Rudy Giuliani's role in Ukraine's investigation of Joe Biden

Rudy Giuliani addresses a gathering during a campaign event for Eddie Edwards in Portsmouth, N.H. on Aug. 1, 2018. (AP/Krupa)
Rudy Giuliani addresses a gathering during a campaign event for Eddie Edwards in Portsmouth, N.H. on Aug. 1, 2018. (AP/Krupa)

The whistleblower complaint at the heart of Democrats’ efforts to impeach President Donald Trump says that Trump urged Ukraine to revive an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential challenger in the 2020 presidential election. 

One name that figures prominently in the complaint: Rudy Giuliani. The complaint mentions Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and the former mayor of New York City, more than 30 times.

PolitiFact reviewed the complaint, news reports, and Giuliani’s public statements to piece together the lawyer’s role in recent events.

Giuliani and Trump have charged, without evidence, that Biden forced Ukraine to remove its lead prosecutor in order to protect Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian company that had been under investigation. 

The complaint argues that Trump and Giuliani pressured Ukrainian officials to look into the Bidens and Burisma, the company. 

Giuliani’s role in getting Ukraine to investigate Biden

Giuliani’s contacts with Ukrainians as Trump’s lawyer date back to at least late 2018.

According to the New Yorker, Giuliani spoke to Victor Shokin, Ukraine’s ousted former general prosecutor, in that fall. He met with Yurii Lutsenko, Shokin’s replacement, in January. In the spring, he started floating unsubstantiated allegations about the Bidens.

During a Fox News interview on April 7 — weeks before Biden launched his campaign — Giuliani claimed that when he was exploring Ukraine’s role in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia’s election interference, he began hearing from Ukrainians about Biden.

"All of a sudden, they revealed the story about Burisma and Biden's son," Giuliani said. He later told the New York Times that his fixation on the Bidens "started with an allegation about possible Ukrainian involvement in the investigation of Russian meddling." 

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Since then, Giuliani has repeatedly leveled unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against Biden, all while lobbying Ukraine behind the scenes to continue probing the matter. 

Giuliani has discussed the Burisma investigation with Ukraine’s current and former prosecutor generals and met with the current prosecutor several times in New York, according to the New York Times

He also cancelled a May trip to Kiev, in which he said he planned to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look further into Biden and the origins of Mueller’s investigation.

Giuliani defended the plan to the New York Times, noting that continued investigations could produce information that would be "very, very helpful to my client," adding, "We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do."

"There’s nothing illegal about it," Giuliani added. "Somebody could say it’s improper."

In mid May, Giuliani made an appearance on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s primetime show to talk about Ukraine and the Bidens. He said the Ukrainians had re-opened the Burisma probe. 

The next month, he tweeted that Zelensky was "still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 election and alleged Biden bribery of (former Ukraine President Petro) Poroshenko."

In August, he told the New York Times that he had travelled that month to Madrid to meet with Andriy Yermak, a top Ukrainian official. Giuliani told the Times that he was acting as a private citizen and that he had "strongly urged" Yermak to "just investigate the darn things."

As news of the whistleblower’s complaint made headlines in September, Giuliani returned to TV, saying in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, "It is perfectly appropriate for (Trump) to ask a foreign government to investigate this massive crime that was made by a former vice president."

Also in that interview, Giuliani denied — and then admitted — that he had asked Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens.

More details on Giuliani’s involvement have emerged as the readout of Trump’s July call with Zelensky and a whistleblower’s complaint have been released. On the phone, Trump told Zelensky he would have Giuliani, a "very capable guy," call him to discuss the Bidens.

"The multi-million and billion dollar pay-for-play is mind boggling," Giuliani tweeted Sept. 25. "Biden Family sale of office to Ukraine was not the only one or the most egregious."

Was Giuliani representing the U.S. government?

The Trump administration said Guiliani doesn’t represent the government, but the whistleblower’s complaint shows that Ukrainians didn’t have a clear understanding of Guiliani’s role and in what capacity he was approaching them.

A State Department spokesperson said Aug. 22 that "Giuliani does not speak on behalf of the U.S. government." 

But Kurt Volker, a U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, put Giuliani in direct contact with Yermak at Yermak’s request, according to the State Department. 

However, the whistleblower’s complaint says Giuliani was "a central figure" in Trump’s alleged efforts to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and the origins of the Mueller probe. 

The complaint says that the day after Trump’s July call with Zelensky, Volker and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, advised the Ukrainian leadership on how to navigate "the demands that the President had made."

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"Starting in mid May, I heard from multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani's circumvention of national security decision-making processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President," the whistleblower wrote.

The complaint adds that State Department officials, including Volker and Sondland, spoke with Giuliani "in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security."

Volker and Sondland also tried to help Ukrainian leaders understand and respond to "differing messages they were receiving from official U.S. channels on the one hand, and from Mr. Giuliani on the other," the complaint said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not directly responded to questions regarding Giuliani’s involvement with Ukraine.

On Sept. 22, CBS’ Margaret Brennan asked him if it was appropriate for Giuliani "to be inserting himself in foreign affairs."

"We know there was interference in the 2016 election and if it's the case that there was something going on with the president or his family that caused a conflict of interest and Vice President Biden behaved in a way that was inconsistent with the way leaders ought to operate, I think the American people deserve to know that," Pompeo said.

That same day, ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked Pompeo what he knew about reports that Trump pressed Ukraine’s president to work with Giuliani to investigate Biden’s son.

Pompeo said he hadn’t seen the related whistleblower complaint, but later added that if Biden had "behaved inappropriately," then "we need to get to the bottom of that."

Soliciting help or anything of value from foreign officials in an election is unusual and could be illegal, said Yoshiko Herrera, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s also uncommon for a president’s personal attorney to communicate with foreign officials on matters that could influence White House policy, she said.

"It is going outside of established communication channels which are set up to be both secure and subject to certain protocols for later accessibility of information," Herrera said.

It also matters who helped Giuliani along the way, said Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University's School of Law. 

"If it’s using State Department cover or using Department of Justice cover or using whatever cover it is to actually do things that are not the purview of the government but the purview of the personal fortune, political or financial, of the president, then we’re really talking about something that is of serious concern," she said.