Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014.
Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP

Rudy Giuliani raises eyebrows by maintaining foreign clients

Since joining Donald Trump’s legal defense team, Rudy Giuliani has been more than just a presidential lawyer. The former New York City mayor has taken on a variety of responsibilities beyond looking out for Trump’s legal interests, taking on related roles.

For example, Giuliani has spoken publicly in recent weeks on matters related to foreign policy, covering provocative topics such as U.S. foreign policy toward North Korea and Iran, all while presumably helping oversee the president’s defense in the Russia scandal.

It’s against this backdrop that the Washington Post  reports that Giuliani also “continues to work on behalf of foreign clients both personally and through his namesake security firm.”

Giuliani said in recent interviews with The Washington Post that he is working with clients in Brazil and Colombia, among other countries, as well as delivering paid speeches for a controversial Iranian dissident group. He has never registered with the Justice Department on behalf of his overseas clients, asserting it is not necessary because he does not directly lobby the U.S. government and is not charging Trump for his services.

His decision to continue representing foreign entities also departs from standard practice for presidential attorneys, who in the past have generally sought to sever any ties that could create conflicts with their client in the White House.

The Post’s report added that among the clients represented by Giuliani’s consulting firm is the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, whose mayor “was a leading figure in … the Russia-friendly political party at the center of the federal conspiracy prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

For his part, Giuliani told the Post he’s “never lobbied” Trump, doesn’t bring up his other clients with the president, and he doesn’t represent foreign interests “in front of the U.S. government.”

I’m not in a position to know whether those claims are true, but the arrangement nevertheless seems problematic.

In some instances, attorneys work for large firms with many clients, but they can steer clear of conflict-of-interest questions by distancing themselves from the work done by other lawyers at the firm. They can, in other words, plausibly say they have nothing to do with clients they don’t directly represent.

But with Giuliani, it’s far more difficult: he’s working for foreign clients, both directly as a lawyer, and indirectly as the head of a security firm. He’s also ostensibly representing his client in the Oval Office, while speaking publicly about the administration’s foreign policy agenda.

Does it matter that Trump doesn’t pay Giuliani for his services? Probably not. Carrie Menkel-Meadow, a legal scholar at University of California-Irvine, told the Post, “I think Rudy believes because he is doing the job pro bono the rules do not apply to him, but they do.”

Indeed, there’s something familiar about this dynamic. In 2018, it’s Giuliani working for Team Trump without compensation while taking money from foreign interests, while in 2016, it was someone else working for Team Trump without compensation after having taken money from foreign interests.

I believe his name was Paul Manafort, who’s now in a jail cell awaiting trial on multiple felony counts.