WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, negotiated this year to represent Ukraine’s top prosecutor for at least $200,000 during the same months that Giuliani was working with the prosecutor to dig up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The people said that Giuliani began negotiations with Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, about a possible agreement in February. In the agreement, Giuliani’s company would receive payment to represent Lutsenko as the Ukrainian sought to recover assets he believed had been stolen from the government in Kyiv, those familiar with the discussions said.
The talks occurred as Giuliani met with Lutsenko in New York in January and then in Warsaw in February while he was also gathering information from Lutsenko on two topics Giuliani believed could prove useful to Trump: the involvement of Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine, and allegations that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election.
Trump ultimately pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into the two issues during a July 25 phone call between the two leaders, a call that sparked a whistleblower complaint and the congressional impeachment inquiry.
A person familiar with the negotiations described contracts drafted this year in which Giuliani would have worked for Lutsenko or separately, the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice.
For Lutsenko, the agreement would have provided a pipeline to Trump’s lawyer and, through him, potentially to other top U.S. officials. For Giuliani, the agreements would have been a way to accrue financial benefit from a person who was also providing him politically damaging information that could help another client, the president of the United States.
Giuliani has said he doesn’t charge Trump for legal services. Trump directed U.S. diplomats to work with Giuliani on Ukraine issues.
The agreements were never executed, and there is no indication that Giuliani was ultimately paid by Lutsenko or other Ukrainian officials. But the negotiations proceeded far enough that legal agreements were drafted under which Giuliani’s company would have received more than $200,000 to work for the Ukrainians, people familiar with the agreements said.
Some versions of the agreements envisioned Washington husband-and-wife lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova also playing a role and receiving payment, people familiar with the matter said.
A February draft retainer agreement with Lutsenko called for the trio to help recover money allegedly stolen from Ukraine. The draft called for Lutsenko to retain Giuliani Partners as well as diGenova and Toensing, and pay a $200,000 retainer to Giuliani Partners.
The people said that another retainer agreement, drafted in March, called for Giuliani Partners to receive $300,000 from the Ministry of Justice for help locating the supposedly stolen assets. That draft agreement also stated that Toensing and diGenova would be working on the matter. That agreement called for payments to be made to Giuliani Partners.
Yet another proposal called for the Ministry of Justice to hire Toensing and diGenova for asset recovery but did not mention Giuliani.
An attorney for Giuliani declined to comment on the negotiations. Lutsenko, who served as Ukraine’s top prosecutor until August, could not be immediately reached for comment. But in an interview with the publication Ukrainian Truth this month, Lutsenko described how he was eager for Giuliani to help him get a meeting with the U.S. attorney general to discuss evidence he had uncovered that Ukrainian assets had been routed through U.S. bank accounts.
Speaking in Ukrainian, Lutsenko said that Giuliani at first agreed he could help make the connection but that he never did.
“For me, this is an absolute mystery. A few months later, a new United States attorney general was selected. I called back several times with assistants or advisers to Giuliani with the question: ‘Will there be or will not be a meeting?’ ” Lutsenko said.
William Barr was confirmed as the attorney general in February, replacing Matthew Whitaker, who had been in the position in an acting basis.
Lutsenko said Giuliani told him he would have to hire a lobbyist to get the meeting. “They even offered me such a company,” Lutsenko said. “I said that I am the prosecutor general of Ukraine and will not pay a dime.”
He said that he was told it would be “impossible” for him to get the meeting without paying and that he continued to refuse. “I will not pay money for any meeting,” he said.
In a statement, a spokesman for Toensing and diGenova said the couple previously had said they had agreed to represent people they described as “Ukrainian whistleblowers.” Spokesman Mark Corallo confirmed those discussions included possible representation of Lutsenko.
“All the other names are attorney-client privileged, and it is unfortunate that some unethical person chose to violate that privilege,” he said. Corallo said that all of the retainer letters under consideration included “the necessary notice of FARA registration,” referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That suggests the couple had planned to register as foreign lobbyists if the agreements had been executed.
However, Corallo said that no representation was ever finalized because a trip that Toensing planned to Kyiv in May was canceled after the New York Times reported that she was accompanying Giuliani, who had hoped to meet with Ukrainian officials to press them to open an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
“No money was ever received, and no legal work was ever performed because the trip was canceled,” Corallo said.
Federal prosecutors in New York have been investigating Giuliani and two associates he tapped to help him conduct investigations in Ukraine for a wide range of possible crimes, including wire fraud and failure to register as a foreign agent, people familiar with the matter have said. The two associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were charged this year in a campaign finance case.
Prosecutors alleged Parnas and Fruman used foreign money to buy political influence in the United States, directing large donations to American politicians as they “sought to advance their personal and financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.”
In particular, the indictment alleged the pair tried to force the ouster of then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch “at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.” Though no Ukrainian government official is named in the indictment, people familiar with the matter say the references refer to Lutsenko.
The indictment made no mention of Giuliani. But Toensing and diGenova have said they hired Parnas to act as a translator when they began work in July as lawyers for Ukrainian oil tycoon Dmytro Firtash, who was indicted in Chicago in a bribery conspiracy and has been fighting extradition to the United States.
Witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry have testified in recent weeks that the president’s personal lawyer seemed to be driving a campaign to remove Yovanovitch from her post. Witnesses also identified Lutsenko as the Ukrainian official who appeared to be advocating for Yovanovitch’s removal.
Lutsenko had publicly clashed with the U.S. ambassador. In March, Lutsenko gave an interview to conservative columnist John Solomon, alleging that Yovanovitch had interfered with Ukrainian prosecutions. The State Department issued a statement calling the allegation an “outright fabrication.”
In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Yovanovitch said that she believed Lutsenko was corrupt and targeted her because she threatened his financial interests. She said Giuliani should have questioned the Ukrainians making claims against her, “coming, as they reportedly did, from individuals with questionable motives and with reason to believe that their political and financial ambitions would be stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
At the time, Solomon was working closely with Giuliani, Toensing and diGenova on matters related to Ukraine. Joseph Bondy, a lawyer for Parnas, has said that the group met frequently in spring 2019 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington to trade information and discuss strategy. Bondy did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The contracts – even if not ultimately executed – could be a piece of evidence to help advance prosecutors’ investigation into whether Giuliani failed to submit the required paperwork under FARA to work for a foreign power, said Matthew Sanderson, an attorney at Caplin & Drysdale who specializes in such issues.
Sanderson said it is normal that lobbying firms start performing work for clients before contracts are finalized – and even in those instances, those firms must register under the act. Draft contracts, he said, “can further establish that there are relationships” that necessitate registration.
While Giuliani has argued that he was seeking Yovanovitch’s ouster to help Trump, the contracts might help demonstrate that his efforts were actually on behalf of Ukraine – and he thus should have registered as a foreign agent.
“It doesn’t get you all the way to saying that his efforts to influence and effect the ouster of Yovanovitch were on behalf of Ukrainians, but it certainly does establish that there was some relationship or contemplated relationship along those lines,” Sanderson said.