The New York Times published a curious article last week, raising questions about Joe Biden's work several years ago on a government-reform effort in Ukraine. There was some suggestion that the Delaware Democrat's son may have benefited, but the claims of possible wrongdoing quickly unraveled, and the story went largely overlooked.
There was, however, a lingering question about what -- or more accurately, who -- was helping drive the story in the first place. The details were a little convoluted, but the Times' article made clear that it was Rudy Giuliani who was helping lead an effort to get Ukrainian assistance for Donald Trump's political agenda. (At one point, the story noted, "Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings.")
Today, the New York Times advances the story a bit further.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, is encouraging Ukraine to wade further into sensitive political issues in the United States, seeking to push the incoming government in Kiev to press ahead with investigations that he hopes will benefit Mr. Trump.Mr. Giuliani said he plans to travel to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, in the coming days and wants to meet with the nation's president-elect to urge him to pursue inquiries that allies of the White House contend could yield new information about two matters of intense interest to Mr. Trump.
There are apparently two tracks to this: Giuliani believes his efforts in Ukraine can (a) help dig up possible dirt on Biden; and (b) uncover information that might help Team Trump push back against allegations related to the Russia scandal.
But in this case, the forest is almost certainly more important than the trees: one of the American president's lawyers appears to be pressuring a foreign government to assist with a political scheme.
"There's nothing illegal about it," Giuliani told the Times. "Somebody could say it's improper."
Yes, someone could say it's improper -- because it is.
In case this isn't painfully obvious, at the heart of the Russia scandal was a foreign government's intervention in an American political campaign during the 2016 cycle. Ahead of the 2020 cycle, Donald Trump's lawyer apparently had the bright idea of turning to a different foreign government -- which is eager to be in the United States' good graces -- hoping it too might help influence the direction of an American campaign.
Complicating matters, Giuliani isn't exactly denying any of this. In fact, he isn't even trying to obscure his electoral motivations. It's all out in the open, a scandal in plain sight.
The former New York City mayor conceded on the record that he's "meddling" in a foreign investigation, telling Ukrainian officials the results "will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government."
I enjoyed the candid reaction from NBC News' First Read team: "How isn't this the biggest political story in America right now -- Team Trump wants the help from another foreign government to dig up dirt on an opponent? If you don't think this is a five-alarm scandal -- and instead you're shrugging your shoulders at this story -- then we've truly gone down the power-hungry rabbit hole, where anything and everything is fair game."
Giuliani's efforts are almost refreshing in their brazenness. Team Trump wants to work with a foreign government to advance the American president's political interests -- the sort of thing that might ordinarily prompt a denial, except in this case, no one's bothering to cover anything up.
"This is the first instance of which I am aware in which a private lawyer for the president of the United States has, in his own words, 'meddled' in a foreign criminal investigation of a third party in order to politically benefit the president," Tim Meyer, an international law expert at Vanderbilt University, told the Washington Post. "Mr. Giuliani's actions undermine the long-standing U.S. foreign policy of promoting the rule of law in Ukraine generally and in the Ukrainian general prosecutor's office specifically."
Giuliani appears to hope that outrageous political antics like these will go largely overlooked and won't do any real harm to his client in the Oval Office. I guess we'll find out soon whether he's right.