New York’s permanent nexus of big money and major criminal cases now becomes part of a broader landscape of presidential and world politics.
One player on the stage is Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor.
Late last year, President Donald Trump reportedly considered Giuliani for secretary of state. The ex-prosecutor openly lobbied for the post but didn't get it. Still, he seems to move in Trump circles -- having been named, for example, an adviser on cyber-security.
That’s why it’s interesting that his name surfaced Monday as a legal adviser to criminal defendant Reza Zarrab — who is accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran as well as money laundering and bank fraud.
Zarrab, 33, was born in Iran and raised in Turkey. Prosecutors describe him as a gold trader, and a man of “tremendous wealth.”
Zarrab's defense team is headed by criminal lawyer Ben Brafman. Along with Giuliani, Zarrab also hired former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
This is of political interest for a few reasons.
For one, Mukasey’s son, Marc Mukasey, has been pushed as a possible successor to Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired this month as U.S. attorney for the New York’s Southern District, the office that is prosecuting Zarrab.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was Bharara’s political mentor. Although a Democrat, Schumer never showed any antagonism toward Giuliani, who has long been close to Michael Mukasey.
In 2007, Schumer called Mukasey “far better than anyone could expect from this administration,” then led by President George W. Bush.
But now, if Trump nominates the younger Mukasey for U.S. attorney, those on the sidelines wonder if Schumer, in his role as Trump critic, would try to stand in the way.
On the world stage, the Zarrab case has implications for U.S.-Turkey relations.
Zarrab allegedly used companies based in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on behalf of “Iranian individuals and entities” to conceal from U.S. banks that "services were being provided to Iran” and its government.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to hold a particular interest in the case. He has publicly criticized Bharara’s prosecution of Zarrab.
But according to published reports last year, the case drew Bharara populistic plaudits on social media in Turkey, where critics say Erdogan’s government tolerates corruption.
Like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan has signaled hope his regime would enjoy better favor under Trump than it did under President Barack Obama.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, expressed interest, even before his brief tenure, in extraditing Fetullah Gulen, an anti-Erdogan cleric living in Pennsylvania, whom the Turkish president wants returned.
Flynn has lobbied for a Dutch consulting company owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Erdogan.
For his part Giuliani, who slammed Obama’s easing of sanctions against Iran, was paid to advocate on behalf of a left-wing Iranian dissident group, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. Until a few years ago it was listed by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.
The Zarrab case, due for trial later this year, is worth watching for what happens both inside and outside the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan.