When Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, was taken into federal custody in 2016, he faced some pretty serious charges. According to American prosecutors, Zarrab played a key role in a scheme to funnel billions of dollars to Iran, in defiance of U.S. sanctions.
As part of his defense, Zarrab hired a Republican lawyer whose work you may be familiar with. His name is Rudy Giuliani.
If you saw Wednesday night's show, you know Bloomberg News ran a striking report this week, alleging that Donald Trump personally pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to intervene in the case, encouraging the nation's chief diplomat to tell the Justice Department to back off the prosecution. Tillerson refused.
For his part, Giuliani conceded to Bloomberg News that he may have "dropped" his client's name "in a conversation" with Trump. According to the New York Times' latest reporting, Giuliani did a whole lot more than that.
During a contentious Oval Office meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed for help in securing the release of a jailed client, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, as part of a potential prisoner swap with Turkey.The request by Mr. Giuliani provoked an immediate objection from Mr. Tillerson, who argued that it would be highly inappropriate to interfere in an open criminal case, according to two people briefed on the meeting.... But at the White House meeting in early 2017, Mr. Giuliani and his longtime friend and colleague, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, pushed back on Mr. Tillerson's objections.
It's worth noting for context that at the time of this White House meeting, Giuliani was not yet a member of the president's legal team. In other words, Trump invited his secretary of State into the Oval Office for a meeting, at which point Tillerson was lobbied by Giuliani -- a man with no formal ties to the administration or the president -- to help derail a criminal case against a man accused of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The Washington Post had a related report overnight, noting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was "personally lobbying" Trump to get the charges against Zarrab dropped, at which point Trump pressed Tillerson "to try to craft a diplomatic 'deal' to stop the U.S. case against Reza Zarrab on corruption charges in exchange for concessions from Turkey."
The American president reportedly raised the issue with his secretary of State "repeatedly."
The Post added that Giuliani also visited the Justice Department "to ask for the case to be dropped."
Asked about his lobbying efforts in support of his client, Giuliani told the newspaper, "You're not my prosecutor." Given the direction of this story, it's hard not to wonder if someone else might become his prosecutor.
But in case this isn't obvious, the focus of the story isn't limited to the former New York City mayor. As we discussed yesterday, if the president urged his secretary of State to interfere with the Justice Department, derailing the prosecution of one of his friend's clients, that would almost certainly constitute an impeachable offense.
Which is to say, another impeachable offense.