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The Law That Could Take Down Rudy Giuliani

It's a genuine mystery how the president's aide-de-camp has avoided Paul Manafort's fate.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A little over a year ago, a grip of Democratic senators penned a letter to the Department of Justice with a simple request: review whether or not Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal Nosferatu-cum-lawyer, was in compliance with the DOJ’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The eighty-year-old statute, long dormant and nearly forgotten until Trump barreled into the presidency, had by this time tripped up Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, as well as Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Giuliani, per the letter, looked like he was trying to make it a hat-trick of foreign subterfuge, juggling a number of foreign clients and interests, lining his pockets and upending American interests as he went.

“The purpose of FARA is to ensure the American public can make informed judgments about the political activities of foreign agents in the U.S.,” the senators, which included Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren, wrote. “[T]his law should be applied without regard to political association, activities, or beliefs.”

The DOJ, as we now know, received the letter, but never bothered to respond. Months wound by, with Giuliani amping up his foreign meddling, and injecting himself directly into policy-making in countries like Ukraine. Giuliani also began picking up massive foreign tabs from individuals like Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two post-Soviet clowns who were arrested and indicted last week on election-related charges—and whose source of income “remains a mystery.”

For reasons heretofore unknown, Giuliani has not registered as a foreign agent on their behalf—or on behalf of any of the foreign clients he’s accrued along the way. “I regularly play this game where I try to play devil’s advocate and try and figure out why Giuliani is not registered under FARA, and I regularly, when I play this game, cannot figure out why Giuliani is not registered under FARA,” Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative for the Center for International Policy, told The New Republic. “I frankly can’t figure out why he would not be registered under FARA.”

The litany of foreign fiends looking to Giuliani for help—and looking for him to whisper directly in Trump’s ear to serve their ends—is getting almost too lengthy to properly monitor. There’s Reza Zarrab, the Turkish national at the center of the largest sanctions-evasion scheme ever run out of Iran, who opted to hire Giuliani for, supposedly, his legal acumen. Giuliani’s service to his client took him directly into the Oval Office: As The New York Times reported last week, Giuliani lobbied Trump directly for Zarrab’s release—a move that made former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson blanch, and warmed the cockles of Turkish strongman Recep Erdoğan, who’d long pushed for Zarrab’s return.

Smash cut to Iran, where Giuliani’s been leading a crusade on behalf of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a cultish Iranian opposition group listed, until earlier this decade, as a foreign terrorist organization by Washington. Politico described Giuliani’s involvement with the group as a man “gorging at the table of Islamo-Marxist terrorists who have murdered Americans”—a relationship from which Giuliani has apparently profited handsomely, although he’s long declined to tot up the takings for public consumption. Giuliani’s peripatetic stumping on behalf of MEK has taken him from the Potomac, to Paris, to Poland. All the while, Giuliani has claimed he’s only working “as a private citizen—thank God I can still do that.”

Recent current events have tightly focused on Ukraine, which has provided a font of shady characters eager to export their grievances and conspiracies directly to the White House—and who found, in Giuliani, a perfect amanuensis for their designs.

In 2017, Giuliani linked up with the mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. The cover story, as with many of his foreign ventures, centered on Giuliani’s supposed role as a “security adviser” to the city. And that story may well have remained, except that his Ukrainian partners couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Pavel Fuks, a Ukrainian developer familiar with Giuliani’s work in Kharkiv—and who was apparently bankrolling Giuliani’s work, rather than the city itself—said that the U.S. president’s lawyer had been hired as a “lobbyist,” a role “stated in the contract.” Fuks later added that “Giuliani’s company provides lobbying services,” and that Giuliani “has a very positive attitude toward Ukraine, so he undertook to lobby for us.”

Thus did Giuliani establish the inroads which led to the garish disclosures of the past two weeks, launching the first impeachment crisis on national security concerns that the U.S. has ever seen. The latest revelations—from the leaks to the testimonies, from American officials both current and former—paint a stark portrait of Giuliani working hand-in-glove with a Parnas and Fruman to funnel foreign money, the source of which remains a mystery, into the American electoral system, and plant the seeds of anti-American conspiracy directly into Trump’s ear.

It remains unclear which Ukrainian national Giuliani’s work was ultimately meant to benefit. Was it simply the crooked former Ukrainian prosecutor general, who was spinning a fever-swamp conspiracy that Joe Biden was somehow out to get him? Was it Dmitro Firtash, the Ukrainian oligarch—and “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime,” per the DOJ—awaiting extradition to the U.S., who just so happened to be in the same orbit as those aiding Giuliani in Ukraine? Or was it someone else?

Answers to these questions have yet to emerge. Nevertheless, one thing is crystal clear: Any one of those instances, any of these concentric circles of crooked dealings, should have cajoled Giuliani into registering with FARA. Moreover, Giuliani’s defense that he’s simply a lawyer, and thus eligible for an exemption from FARA registration, isn’t nearly sufficient.

“Giuliani’s defense has been that…he was acting at the behest of the president,” Joshua Ian Rosenstein, a partner at Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock P.C., which specializes in lobbying compliance, tells The New Republic. “I don’t know what to say about that. I think it’s sort of astonishing, in a way, that we have sort of an unauthorized [person], not even a special government employee, who’s conducting diplomacy… Just saying you’re not a lobbyist ain’t gonna cut it.”

Giuliani doesn’t actually appear to have a good grasp on what FARA registration entails, including who is eligible for the exemptions from registering. (This is a man, after all, who recently said that he “expected to be a hero like in a Tom Hanks movie” for his recent actions.) There is a FARA exemption for lawyers—but it applies only to their actions within the confines of the courtroom, not for those who litigate from the cable news green room, or who worm their way into president’s confidences.

“The way I’ve explained it to friends is that despite being a lawyer, I don’t think Giuliani actually understands this law,” Freeman added. “The [FARA] statute is really not that long. I think you could take any law student in America, and have them quickly read through that statute, and then evaluate Giuliani’s behavior. And I would be very surprised if that law student wasn’t very concerned that Giuliani was not violating this law.”

There is, however, one other intriguing possibility for Giuliani: a national security exemption. In any other timeline, and under any other administration, the possibility that Giuliani would receive a national security exemption—which would require the consent of the president, the secretary of state, and the attorney general—could be safely ignored. But here, under the first American president who has ever pressured a foreign government to investigate a political rival, anything is up for grabs.

That ship may have already sailed for Giuliani. Federal prosecutors have already begun probing Giuliani’s work in Ukraine—specifically, whether he’d failed to register his work with Parnas and Fruman, the two goons charged with FEC violations, with FARA. One possibility is that Giuliani “was actually representing these two individuals sort of as conduits for some foreign source of money, and making arrangements for them, for example, to participate in the political process—which as we know was an FEC violation,” Rosenstein says. “But if he knowingly facilitated an FEC violation, that’s problem number one. Problem number two is that’s pretty clearly a FARA violation, also.”

Giuliani’s double-dealings—and the lengths he’s already gone to undercut American interests—have presented an unparalleled chapter in FARA’s checkered history. The lack of FARA enforcement in the decades leading up to Trump’s election, after all, allowed Manafort to gobble up piles of cash from the world’s most heinous autocrats, and, eventually, Trump.

For decades, FARA was closer to farce than any kind of force. As an amazed Ken Silverstein explained in Politico back in October of 2017, in the twenty years prior to Manafort getting busted on a FARA violation, he’d only seen “a handful of cases brought against people” who violated FARA. “Like dozens of other influence peddlers,” he wrote, Manafort had been “operating in plain sight for years.” It was as if FARA was a frivolous suggestion, not a serious rule. (There’s a reason my wife and I chose “#reformFARA” for our wedding hashtag a few years ago.)

More recently, however, FARA’s seen new life in the form of a brand new task force and a shiny new set of advisory opinions outlining just who needs to register. For the cops on this beat, there’s been a renewed sense of purpose. Against that backdrop, it’s been a maddening perplexity that Giuliani has not found himself in the regulatory crosshairs. He has served only as the ne plus ultra as to how FARA remains essential to our democracy—and how it applies to all who come, regardless of ties to a president, or to a fellow conspirator-in-chief.

Still, it is possible that the veil will be lifted in the days to come. “I fully expect that in the not-too-distant future we’ll get an indictment for Parnas and Fruman for FARA violations,” Freeman says. “And on the DOJ front with Giuliani—again, I fully expect that, once their investigation is concluded, you’ll see an indictment of Giuliani for FARA violations, too.”