Rudy Giuliani evidently ignored FBI warnings that Russia would try to manipulate him in Ukraine

Rudy Giuliani
(Image credit: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

FBI counterintelligence agents visited Rudy Giuliani in late 2019, when he was personal lawyer to former President Donald Trump, to warn him he was the target of a Russian disinformation campaign to damage Trump's likely opponent in the 2020 election, President Biden, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Thursday evening. Giuliani evidently ignored the warning and traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine, in December 2019 to try to find unflattering or incriminating information about Biden and his son Hunter.

While in Ukraine, the Post notes, Giuliani met with a Ukrainian lawmaker, Andriy Derkach, later identified and sanctioned by the U.S. as "an active Russian agent" running an "influence campaign" against Biden. The FBI also warned the Trump White House that Giuliani's information should be considered tainted by Russian disinformation.

The FBI raided Giuliani's home and office on Wednesday as part of a criminal investigation into his work in Ukraine. The 2019 "defensive briefing" to Giuliani is distinct from that ongoing probe, the Post reports, "but it reflects a broader concern by U.S. intelligence and federal investigators that Giuliani — among other influential Americans and U.S. institutions — was being manipulated by the Russian government to promote its interests and that he appears to have brazenly disregarded such fears." Federal agents gave similar defensive briefings to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the pro-Trump One America News Network.

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Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine did not result in Biden losing to Trump, obviously, but he did achieve "one thing he had been seeking in Ukraine," the firing of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the Times reports. And that "was a Pyrrhic victory," becoming a major factor in Trump's first impeachment and a focus of the Justice Department's investigation into whether Giuliani violated a federal law against working as an unregistered foreign agent.

The warrant to search Giuliani's rooms and seize electronic devices specifically sought his communications with both Trump administration and Ukrainian officials regarding Yovanovitch's ouster, the Times reports. Giuliani wanted her fired because he viewed her as an impediment to his effort to search for dirt on the Bidens, and some Ukrainian officials wanted her recalled because she was pursuing an anti-corruption campaign in Ukraine. A "key question" for investigators, the Times says, is whether Giuliani went after Yovanovitch solely on Trump's behalf or also on behalf of Ukrainian officials who wanted her gone and were in a position to help Trump damage Biden. Giuliani denies all wrongdoing.

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