Rudy Giuliani said he has canceled a trip to Ukraine to seek help from the incoming administration there to target President Donald Trump’s political opponents, including the family of Democratic candidate Joe Biden and people affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Giuliani planned to travel to Kiev on Sunday, but as news of the trip made headlines on Friday, the president’s personal lawyer had an abrupt change of heart, claiming the meetings he had planned with incoming President Volodymyr Zelensky were a setup by Democrats.
In reality, the former New York mayor’s activities looked a lot like a brazen conspiracy with a foreign government to disrupt U.S. elections and possibly could have led to campaign finance law violations.
Trump claimed not to know too much about Giuliani’s plans, despite making several comments this week about the subject of the trip, an investigation into the business interests of Biden’s son, Hunter, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as Russian attacks on the 2016 U.S. election.
“I have not spoken to him at any great length, but I will,” Trump told Politico, referring to Giuliani. “I will speak to him about it before he leaves.”
Yet in the same interview, Trump said Hunter Biden’s links to a Ukrainian energy company owned by an oligarch should be looked into. He also said it would be “appropriate” to discuss the issue with U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
“Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet,” he told Politico. On Thursday, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Barr “would want to see this.”
“It sounds like big stuff, very interesting with Ukraine,” Trump added.
At the center of the issue, which is making the rounds on conservative media sites, is the allegation that while vice president, Joe Biden intervened to help oust a prosecutor who was investigating the company with links to Biden’s son. According to Politico, there is no evidence that this happened or that the prosecutor actually was investigating the company in question.
Trump allies also are claiming that Ukrainian officials worked with pro-Clinton operatives to damage Trump’s campaign, specifically by going after Manafort. Manafort has since been sent to prison for a slew of felonies revealed by the Mueller probe.
When Giuliani announced the trip this week, he told The New York Times, “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.”
He added: “There’s nothing illegal about it. Somebody could say it’s improper. And this isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”
The reaction by Democrats was prompt and scathing.
“First Don Jr.’s ‘I love it’ & now this,” tweeted Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a former state attorney general who now sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Despicable, unpatriotic, & a blatant violation of campaign finance law…My Republican colleagues need to wake up,” he added.
The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., responded by calling Blumenthal “Da Nang Dick.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Friday, “We have come to a very sorry state when it is considered OK for an American politician, never mind an attorney for the president, to go and seek foreign intervention in American politics.”
Giuliani, perhaps sensing that conspiracy in plain sight might not be a good idea, switched course on Friday night. On Fox News, he said he had become convinced that Zelensky was surrounded by people who are “enemies” of Trump and “people who are clearly corrupt.”
Giuliani also claimed the purpose of the trip wasn’t to influence the 2020 U.S. election. “The reality is, this has nothing to do with the election of 2020,” he said. “If I wanted to meddle in that election, which I don’t, I could have held this for a year and dropped it right before the convention.”
Then, he said he had decided not to go to Ukraine “because I think I’m walking into a group of people that are enemies of [Trump], in some cases enemies of the United States…”
One issue with his latest comments, however, is that Giuliani already had made his intentions clear in a tweet on Friday. “Election is 17 months away. Let’s answer it now,” he tweeted.