NEW YORK — Federal investigators on Wednesday seized cellphones and computers from Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who became Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, stepping up a criminal investigation into Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine, three people with knowledge of the investigation said.
FBI agents executed search warrants around 6 a.m. at Giuliani’s apartment on Madison Avenue and his Park Avenue office in Manhattan, carting away the electronic devices, Giuliani confirmed in a statement.
The execution of search warrants is an extraordinary action for prosecutors to take against a lawyer, let alone a lawyer for a former president. The move marked a major development in the long-running investigation into Giuliani, which examines some of the same people and conduct that were at the center of Trump’s first impeachment trial.
It was also a remarkable moment in Giuliani’s long arc as a public figure. As mayor, Giuliani won national recognition for steering New York through the dark days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and earlier in his career, he led the same U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan that is investigating him now, earning a reputation as a hard-charging prosecutor who took on organized crime and corrupt politicians.
In recent years, however, his image has been sullied by his effort to help Trump dig up dirt in Ukraine on President Joe Biden’s son and to lead Trump’s attempts in court to overturn the results of the 2020 election with baseless claims of widespread fraud.
In his statement, Giuliani denied any wrongdoing and argued the search warrants demonstrated a “corrupt double standard” on the part of the Justice Department, which he said had ignored “blatant crimes” by Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Biden.
Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, called the searches unnecessary because his client had twice offered to answer prosecutors’ questions, except those regarding Giuliani’s privileged communications with the former president. “What they did today was legal thuggery,” Costello said.
The investigative actions on Wednesday were expansive, with agents also serving a grand jury subpoena on Giuliani’s executive assistant, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
One of the warrants for Giuliani’s devices indicated that the federal investigators were searching for communications between him and several Ukrainian officials, including the former president, Petro Poroshenko, and two former prosecutors who had helped Giuliani collect information about the Bidens in Ukraine, one of the people said.
FBI agents also executed a search warrant Wednesday morning at the Washington-area home of Victoria Toensing, a lawyer close to Giuliani who had dealings with several Ukrainians involved in the hunt for information on the Bidens, according to people with knowledge of that warrant. The warrant was for her cellphone.
Toensing, a former Justice Department official, has also represented Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch under indictment in the United States whose help Giuliani sought.
Federal authorities have largely focused on whether Giuliani illegally lobbied the Trump administration in 2019 on behalf of Ukrainian officials and oligarchs, who were helping Giuliani’s dirt-digging campaign. At the time, Biden was a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan and the FBI had sought for months to secure Justice Department approval to request search warrants for Giuliani’s phones and electronic devices.
Under Trump, senior political appointees in the Justice Department repeatedly sought to block the warrants, The New York Times reported, slowing the investigation as it was gaining momentum last year. After Merrick Garland was confirmed as Biden’s attorney general, the Justice Department lifted its objections.
While the warrants are not an explicit accusation of wrongdoing against Giuliani, their execution shows that the investigation has entered an aggressive new phase. To obtain a search warrant, investigators must persuade a judge they have sufficient reason to believe that a crime was committed and that the search would turn up evidence of the crime.
Spokespeople for the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
The investigation of Giuliani grew out of a case against two Soviet-born men who aided his mission in Ukraine to unearth damaging information about Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who was on the board of an energy company there. Prosecutors charged the men, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman and two others, with unrelated crimes in 2019, and a trial is scheduled for October.
Prosecutors have examined, among other things, Giuliani’s potential business dealings in Ukraine and his role in pushing the Trump administration to oust the U.S. ambassador to the country, a subject of testimony at Trump’s first impeachment trial.
As he was pressuring Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens, Giuliani became fixated on removing the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, whom he saw as an obstacle to his efforts. At the urging of Giuliani and other Republicans, Trump ultimately ousted Yovanovitch.
Prosecutors have explored whether Giuliani was working not only for Trump at the time, but also for Ukrainian officials or businesses seeking the ambassador’s dismissal for their own reasons, according to people briefed on the matter.
It is a federal crime to try to influence or lobby the U.S. government at the request or direction of a foreign official without disclosing it to the Justice Department. At least one of the search warrants for Giuliani’s devices explicitly stated that the possible crimes under investigation included violations of that law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to one person with knowledge of the matter.
Prosecutors have scrutinized Giuliani’s dealings with Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the officials who helped Giuliani and his associates in their efforts to tar Biden while also urging them to work to get the ambassador removed.
Among other things, prosecutors have examined discussions Giuliani had about taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in apparently unrelated consulting business from Lutsenko, which resulted in a draft retainer agreement that was never executed.
Giuliani has said he turned down the deal, which would have involved helping the Ukrainian government recover money it believed had been stolen and stashed overseas.
Toensing met with Lutsenko, and she had planned to travel to Kyiv, Ukraine, in May 2019 along with Giuliani. In the end, Giuliani canceled the trip amid criticism that he was meddling in the affairs of a foreign country.
A spokesperson for her law firm said “Ms. Toensing was informed that she is a not a target of the investigation,” adding, “She has always conducted herself and her law practice according to the highest legal and ethical standards.”
As the investigation into Giuliani heated up last summer, prosecutors and FBI agents in Manhattan were preparing to seek search warrants for Giuliani’s records related to his efforts to remove the ambassador, but they first had to notify Justice Department officials in Washington, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Federal prosecutors must consult Justice Department officials in Washington about search warrants involving lawyers because of concerns that they might obtain confidential communications with clients. The proposed warrants for Giuliani were particularly sensitive because Trump was his most prominent client.
Career Justice Department officials in Washington largely supported the search warrants, but senior officials raised concerns that they would be issued too close to the election, the people with knowledge of the matter said.
Under long-standing practice, the Justice Department generally tries to avoid taking aggressive investigative actions within 60 days of an election if those actions could affect the outcome of the vote.
The prosecutors in Manhattan tried again after the election, but political appointees in Trump’s Justice Department sought once more to block the warrants, the people with knowledge of the matter said. At the time, Trump was still contesting the election results in several states, a legal effort Giuliani led, those officials noted.
Wednesday was not the first time that a personal lawyer for Trump was the subject of multiple search warrants. In 2018, the FBI searched the offices of Trump’s previous personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who later pleaded guilty to campaign finance and financial crimes. Trump called that raid a “disgraceful situation” and an “attack on our country in a true sense.”