Rudy Giuliani generates quite a bit of attention for himself in his capacity as a member of Donald Trump’s legal defense team, but the president is not the former mayor’s only client. It’s created an awkward ethics dynamic for months.
This week, however, the story took a more serious turn.
You may have seen a few headlines about Giuliani getting paid for some advocacy work in Romania, but as the New York Times reported, there’s quite a bit more to this story.
Romania, long considered one of the most corrupt states in the European Union, has made energetic efforts to root out graft that has entangled prominent lawmakers. Some have pushed back, angering corruption-weary citizens who have rallied by the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands.
Now, unexpectedly, Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, has waded into the debate on the side of the accused, sending a letter to Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, criticizing the country’s anticorruption efforts.
The letter, dated Aug. 22, expressed concern about the “continuing damage to the rule of law being done under the guise of effective law enforcement” in Romania – a position that seemed at odds with official United States policy.
It’s the position of Trump’s State Department that Romania’s anti-corruption crackdown is a positive development, producing important convictions. It’s the position of Trump’s defense attorney that Romania’s anti-corruption crackdown is excessive and could undermine future foreign investment in the European country.
Indeed, Giuliani isn’t just contradicting the Trump administration. Weeks before his passing. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) partnered with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on a letter to Romanian officials, encouraging them to move forward with their anti-corruption campaign. The president’s lawyer took the opposite position, at the behest of his paying client.
The Washington Post reported overnight that Giuliani’s letter, after it “caused significant ripples in Romania,” led to a phone call from State Department officials, who weren’t sure if the letter was real. Trump’s lawyer confirmed its authenticity.
A State Department spokesperson went on to tell the Post that Romania “has shown considerable progress in combating corruption” and should “continue on this path.” The agency added. “Rudy Giuliani does not speak for the U.S. government on foreign policy.”
And while that’s certainly true, it’s problematic for international observers when the president’s diplomats and the president’s lawyer send contradictory signals.
The Washington Post’s report added:
Giuliani said he was hired to send the letter by a global consulting firm run by former FBI director Louis Freeh. He declined to say on whose behalf Freeh’s firm was working or how much he was paid.
Freeh did not respond to a request for comment. He has done work in the past for Gabriel Popoviciu, a Romanian investor who last year was sentenced to seven years in prison in a fraud and corruption case.
This summer, Giuliani told The Washington Post that he was working with clients in Brazil and Colombia, among other countries, as well as delivering paid speeches for an Iranian dissident group. He has not registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department on behalf of his overseas clients, saying it is not necessary because he does not directly lobby the U.S. government.
Giuliani added, “Maybe I should have put in the letter that I’m not representing the president.”
It must have slipped his mind at the time.
The ethics messes surrounding this president are breathtaking, but let’s not overlook the related ethics messes circling those in his immediate orbit.