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Trump distances himself from Giuliani's Ukraine efforts

CBS News logo CBS News 11/27/2019 CBSNews
Soon after a New York Times report, Rudy Giuliani cancelled a trip to Ukraine. © Richard Drew/Pool/AP Photo Soon after a New York Times report, Rudy Giuliani cancelled a trip to Ukraine.

President Trump tried to distance himself from his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's efforts related to Ukraine on Tuesday in an interview with radio host Bill O'Reilly. In the interview for BillOReilly.com, O'Reilly asked the president what Giuliani was "doing in Ukraine on your behalf." 

"Well, you have to ask that to Rudy, but Rudy, I don't, I don't even know," said Mr. Trump. "I know he was going to go to Ukraine, and I think he canceled a trip," the president continued. "But, you know, Rudy has other clients, other than me. I'm one person." 

Mr. Trump then denied that he had ever directed Giuliani to go to Ukraine on his behalf. However, in May the New York Times reported that Giuliani had planned to go to Ukraine that month, to urge the government there to open several investigations that could aid the president. 

"There's nothing illegal about it," Giuliani told the Times in early May. "Somebody could say it's improper, and this isn't foreign policy — I'm asking them to do an investigation that they're doing already."

"[T]hat information will be very, very helpful to my client," he predicted, "and may turn out to be helpful to my government." 

Giuliani was clear when speaking with the Times about the identity of that client. "My only client is the president of the United States," Giuliani said. "He's the one I have an obligation to report to, tell him what happened." Soon after the Times story was published, Giuliani canceled his trip.

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Over the past two months, several current and former administration officials have confirmed Giuliani played an outsize role in the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, describing in testimony a campaign by Mr. Trump and his allies, led by Giuliani, to pressure the Ukrainian government for political favors. 

O'Reilly again pressed Mr. Trump on whether he had asked Giuliani to travel to Ukraine, or to pressure the U.S. ally. 

"Giuliani's your personal lawyer," O'Reilly said. "So you didn't direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on them?"

"No, I didn't direct him, but he's a warrior, Rudy's a warrior. Rudy went, he possibly saw something. But you have to understand, Rudy, has other people that he represents," Mr. Trump said.

The president made it sound as though he did not necessarily have firsthand information about Giuliani's work in Ukraine, that he had "heard" about it or "read that someplace."

"He's done a lot of work in Ukraine over the years, and I think — I mean that's what I heard. I might have even read that someplace, but he's a good man and he's an honorable guy and he's a great crime fighter, corruption fighter," Mr. Trump said.

The president's own conversations suggest he had entrusted Giuliani with helping to carry out the campaign to pressure the Ukrainians. In his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Giuliani's name was mentioned four times — twice by Mr. Trump and twice by Zelensky. 

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Mr. Trump told Zelensky on that call: "Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great."  

Reached for comment after the president's interview, Giuliani told CBS News, "the president never sent me to Ukraine. I have not been in Ukraine for two years and never pressured anyone."  

He said of Ukrainian officials, "They gave me the records and witnesses. They came to the U.S. and gave it to me. Special Counsel Mueller was still investigating, still trying to prove collusion, and Biden was unannounced (as a presidential candidate)."

Giuliani has done work in Ukraine previously, having been hired in 2017 by the Ukrainian-Russian developer Pavel Fuks. He described that work as related to emergency management consulting, but Fuks said in an interview that he hired Giuliani as "a lobbyist for Kharkiv and Ukraine" to lure American investors. "This is stated in the contract."

Mr. Giuliani said that work had ended, and that Fuks had nothing to do with his current efforts.

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