Federal agents raided the apartment and office of former President Donald Trump’s longtime attorney Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday, an extraordinary move in the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal probe.
The shocking development is part of the two-year investigation into Giuliani’s political activities in Ukraine. He hasn’t been charged and denies all wrongdoing.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the key questions surrounding the investigation.
What is the investigation about?
Giuliani is wrapped up in a few ongoing investigations, and they’re all tied to his pro-Trump political activities in Ukraine, where he focused much of his attention in 2019 and 2020.
CNN has reported that investigators want to know if Giuliani acted as an illegal lobbyist on behalf of any Ukrainian officials. He urged Trump to take certain actions regarding Ukraine — like firing the respected US ambassador — and prosecutors want to know if this was done on behalf of, or in concert with, foreign officials. That could be a violation of laws regarding foreign agents.
His lawyer Robert Costello told CNN that the warrant described an investigation regarding foreign lobbying.
Prosecutors are also examining Giuliani’s potential business deals with disgraced Ukrainian officials, according to The New York Times. This reportedly involves some of the former officials Giuliani worked closely with in 2020 to peddle disinformation about then-candidate Joe Biden
There are also questions about a $500,000 payment Giuliani received from two Soviet-born associates who have been indicted in a related case. More on that angle in a moment.
Why is this happening now?
Career prosecutors wanted a search warrant against Giuliani last year, but they were rebuffed by senior Trump appointees at the Justice Department, both before and after the 2020 presidential election, according to reporting from CNN and The New York Times.
There were reportedly concerns that the public actions against Giuliani would be too close to the election, and there were also some doubts that there was enough evidence to justify such an aggressive move against an attorney — and the former attorney to the President, nonetheless.
Sensitive decisions like these require approval by the highest levels of the Justice Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland took over in March, and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco was confirmed by the Senate just last week. It’s not clear yet which official signed off on what was executed on Wednesday, or if it was approved before they came into office.
How does this impact Trump?
This could be really bad for Trump, or have little impact at all. But it’s definitely not a good thing.
At the least, the news reminds the American people about Giuliani’s brazen dealings in Ukraine, where he worked with a Russian agent to smear Biden. This was done on Trump’s behalf and was aligned with Moscow’s own disinformation efforts against Biden.
To state the obvious — things could get very dicey for the former President if investigators found anything in the raids that implicates him in a federal crime. But that’s the most extreme scenario.
A more likely outcome is that prosecutors are building a case against Giuliani that touches on his dealings with Trump. That could further tarnish Trump’s legacy and validate Democrats and the few Republicans who said Trump’s first impeachment over Ukraine was warranted.
Who else might be involved?
Investigators are clearly looking into Giuliani’s role leading a cadre of Trump supporters who worked together in 2019 and 2020 to spread pro-Trump and anti-Biden disinformation — often pushing the same conspiracies that were also being promoted by the Russian government and its operatives.
Giuliani’s lawyer told CNN that the warrant sought communications between Giuliani and right-wing columnist John Solomon, among other individuals.
CNN also reported that federal agents also executed a related search warrant at the home of attorney Victoria Toensing, taking her cell phone but not searching the house itself. A spokesman for Toensing said she fully cooperated and was not a target of the probe.
It’s impossible to talk about this without also bringing up Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Soviet-born Americans who used their Ukrainian connections to assist Giuliani’s anti-Biden efforts.
They were indicted in 2019 in the midst of Trump’s first impeachment, on several charges including illegally funneling foreign money to pro-Trump political groups. They’ve pleaded not guilty and they are set to go on trial later this year. But Parnas notably broke with Trump and Giuliani last year, and implicated both of them in the Ukraine quid-pro-quo and other schemes.
Throughout 2019, Solomon wrote columns for The Hill that were filled with many of the same pro-Trump and anti-Biden conspiracy theories that were being pushed by Giuliani and his Ukrainian allies. Phone records unearthed during impeachment proceedings in 2019 revealed that there were regular contacts between Solomon, Giuliani, Toensing, Parnas and other Trump allies while he published those columns.
What does this mean going forward?
Many legal experts said Wednesday that the raid represents a major escalation in the probe.
“It delivers a strong and very concerning message to Mr. Giuliani,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a CNN contributor, said on CNN earlier on Wednesday, adding that it represents “a shift in an investigation” from a quiet, covert stage to a more aggressive chapter.
Not only that, but investigators could find information that they weren’t even hunting for, that could help them ramp up the pressure on Giuliani or others who are targets of the inquiry.
“It happens all the time that you get a search warrant of looking for evidence of Crime A, and you get evidence of crimes you never expected,” CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said.
For Giuliani personally, the raid means more legal headaches are likely on the horizon.
“This is a serious and tragic turn for the man who was rightfully known as America’s Mayor,” said CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, who worked for Giuliani in New York City.