Oct 20, 2019

Trump's Rudy problem

Photo illustration of multiple Rudy Guilliani's on an orange background

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo. Photos by Drew Angerer, Anthony Devlin, Siavosh Hosseini/NurPhoto, and Paul Morigi via Getty Images

Amid near-daily revelations of Rudy Giuliani’s “shadow” foreign policy, senior administration officials are worried that more information could surface connecting official Trump administration policy to Giuliani's personal financial gain.

The big picture: Several people close to the president are infuriated that Giuliani exerts what they see as unwarranted influence over Trump and U.S. foreign policy, with some going so far as to blame him outright for the Ukraine mess.

  • Giuliani has a wide range of foreign clients despite serving as Trump's personal attorney, which has put many on edge.
  • "There's this sense of paranoia here," one administration official tells me.
  • More alarm bells rang this week after the Washington Post reportedthat Giuliani had privately urged Trump to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked for repeatedly.

On Capitol Hill, those investigating Trump tell me they are still committed to keeping their investigation tightly focused on Ukraine in order to wrap up their impeachment inquiry as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  • However, that could change if more information about Giuliani emerges.
  • "I think Rudy has a lot to answer for," said Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who sits on the House Oversight and Intelligence committees.
  • "We don't know who he was working on behalf of at any given time — it's not just President Trump."
  • Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, some Trump officials say the only person who can rein in Giuliani is the president himself.

  • Trump's former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, told members of Congress earlier this month that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was helpless to stop Giuliani's involvement, according to sources with direct knowledge of his closed-door testimony.
  • "I'm sure [Pompeo] could have called Rudy Giuliani, but would Rudy Giuliani stop what he's doing because the secretary of state calls him? I'd be surprised," Volker said.

This morning on "ABC This Week," George Stephanopoulos asked Pompeo whether he gave Giuliani his blessing to act on behalf of the State Department.

  • Pompeo said it's his policy not to discuss internal deliberations publicly, despite the fact that Giuliani does not work for the administration.
  • Pompeo also refused to answer whether Giuliani was reviewed for potential conflicts of interest, amid revelations that he had business interests in Ukraine at the same time he was pushing officials to open an investigation into Joe Biden, Axios' Zach Basu notes.

Trump transition flagged Rudy concerns in 2016

These concerns with Giuliani aren't new:

  • As far back as November 2016, a source who worked on the Trump transition team told Jonathan Swan, a colleague “walked back into the war room after an hour on the phone with Giuliani. He had a few pieces of notebook paper covered front and back with notes on red flags, and he looked like he’d just seen a ghost."
  • “Not good, guys. Not. Good,” the colleague said, according to the source. A second source with direct knowledge confirmed the account.

In June, Axios broke a story about leaked vetting documents that the Trump transition team and the Republican National Committee compiled in the fall of 2016. While vetting Giuliani, they found so many red flags that he was ultimately prevented from serving at the State Department.

  • Giuliani’s file was so thick, they took the rare step of producing a separate dossier to cover his extensive foreign business entanglements.
  • A former Trump transition team member said senior Trump aides made clear that Giuliani could not be confirmed as secretary of state because of his foreign business ties, and the job of the vetting team was to show Giuliani why “he really shouldn’t put himself through a Senate confirmation.”
  • "The extensive amount of work that I've done in the 80 or plus countries that I've been to in the last 17 years is what would've qualified me to be an excellent secretary of state," Giuliani said after Axios explained the contents of the documents to him in June. "Would you prefer someone who hasn't been overseas?"
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