Hmmm: Feds execute search warrant on Guiliani in Ukraine probe; UPDATE: Reporter involved?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Oh, the irony. Rudy Giuliani turned allegations of potential corruption featuring the Bidens and Ukraine into a personal crusade. That crusade has apparently led to an investigation into Giuliani himself and potentially illegal lobbying on Ukrainian issues — and a federal search and seizure of materials at his Manhattan residence:

Federal investigators in Manhattan executed a search warrant on Wednesday at the Upper East Side apartment of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who became President Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer, stepping up a criminal investigation into Mr. Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

One of the people said the investigators had seized Mr. Giuliani’s electronic devices.

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 investigation into Mr. Giuliani.

The federal authorities have been largely focused on whether Mr. Giuliani illegally lobbied the Trump administration in 2019 on behalf of Ukrainian officials and oligarchs, who at the same time were helping Mr. Giuliani search for dirt on Mr. Trump’s political rivals, including President Biden, who was then a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

According to the NYT, the agents seized “electronic devices,” but nothing much more specific has come out over what kind of devices they have. The search itself represents an escalation by the Department of Justice, and one that they were reluctant to make in the previous administration, CNN notes:

CNN previously reported that investigators late last year had raised the prospect of seeking a search warrant for Giuliani’s communications, but were met with resistance from Justice Department officials in Washington over the strength of their evidence, people familiar with the discussions told CNN.

It is unusual for prosecutors to execute a search warrant on a lawyer, although Manhattan federal prosecutors have done so before, most notably in recent years against another former lawyer for Trump, Michael Cohen.

We can expect to hear some pushback from Giuliani and his allies, especially Donald Trump, about the timing of this raid. After all, Merrick Garland only got confirmed as Attorney General less than two months ago. It would be tough to believe that Garland would sign off on this move without a solid evidentiary backing for reasonable suspicion of crimes committed by Giuliani, but it still has the appearance of politics, at the very least. Of course, one could argue political maneuvering in the other direction, ie, did the DoJ discourage prosecutors from pursuing a case against a Trump ally to protect the president?

As for the extraordinary instance of an attorney being searched, both the NYT and CNN might be overstating the issue. It’s true that Giuliani worked as Trump’s attorney, but Giuliani also ran a consulting and lobbying firm at the same time. That’s the work that appears to be under suspicion, not his later representation of Trump in the election-challenge cases. Just being someone’s lawyer doesn’t prevent investigators from seeking warrants in investigations unrelated to client representation. Or, occasionally, even in some cases related to their work as attorneys, as both Michael Cohen and Michael Avenatti can attest.

It’s a safe bet that Giuliani and his legal clients will seek to protect information covered by attorney-client privilege. A court will likely appoint a special master to make sure that information stays private from the DoJ and its investigators. If this isn’t a political hit job, the DoJ will likely present little or no objections to that set-up, especially if they really are only focused on Giuliani’s lobbying efforts. We can watch for how that plays out in court over the next few days and weeks to get a sense of where the DoJ is going with this warrant.

If this is on the level, then Trump probably has few worries about this, unless he’s worried that Giuliani will flip on something else to get out from under a FARA prosecution. That seems highly unlikely, though. Trump has other and more pressing legal risks at the moment in Manhattan than Giuliani’s allegedly illegal lobbying. If the DoJ is using this as a pretense to go after Trump, it’s hard to see how it succeeds on this path. Unless, of course, Trump got personally involved in Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine, in which case all bets are off.

Update: Giuliani’s attorney told the Wall Street Journal that the feds are looking for communications with specific individuals — including journalist John Solomon:

Mr. Costello said authorities arrived at Mr. Giuliani’s apartment at 6 a.m. and seized his electronic devices. Mr. Costello said the search warrant describes the investigation as a probe into a possible violation of foreign lobbying rules. Mr. Costello said the warrant sought communications between Mr. Giuliani and individuals including John Solomon, a columnist who was corresponding with Mr. Giuliani about his effort to push for investigations of Joe Biden in Ukraine. Mr. Solomon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. …

Mr. Costello in an interview called the move “legal thuggery.” He said that in recent years he had offered to answer investigators’ questions as long as they agreed to say what area they were looking at ahead of time. He said they declined the offer. “It’s like I’m talking to a wall,” he said.

Solomon used to report for The Hill, and now runs his own news site, Just The News. This raises some First Amendment questions about reporter privilege, so to speak. Are the feds investigating Giuliani, Solomon, or both?