Rudy Giuliani has consulted with Paul Manafort “several times” in recent months as he quests to smear Joe Biden and boost a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine and Democrats — not Russia — were the ones who did the real malfeasance ahead of the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
This isn’t exactly a great look for Trump’s personal lawyer-turned-global conspiracy theory propagator, as Manafort is currently in prison for a smorgasbord of financial crimes, many related to his dealings in Ukraine. So why exactly was Rudy seeking guidance from Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager? It’s complicated.
Giuliani has been in touch with Trump’s former campaign manager (through a lawyer) because of their shared interest in discrediting the Mueller investigation, which led to Manafort’s imprisonment, and the role a controversial “black ledger” could play in proving the probe was a hoax — just as Trump, Hannity, and the rest of the GOP’s crackpot crew has been saying all along.
The ledger, which was obtained by Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, contained evidence of Manafort receiving over $12 million in off-the-books payments from the political party of Viktor Yanukovych, the Putin-friendly former Ukrainian president whom Manafort helped get elected. Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign manager after the existence of the ledger was reported by the New York Times in August 2016, and now Giuliani is out to prove the ledger was fraudulent and part of a joint effort by Ukraine and the Democratic Party to to sink Trump’s campaign.
Manafort is, not surprisingly, happy to offer his assistance. “I said, ‘Was there really a black book? If there wasn’t, I really need to know. Please tell him I’ve got to know,’” Giuliani told the Post of his conversations with Manafort’s lawyer. “He came back and said there wasn’t a black book.”
The only problem is that there is no actual evidence the ledger is fraudulent. If there was, as the Post points out, it probably would have been brought up by Manafort’s defense team when he was on trial last year, and before he admitted to receiving $60 million in payments for his work in Ukraine, $30 million of which he laundered. As Ukrainian journalist Serhiy Leschenko, who played a central role in exposing the ledger, wrote for the Post in September, the idea the ledger is fake is nothing more than a scam meant to muddy the waters and raise suspicion. “Giuliani’s entire approach is built on disinformation and the manipulation of facts,” he wrote. “Giuliani has developed a conspiracy theory in which he depicts my revelations about Manafort as an intervention in the 2016 U.S. election in favor of the Democratic Party.”
Sadly, Giuliani’s efforts have indeed raised suspicion in some Senate Republicans, who have added some kindling to the conspiracy theory in the form of a congressional inquiry. “Ukrainian efforts, abetted by a U.S. political party, to interfere in the 2016 election should not be ignored,” wrote Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) of their new investigation into the matter. “Such allegations of corruption deserve due scrutiny, and the American people have a right to know when foreign forces attempt to undermine our democratic processes,” the senators wrote in the letter.
In other words, this conspiracy theory probably isn’t going away anytime soon. After all, Republicans don’t have much left to cling onto as they try to position themselves on the side of the president.
Despite having no official government role, Giuliani has emerged as one of the central figures in the scandal surrounding Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election. He’s long been in contact with a host of shadowy Ukrainian figures, and his name was mentioned several times in both the whistleblower complaint and the president’s July 25th call to Ukrainian President Zelensky. “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Trump told Zelensky, according to a partial readout of the call released by the White House. “If you could speak to him that would be great.”
On Monday, House Democrats subpoenaed Giuliani for documents related to his efforts in Ukraine, going back to early 2017. “Our inquiry includes an investigation of credible allegations that you acted as an agent of the president in a scheme to advance his personal political interests by abusing the power of the office of the president,” Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to the former mayor.
Giuliani likened the request to McCarthyism. “We’re getting really close to, if we haven’t met, the standard of the McCarthy hearings where nobody seems to care about things like attorney-client privilege,” he told the Times. Though Giuliani has not said explicitly that he won’t comply with the subpoena, it doesn’t appear he’s going to. On Tuesday, he hired former Watergate prosecutor Jon Sale to represent him.