A Justice Department spokesperson put out a statement Sunday essentially asserting that DOJ officials wouldn’t have met with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about one of his clients if they had known Giuliani was hanging out with alleged crooks. Gee, thanks? Perhaps Americans should feel gratified that the actual Justice Department of the United States doesn’t want to be viewed as an integral part of a crime ring, but yeesh.
The head of the department’s Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski, accompanied by attorneys from the division’s Fraud Section met with Giuliani several weeks ago about a bribery case in which Giuliani was working as part of the defense team. That meeting took place before Giuliani’s close partnership with suspected criminals Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman became apparent.
“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known,” said Peter Carr, a department spokesman. SDNY’s announcement of the Parnas and Fruman indictments for alleged campaign finance violations took place after the meeting. That probe may in fact be part of a broader investigation into Giuliani, who is reportedly a subject in at least two federal inquiries.
But the fact that the Justice Department felt moved to issue a statement distancing itself from Giuliani was “incredibly unusual,” according to former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance. “It’s the kind of statement that would give clients pause about who is representing them,” Vance told the New York Times. Sure would.
Attorney General William Barr and his Justice Department have now tried several times to put up a firewall between themselves and the criminal activity that both Giuliani and Donald Trump have been implicated in. Barr was quoted as reportedly being “surprised and angry” that Trump had lumped him in with Giuliani’s efforts during the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Then last week the Justice Department quickly claimed ignorance about White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s confession of a quid pro quo, saying it was “news to us” that military aid had been withheld in relation to an investigation into a sham theory about hacked DNC servers in 2016. Now the Justice Department is lopping off Giuliani altogether, decreasing his access and stature in a way that will almost certainly affect his ability to trade on his connections.
But the Justice Department also appears to be insulating both itself and Barr from their proximity the Trump-Giuliani malfeasance currently under investigation by both Congress and federal prosecutors in New York.