Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, said he was paid by a global consulting firm when he sent a letter last week calling for changes to Romania’s anti-corruption program — a stance that contradicted the U.S. State Department’s official position.
Giuliani’s letter to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis appeared to take sides in a fight at the top of the Romanian government over how to rein in high-level corruption.
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In the letter, the former New York City mayor wrote that the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) in Romania had overstepped its bounds, “including: intimidation of judges, defense lawyers, and witnesses; unconstitutional phone tapping; forced confessions; and unfair judicial processes.”
Giuliani called for amnesty to be extended “to those who have been prosecuted and convicted through the excesses of the DNA.”
The U.S. State Department, however, has expressed concern at recent political upheaval in Romania around attempts to dial back those anti-corruption practices, including the firing of the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor. Laura Codruţa Kövesi’s dismissal also sparked concern from U.S. lawmakers, including the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Giuliani told POLITICO in a text message that his letter “was based on a report I reviewed” by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who runs a global consulting firm called Freeh Group International Solutions.
“They are paying my fee,” Giuliani said of the Freeh Group. He would not say how much he was paid or whether the Freeh Group retained him on behalf of a client, and he directed further questions to the Freeh Group, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the letter. “Romania until recently has shown considerable progress in combatting [sic] corruption and building effective rule of law,” the spokesman said. “We encourage Romanians to continue on this path.”
Giuliani did not represent himself as a spokesman for President Donald Trump in his letter, but he has raised eyebrows since signing on as the president’s personal lawyer for simultaneously working on behalf of clients in Brazil and Colombia and for representing Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, an Iranian resistance group, according to The Washington Post. And his letter, dated Aug. 22 and first reported by Mediafax, drew sharp pushback from officials in both Romania and the U.S.
“If Rudy Giuliani wants to be Trump’s lawyer and chief spokesman, he should not be taking public foreign policy positions like this on behalf of other paid clients,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who had previously voiced concern about Kövesi’s firing, said in a statement to POLITICO.
Murphy said Giuliani’s letter “potentially undermines” his and McCain’s efforts to call attention to corruption in Romania.
Giuliani, asked whether he was concerned about the optics of the letter and his role with the Freeh Group given the current scrutiny around foreign work, said there is nothing unethical about his activity.
Kövesi, the anti-corruption prosecutor since 2013, had garnered praise from international bodies, including the European Commission (and was selected as one of POLITICO’s 28 outstanding Europeans in 2016), but she also became a target of Romanian politicians who claimed she went after sitting officials to attract media attention.
After Romania’s justice minister called for Kövesi’s firing, Iohannis refused, but a court later required him to dismiss her.
That prompted McCain and Murphy to send a letter to Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă voicing their concern. “While the judicial process is an internal matter, we urge the Romanian government not to retreat in the important fight against corruption,” the senators wrote.
“[Kövesi’s] firing, together with recent judicial reforms and proposed legislation to decriminalize certain corruption offenses, raises troubling questions about your government’s willingness to prosecute financial crimes and hold high-level officials accountable.”
Giuliani’s letter expressed a different view and mirrored comments Freeh made last week to Forbes.
Freeh outlined a five-point plan to address the “rule of law crisis in Romania.” Forbes noted that Freeh is “advising a Romanian defendant contesting his conviction by Romania’s DNA anti-corruption agency.” Last year, Business Review, an English-language magazine in Romania, reported that Freeh was representing Puiu Popoviciu, a Romanian property mogul who was sentenced to seven years in jail in a real estate fraud case.
Giuliani’s letter has drawn criticism from some officials in Romania.
Romanian Ambassador to the United States George Maior said the letter was part of “a lobby initiated by people interested in defending figures who have problems with the justice system.”
The ambassador, who is also a former intelligence service chief, was quickly recalled by Romania’s foreign ministry, which reprimanded him for taking a stance not approved by the government.
Siegfried Mureșan, a member of the European Parliament from Romania’s opposition National Liberal Party, said in a statement that “Romanian politicians from the current governing coalition that are trying to weaken the rule of law” would use the letter to press their case.
But Liviu Dragnea, the chief of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party who fought to have Kövesi fired, welcomed the Giuliani letter. The party leader has been barred from serving as prime minister due to a suspended jail sentence for an attempt to rig a referendum in 2012.
“The bitter conclusion of this letter is that trust in the Romanian justice system is seriously shaken when it comes to foreign partners and foreign investors,” Dragnea wrote in a statement.
A State Department official told POLITICO the involvement of Giuliani and Freeh, who are not government officials, was perplexing. “Why are they suddenly interested in Romanian justice processes?” the official asked.
William Jeffress Jr., a partner at Baker Botts who represented former Dick Cheney aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in his 2007 CIA leak case, said Giuliani should have disclosed whom he was representing in the letter, given his role as the president’s personal attorney.
“It is highly unusual to say the least for an American lawyer to write the president of a foreign nation to offer advice on that nation’s anticorruption efforts, [but] to do so without identifying the client or clients on whose behalf he is writing is astonishing,” Jeffress said. “The only conclusion I can reach is that whoever put him up to this (and paid him) believes he will have influence because, and only because, he is the president’s lawyer.”
Other legal ethics experts said there was nothing inappropriate about the president’s personal lawyer working on behalf of other clients.
“The letter is unremarkable,” Stephen Gillers, a professor at NYU Law, told POLITICO in an email. “I don’t know for whom he is writing it or anyone’s agenda. But that doesn’t matter. Whether he is writing as a lawyer for a client or to aid Freeh’s clients in their goals, or even as concerned citizen, there is nothing in it that is improper under US legal ethics.”
Carmen Paun and Anca Gurzu contributed to this report.