuliani, 75, but it’s a dramatic development for a man who made his reputation as a crusading mob prosecutor when he was the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
He now finds himself drawn into an expanding criminal probe run by his old office into illegal campaign contributions.
Giuliani attorney Jon Sale didn’t immediately respond to calls and email messages seeking comment on the reported probe or whether he continues to represent Trump.
Representatives for the Southern District of New York, which is leading the probe, declined to comment.
Of the four men charged Thursday with funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign money into efforts to support Trump and other candidates for office, two have worked closely with Giuliani since he became Trump’s personal lawyer last year.
The men -- Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman -- are represented by John Dowd, Trump’s former lawyer. Dowd himself wrote last week to Democrats saying the two men wouldn’t testify in the impeachment inquiries, explaining “Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs.”
Trump told reporters Thursday that he didn’t know Parnas or Fruman. “Maybe they were clients of Rudy,” he added. As for photos of himself with Parnas at the White House posted on Facebook, he said it was possible “but I have pictures with everybody.”
Parnas and Fruman had lunch with Giuliani at the Trump hotel in Washington Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported. That would have been just hours before prosecutors said the two were arrested trying to board a flight out of the country on one-way tickets. The indictment doesn’t just draw Giuliani closer to prosecutors’ glare; after the arrest, House Democrats subpoenaed the men’s communications with Giuliani, saying “They are not exempted from this requirement merely because they happen to work with Mr. Giuliani.”
CNN reported earlier Thursday that prosecutors in Manhattan are looking into Giuliani.
The timing of the arrest suggests prosecutors knew the two men were leaving the country, which means they were likely tracking the pair closely before they were apprehended.
“How did the feds know, in real time, they were buying plane tickets?” said John Moscow, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. “They were probably under surveillance.”
And if they were under surveillance, then it’s possible that investigators noted their recent meetings with Giuliani, he said. To that end, prosecutors might end up questioning Giuliani about whether he was aware they were planning to leave the country, among other topics.
In particular, prosecutors are likely to want to know whether the two men informed Giuliani about their plans to leave and whether they wanted to avoid testifying in the House impeachment inquiry.
Parnas, who was born in Ukraine, and Fruman, in Belarus, are both U.S. citizens now. The pair had been targeted by the Democrats because of their work in Kyiv over the past year with Giuliani to dig up incriminating information on Joe Biden, the leading contender to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election, and his son. Trump’s efforts this summer to press the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to formally announce impeachment inquiries.
According to the indictment, the men also played a role in another incident House Democrats are zeroing in on: Parnas allegedly pressed an unidentified congressman to push for the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the behest of Ukrainian government officials. The ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was recalled in May and is scheduled to testify before the impeachment inquiry Friday. It’s unclear whether she will testify.
The description of the congressman matches that of former Rep. Pete Sessions, who did write a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging her ouster. Sessions, a Republican from Texas, said Thursday that he wasn’t sure he was the congressman referenced in the indictment and was never aware that the men were acting at the behest of Ukrainian politicians. He said he contacted Pompeo because of his own concerns about Yovanovitch.
The pair appeared before a judge in Alexandria, Virginia, Thursday afternoon. They were granted a $1 million bond and will be released to home confinement with electronic monitoring. Kevin Downing, another lawyer for the two, declined to comment. In yet another interlocking circle, Downing represented Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in his unsuccessful defense against tax and lobbying charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
QuickTake: On Bidens and Ukraine, Wild Claims With Little Basis
In recent weeks, as the Ukraine scandal has mushroomed in Washington, Giuliani has admitted that he did push the newly elected Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and his son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. He defended his work, saying he was concerned about corruption in the country.
“The fact that they’re involved in illegal contributions and connected to things in Ukraine that Giuliani was involved in, that alone makes Giuliani a person of interest,” said Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Duke University School of Law.
(Updates with Trump comment in third paragraph.)
--With assistance from Andrew Harris.
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