Manhattan federal prosecutors have been investigating Giuliani’s involvement with efforts to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine ahead of the 2020 election. Executing a search warrant is an extraordinary move for prosecutors to take against a lawyer, let alone a lawyer for a former president, and it marks a major turning point in the long-running probe.
Prosecutors had been seeking approval for a Giuliani warrant from the Justice Department in Washington D.C. for months, but senior officials declined to approve it during the Trump administration for several reasons, including the proximity to the presidential election and Trump’s challenge to the results, according to one of the people. Giuliani served as Trump’s main lawyer alleging Biden’s win was due to widespread voter fraud.
Senior Justice Department officials under the new administration reversed course and approved going forward in recent weeks, the person said. The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which has been leading the investigation, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Spokespeople for the Federal Bureau of Investigation also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Robert Costello, Giuliani’s lawyer, denied any wrongdoing by his client and cast the government’s decision to move forward with the search as politically motivated. “Mr. Giuliani respects the law, and he can demonstrate that his conduct as a lawyer and a citizen was absolutely legal and ethical,” Costello said.
According to Costello, the probe is at least in part focused on whether Giuliani failed to disclose to U.S. officials that he was lobbying on behalf of a foreign entity.
Costello said in his statement that he and Giuliani had made overtures to Manhattan federal prosecutors twice in the past two years to discuss the issue under investigation, but the talks never materialized. Costello also said the electronic devices seized by authorities are filled with material covered by attorney-client privilege.
The search of Giuliani’s apartment was first reported by the New York Times. The Times reported later on Wednesday that another search warrant was executed on the Washington-area home of Victoria Toensing, a conservative lawyer with ties to Giuliani who was also involved in seeking damaging material about Biden in Ukraine.
Trump’s request that Ukrainian officials launch an investigation of Biden ultimately led to his first impeachment though he was acquitted by the then Republican-controlled Senate. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Giuliani, are facing charges related in part to their effort to oust the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
Giuliani’s actions related to Ukraine have been a subject of scrutiny since the earliest days of the Parnas and Fruman prosecution. Even as he was acting as Trump’s personal attorney, he was also maintaining a private consulting business that sold services to foreign leaders, including prominent clients in Ukraine, legal experts said.
That consulting work posed no risks when it was confined to foreign soil, but raising anything on behalf of foreign clients with U.S. officials could raise potential violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires lobbyists to disclose when they are working on behalf of foreign governments, according to legal experts.
Joseph Bondy, a lawyer for Parnas, said in a December court filing that he received a voicemail from Giuliani asking “if we can talk either about or with Lev.” The lawyer said Giuliani kept talking, apparently unaware that he had not hung up, and said his phone number was “soon to be gotten rid of.”
Bondy suggested such an act could be destruction of evidence, adding: “It is unknown whether Mr. Giuliani actually altered or destroyed any evidence associated with his cellphone, nor why he might have felt a need to get ‘rid of’ his number.”
Giuliani first became well-known in the 1980s as U.S. attorney in Manhattan, the same office that is now investigating him. Widely admired as “America’s mayor” following his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack, Giuliani has in more recent years cultivated a more pugnacious and partisan image. He spoke at the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.
The search of Giuliani’s Upper East Side home echoes the April 2018 FBI raid on the apartment of former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Cohen, who has since become a fierce critic of his former boss, pleaded guilty later that year to campaign finance and other charges and was sentenced to three years in prison.
–With assistance from Greg Farrell, Patricia Hurtado and Peter Jeffrey.