Questions Remain Over Whether Rudy Giuliani Is In Legal Jeopardy
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Two associates of President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani appeared in federal court in New York earlier today. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman pleaded not guilty to campaign finance violations. But the pair's connections to Giuliani raises the question about whether the former New York mayor is in legal jeopardy himself.
NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been looking into that very question and joins us now. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello there.
CHANG: All right, so given the allegations against Parnas and Fruman, what kind of legal trouble could that mean for Giuliani?
LUCAS: Well, there's nothing in the indictment that implicates Giuliani.
LUCAS: That said, the indictment is certainly a bad omen for him. Remember; this indictment alleges that Parnas and Fruman were trying to get the then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed from her post. We know that Giuliani was pushing for that same thing. It's unclear whether Giuliani's efforts were in any way linked to those of Parnas and Fruman. Still though, former prosecutors that I've spoken with think that Giuliani is very likely being closely scrutinized by investigators. And with these charges hanging over Parnas and Fruman, those two are under pressure to cooperate and spill whatever they may know about Giuliani.
CHANG: Right. OK, but setting aside Parnas and Fruman, is there anything that Giuliani has done that might raise the interest of investigators?
LUCAS: I have posed various versions of that very question to several attorneys and former prosecutors. And they all pointed to things that Giuliani has done over the past several years that look a lot like foreign lobbying. Foreign lobbying is regulated by something known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act or FARA. It requires that people who are doing political work or public relations work here in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign entity disclose that fact to the Department of Justice. And with Giuliani, there are a number of things that raise red flags for legal experts.
CHANG: Like what kinds of red flags?
LUCAS: So one area relates to Turkey. There are reports that Giuliani was pushing President Trump to extradite a Turkish cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. For years it's been a priority for the Turkish government to get him back to Turkey. Giuliani also reportedly used an Oval Office meeting with Trump to argue for a prisoner swap with Turkey. That swap would have involved sending back to Turkey a man indicted in the U.S. who has ties to the Turkish government.
CHANG: So these are efforts from Giuliani that seem to align with Turkey's interests here.
LUCAS: Right. Right. And there's a second section here. Now for years, Giuliani has also made public speeches advocating on behalf of an Iranian dissident group known as the MEK. I spoke with Joshua Rosenstein. He is a lawyer who specializes in FARA issues. He says those speeches of Giuliani set off alarm bells.
JOSHUA ROSENSTEIN: Making speeches on behalf of a foreign political party within the United States, where those speeches are aimed at influencing the views of the U.S. public or the U.S. media, falls squarely within the ambit of regulated conduct under FARA.
LUCAS: And Rosenstein also told me that he wouldn't be surprised if federal investigators weren't already looking into both of these activities tied to Turkey and the Iranian dissident group.
CHANG: So what does Rudy Giuliani have to say about all of this so far? Has he said anything?
LUCAS: So I've asked Giuliani whether the Justice Department has contacted him at any point about his activities and whether they fall under the rubric of foreign lobbying. And Giuliani told me that no, he's never been contacted about that. I pointed out to him that others who have also given speeches for the MEK for many years recently registered with the Justice Department. Giuliani told me that what he was doing is different. He says he wasn't contacting U.S. officials with a specific request, so he says he's not required to register. Investigators may have a different view, though.
CHANG: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.