“My other clients are paying me for the work I do for them,” Giuliani said. “Nobody is paying me for a single thing I’m doing for Donald J. Trump.”
Since Giuliani isn’t an administration official, he doesn’t need to reveal that information publicly — so he doesn’t. After his associates Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas were arrested that same month, Giuliani admitted that he’d received $500,000 from the pair for his work representing them, money that originally came from a personal injury attorney on Long Island. (After his arrest, Parnas was accused by federal prosecutors of failing to report a separate $1 million payment he’d received from a lawyer working for an oligarch named Dmitry Firtash.)
As the Senate powered through a second day of questions from senators during the impeachment trial on Thursday, a group of Democratic senators — Jack Reed (R.I.), Tammy Duckworth (Wis.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) — decided to pose the question of Giuliani’s income to the House impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team.
“It has been reported,” the question read, “that President Trump does not pay Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, for his services. Can you explain who has paid for Rudy Giuliani’s legal fees, international travel and other expenses in his capacity as president?”
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) went first, taking the opportunity to criticize the president and Giuliani. He, of course, didn’t know the answer to the question.
“I don’t know who’s directly paying the freight for it, but I can tell you the whole country is paying the freight for it,” Schiff said. “Because there are leaders around the world who are watching this, and they’re saying: ‘The American presidency is open for business. This president wants our help. And if we help him, he will be grateful.’ Is that the kind of message we want to send the rest of the world?”
Then it was Trump attorney Jay Sekulow’s turn. He started talking before he even got to the microphone, he was so indignant. Or so he’d have us believe.
“…came out of the manager’s mouth: open for business,” Sekulow said, as soon as the mic started picking him up. “I’ll tell you who was open for business. You want to know who was open for business? When the vice president of the United States was charged by the then-president of the United States with developing policies to avoid and assist in removing corruption from Ukraine — and his son was on the board of a company that was under investigation for Ukraine. And you’re concerned about what Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, was doing when he was over trying to determine what was going on in Ukraine?”
What Sekulow’s doing here is obvious. He’s spinning, in the classic sense, redirecting the question away from Trump’s attorney and back to former vice president Joe Biden.
The case presented by Trump’s legal team, remember, is that Biden’s push to oust then-Ukraine prosecutor general Viktor Shokin was a function of his seeking to defend a company called Burisma Holdings, for which his son Hunter Biden worked. As has been documented repeatedly, Burisma wasn’t under active investigation at the time that Biden targeted Shokin. In fact, Shokin’s failure to act on Burisma may have been one of the reasons that the U.S. government and its allies broadly sought his ouster.
But here we are talking about Biden instead of Giuliani, just as Sekulow would wish. His indignant tagline about wanting to know what Giuliani was up to has an unchanging answer: Yes, it would be nice to know more details about Giuliani’s work.
“And by the way,” Sekulow continued, spinning in a different direction, “it’s a little bit interesting to me — and my colleague, the deputy White House counsel referred to this — it’s a little bit ironic to me that you’re gonna be questioning conversations with foreign governments about investigations when three of you, three members of the Senate — Senator Menendez, Senator Leahy and Senator Durbin — sent a letter that read something quickly like this. These were — they wrote the letter to the prosecutor general of Ukraine.”
He then quoted from that May 2018 letter implying that the senators’ letter was the same sort of quid pro quo of which Trump stands accused: A demand for an investigation into Trump with a buried threat. Others have made the same case before; early in the impeachment inquiry it was a short-lived talking point in the conservative media before it was repeatedly shown to be a straw man.
In other words, this is well-worn ground, but it is worth once again explaining why.
The letter was a response to a New York Times article in which it was reported that Ukraine was balking at aiding the investigation into Russian interference by then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III out of fear that doing so would irritate Trump. The senators aimed to encourage Ukraine to continue to participate in the Mueller probe. Mueller’s final report, incidentally, indicated that his investigation was hampered by “limits on its ability to access relevant evidence” given that witnesses and documents were held overseas.
It’s not really clear how this letter was even meant to bolster Sekulow’s case. The senators’ incomes are a matter of public record. Their advocacy on Mueller’s behalf was similarly public. The Mueller probe was an official function of the government. Yes, one focus of that probe was Trump’s campaign, but Trump wasn’t the only focus of Mueller’s work.
Giuliani, on the other hand, was poking around on the president’s behalf seeking information which might impugn a possible 2020 Democratic nominee. He did so outside the public eye, on the dime of unidentified sponsors. He did so with the private blessing of the president and was bolstered by the president’s private advocacy of his investigation.
The two are not equivalent in any sense. Sekulow seems to have raised it mostly because it had just been discussed by another lawyer on his team and therefore was something he could seize on as part of the performative outrage in his speech.
“And you’re asking about whether foreign investigations are appropriate?” Sekulow concluded after discussing the letter. “I think it answers itself.”
It does. Which is why Sekulow was unable to offer another, better answer.