The secret service expressed concerns that Giuliani would be used to provide Russian misinformation to the president, the former officials said, speaking of sensitive information and conversations on condition of anonymity.
The warnings to the White House, which have not yet been reported, prompted National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien to warn Trump in a private conversation that any information that Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia, said one of the former officials.
The message was, “Do what you want, but your friend Rudy has been processed by Russian assets in Ukraine,”
But O’Brien emerged unsure from the meeting as to whether he had made it through to president. Trump “shrugged” at O’Brien’s warning, the former official said, dismissing concerns about his attorney’s activities by saying, “This is Rudy.”
Giuliani visited the White House on December 13, shortly after the House Judiciary Committee decided to proceed with impeachment proceedings, and met with Trump eight days later at the President’s resort in Florida.
Officials’ warnings against Giuliani underscore concern in the U.S. intelligence community that Russia is not only attempting to replicate the disinformation campaign it waged in 2016, but can now, inadvertently or otherwise, be assisted by people acting as the president be close. These warnings have become more urgent in recent days. The information Giuliani was looking for in Ukraine is similar to that contained in emails and other correspondence released by the New York Post this week. The newspaper came from Hunter Biden’s laptop and was made available by Giuliani and Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former top political adviser in the White House.
The Washington Post has failed to verify the authenticity of alleged communications concerning Hunter Biden’s business relationships in Ukraine and China.
The former officials said Giuliani was not a target of US surveillance in Ukraine, but was dealing with suspected Russian assets that led to the capture of some of his communications.
Giuliani was keen to get information from his overseas contacts about Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden was a board member, and Biden’s activities in Ukraine, China and Romania, two former officials said. Giuliani’s zeal was so strong that “everyone [in the intelligence community who knew about it] I talked about how hard it would be to get him to stop and take seriously the idea that he is being used as a channel for misinformation, “said a former official.
In early 2019, the US secret service had warned the White House in writing that Giuliani was communicating with Russian assets in his search for information about the Bidens.
Several senior administrative officials “all had a common understanding” that Giuliani was attacked by the Russians, said the former official, who covered O’Brien’s intervention. That group included Attorney General William P. Barr, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, and White Counsel Pat Cipollone.
FBI and Justice Department spokesmen declined to comment. A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred inquiries to the White House.
National Security Advisor O’Brien and White House attorney Cipollone have frequent meetings with the President on a variety of subjects. Ambassador O’Brien does not comment on sensitive intelligence issues or the advice he gives President Trump, “said John Ullyot, spokesman for the National Security Council, in a written statement. The National Security Advisor can say that the President always treats such briefings with the utmost seriousness. The characterization of the meeting described in this article is incorrect. “
In a text message on Thursday, Giuliani said he was never informed that Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian lawmaker in Ukraine whom he met in Kiev on December 5, was a Russian secret service. Giuliani said he has “only secondary information and I do not consider him a witness.” But Giuliani met again with Derkach in New York two months later and hosted him on his podcast. He has promoted Derkach’s unsubstantiated claims about the Bidens and described Derkach as “very helpful”.
In September, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach for allegedly conducting an “influence campaign” against Joe Biden, calling the Ukrainian “an active Russian agent for over a decade” with “close ties to Russian intelligence agencies”.
In August, the office of the director of the National Intelligence Service publicly described Derkach as part of Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2020 elections by smearing Biden. The DNI’s office accused Derkach of “spreading corruption allegations – including by posting leaked phone calls – to undermine Biden and the Democrats”.
For some officials, Trump’s willingness to meet with Giuliani despite warnings of Russian influence was an indication of the collusion allegations that haunted the president after the 2016 election. The special advisor Robert S. Mueller III. Said he found no evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy charge against anyone in the Trump campaign. However, his investigation documented numerous cases of Trump staff knowingly seeking harmful information from Russian people and their representatives about Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.
Giuliani wasn’t shy about looking for information that could harm Biden, and was bringing a right-wing One America News documentary team to Ukraine in December when he met with Derkach. At the time, Giuliani claimed that Trump directed him to share his findings with the Justice Department and Senate Republicans.
Officials’ fears about what Giuliani might say to the president were compounded by Trump’s generally angry reaction to negative information about Russia and his efforts to sway US politics.
“Whenever you speak to the president, whatever your facts, if you mention Russia, it is – you have reached the third track,” said one of the former officials. Trump has described Russia’s documented campaign of electoral bias as a “hoax” that was drummed up to question the legitimacy of his election and undermine his government.
Trump has relied on Giuliani’s advice for years. But in the past few months, with the president lagging behind in the polls, the former New York mayor has become an even closer confidante, aides and officials said. Giuliani has visited the White House to prepare for debates, advise the president on his response to the coronavirus pandemic, advertise the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19, and discuss what political events and rallies he thinks the president should hold .
Giuliani was also an important source of information during the impeachment when Trump attempted to refute allegations of abuse of power by making false allegations that Biden, as Vice President, had urged the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor in order to save his son from being investigated.
During his impeachment trial in the Senate, Trump denied sending Giuliani to Ukraine to tarnish Biden, who was then running for the Democratic President nomination. But after his acquittal, Trump turned around and admitted in a podcast interview with Geraldo Rivera that he had instructed Giuliani to go to Ukraine.
“So if you tell me why did I use Rudy, and one of the things about Rudy, number one, was he was the best prosecutor, you know, one of the best prosecutors and the best mayor,” Trump said. “But other presidents also had them. The FDR had an attorney who was practically fully involved in the government. Eisenhower had a lawyer. They all had lawyers. “
Months earlier, Trump had also told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to meet with Giuliani.
“Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the Mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I want him to call you,” Trump Zelensky said in a phone call on July 25, 2019, according to a White House release Partial transcript. “I’ll ask him to give you a call with the attorney general. Rudy knows what is happening very well and he’s a very capable guy. If you could talk to him it would be great.”
That call was at the heart of the impeachment proceedings against the president.