Firing of U.S. Ambassador Is at Center of Giuliani Investigation

Two years ago, Rudolph W. Giuliani finally got one thing he had been seeking in Ukraine: The Trump administration removed the U.S. ambassador there, a woman Mr. Giuliani believed had been obstructing his efforts to dig up dirt on the Biden family.

It was a Pyrrhic victory. Mr. Giuliani’s push to oust the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, not only became a focus of President Donald J. Trump’s first impeachment trial, but it has now landed Mr. Giuliani in the cross hairs of a federal criminal investigation into whether he broke lobbying laws, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The long-running inquiry reached a turning point this week when F.B.I. agents seized telephones and computers from Mr. Giuliani’s home and office in Manhattan, the people said. At least one of the warrants was seeking evidence related to Ms. Yovanovitch and her role as ambassador, the people said.

In particular, the federal authorities were expected to scour the electronic devices for communications between Mr. Giuliani and Trump administration officials about the ambassador before she was recalled in April 2019, one of the people added.

One of the search warrants for Mr. Giuliani’s phones and computers explicitly stated that the possible crimes under investigation included violations of the law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to the people with knowledge of the matter.

Mr. Giuliani has long denied that he did work at the behest of the Ukrainians, or that he accepted any money from them, and he has said that he did not expressly urge Mr. Trump to fire the ambassador.

Mr. Giuliani’s work to oust Ms. Yovanovitch was part of a larger effort to attack Joseph R. Biden Jr. and tie him to corruption in Ukraine, much of which played out in public.

But intelligence officials have long warned that Mr. Giuliani’s work in Ukraine had become ensnared with Russia’s efforts to spread disinformation about the Biden family to weaken Mr. Trump’s election rival.

The F.B.I. stepped up its warnings about Russian disinformation before the 2020 election, including giving a defensive briefing to Mr. Giuliani, cautioning him that some of the information he was pushing on the Biden family was tainted by Russian intelligence’s efforts to spread disinformation, according to a person briefed on the matter.

The F.B.I.’s defensive briefings are given by its counterintelligence officials and are separate from the criminal inquiry of Mr. Giuliani’s activities. The defensive briefing was reported earlier Thursday by The Washington Post.

But the warnings to Mr. Giuliani are not surprising. Senior officials had warned Mr. Trump in late 2019 that Mr. Giuliani was pushing Russian disinformation, and the intelligence community had warned the American public that Moscow’s intelligence services were trying to hurt Mr. Biden’s election chances by spreading information about his family’s work in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, after F.B.I. agents seized his devices, Mr. Giuliani again denied any wrongdoing. He said the search warrants demonstrated a “corrupt double standard” on the part of the Justice Department, which he accused of ignoring “blatant crimes” by Democrats, including Mr. Biden.

Asked about the search warrants on Thursday, Mr. Biden told NBC’s “Today” show that he “had no idea this was underway.” He said he had pledged not to interfere in any investigation by the Justice Department.

Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello, said his client had twice offered to answer prosecutors’ questions, except those regarding Mr. Giuliani’s privileged communications with the former president.

The warrants do not accuse Mr. Giuliani of wrongdoing, but they underscore his legal peril: They indicate a judge has found that investigators have probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the search would turn up evidence of that crime.

The investigation grew out of a case against two Soviet-born businessmen, who had helped Mr. Giuliani search for damaging information about Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter. At the time, Hunter Biden served on the board of an energy company that did business in Ukraine.

In 2019, the businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were charged in Manhattan, along with two others, with unrelated campaign finance crimes. A trial is scheduled for October.

In the Giuliani investigation, the federal prosecutors have focused on the steps he took against Ms. Yovanovitch. Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged that he provided Mr. Trump with detailed information about his claim that she was impeding investigations that could benefit Mr. Trump, and that Mr. Trump put him in touch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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