Intelligence has raised concerns that Giuliani is being used to report Russian disinformation to the president, former officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information and conversations.
The White House warnings, which had not been reported earlier, prompted National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien to warn Trump in a private conversation that any information Giuliani returned from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia. said one of the former employees.
The message was, “Do what you want, but your friend Rudy worked from Russian assets in Ukraine,”
But O’Brien left the meeting unsure if he had reached the president. Trump shrugged at O’Brien’s warning, the former official said, dismissing concerns about his lawyer’s activities, saying, “This is Rudy.”
Giuliani visited the White House on December 13, shortly after Parliament’s Judicial Committee voted to continue impeachment, and he met with Trump at the president’s resort in Florida eight days later.
Officials’ warnings about Giuliani underscore concerns in the US intelligence community that Russia is not only seeking to replicate the disinformation campaign it conducted in 2016, but may now be assisted, inadvertently or otherwise, by individuals close to the president. These warnings have gained new urgency in recent days. The information Giuliani sought in Ukraine is similar to that contained in emails and other correspondence published this week by the New York Post, which the newspaper said came from Hunter Biden’s laptop and was provided by Giuliani and Stephen K. Bannon. of Trump a former chief political adviser in the White House.
The Washington Post failed to verify the authenticity of the alleged communications concerning Hunter Biden’s business deals in Ukraine and China.
Former officials said Giuliani was not under US surveillance while in Ukraine, but was dealing with alleged Russian assets, which led to the capture of some of his reports.
Giuliani was interested in receiving information from foreign contacts about Burism, the Ukrainian energy company in which Hunter Biden was on board, and Biden’s activities in Ukraine, China and Romania, two former officials said. Giuliani’s wish was so strong “that everyone [in the intelligence community who knew about it] he talked about how difficult it would be to try to get him to stop, to take seriously the idea that he was being used as a disinformation channel, ”said a former employee.
Earlier in 2019, US intelligence also warned in written materials sent to the White House that Giuliani, in his quest for information about the candidacies, was communicating with Russian assets.
Several senior administration officials “all had a common understanding” that Giuliani was targeted by the Russians, said the former official, who described O’Brien’s intervention. The group included Attorney General William P. Barr, FBI Director Christopher A. Rai, and white lawyer Pat Cipolone.
FBI and Justice Department spokesmen declined to comment. A spokesman for the National Intelligence Director’s office made inquiries to the White House.
“National Security Adviser O’Brien and White House Adviser Cipolone meet frequently with the president on various issues. Ambassador O’Brien did not comment on sensitive intelligence issues or the advice he gave to President Trump, “National Security Council spokesman John Ulliot said in a written statement. The National Security Adviser “can say that the President always takes such briefings very seriously. The characteristics of the meeting, as described in this article, are not accurate. “
In a text message Thursday, Giuliani said he had never been informed that Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian MP in Ukraine, whom he met on December 5 in Kiev, was an asset of Russian intelligence. Giuliani said that “there is only secondary information and I do not consider him a witness.” But Giuliani met again with Derkach in New York two months later, visiting him on his podcast, and he promoted Derkach’s unsubstantiated allegations about the candidates, describing Derkach as “very useful.”
In September, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach for an alleged “campaign of influence” against Joe Biden, calling the Ukrainian “an active Russian agent for more than a decade” who maintained close ties with Russian intelligence.
In August, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence publicly identified Derkach as part of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 election by tarnishing Biden. DNI’s office accused Derkach of “spreading allegations of corruption – including through public disclosure of leaked phone calls – to undermine” Biden and Democrats.
For some officials, Trump’s willingness to meet with Giuliani, despite warnings of Russian influence, has struck accusations of a secret deal haunting the president since the 2016 election. Special Adviser Robert S. Mueller III said he found no evidence to support it. on criminal charges of conspiracy against anyone in the Trump campaign. But his investigation documents numerous cases in which Trump aides deliberately sought harmful information from Russians and their proxies about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.
Giuliani did not hesitate to search for information that could harm Biden, taking the crew of a documentary from the right-wing One America News to Ukraine in December when she met Derkach. At the time, Giuliani claimed that Trump had directed him to share his findings with the Justice Department and Republicans in the Senate.
Officials’ concerns about what Giuliani may say to the president were compounded by Trump’s overall fierce response to negative intelligence about Russia and its efforts to influence US policy.
“Whenever you talk to the president, no matter what your facts are, if you mention Russia, that’s it – you’ve hit the third rail,” said one former official. Trump called the Russian-documented campaign to interfere in the election a “fraud” that was invented to challenge the legitimacy of his election and undermine his administration.
Trump has relied on Giuliani’s advice for years. But in recent months, as the president found himself behind in the ballot box, the former mayor of New York has become an even closer confidant, aides and officials said. Giuliani visited the White House to prepare for the debate, advising the president on his response to the coronavirus pandemic, promoting the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for covid-19, and discussing what political events and rallies he said the president should hold.
Giuliani was also a major source of information during the impeachment, when Trump tried to refute allegations of abuse of power by making false allegations that Biden, while vice president, had insisted on removing a Ukrainian prosecutor to save his son. you are under investigation.
During the impeachment process in the Senate, Trump refused to send Giuliani to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, who was then a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. But after his acquittal, Trump turned around, admitting in a podcast interview with Geraldo Rivera that he had ordered Giuliani to go to Ukraine.
“So when you tell me why I used Rudy and one of the things about Rudy, number one, 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 a lawyer who, in practice, you know, was fully committed to the government. Eisenhower had a lawyer. They all had lawyers. “
Months earlier, Trump had also told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he needed to meet with Giuliani.
“Mr. Giuliani is a very respected man. He was the mayor of New York, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you,” Trump told Zelensky in a phone call on July 25, 2019, according to a partial transcript published by The White House. “I’m going to ask him to call you with the Attorney General. Rudy knows very well what’s going on and he’s a very capable man. If you could talk to him, that would be great.”
That phone call was at the heart of the impeachment case against the president.