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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump team called one investigation 'rigged,' now 'meddling' in another

Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump,

Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump, in May 2018. Photo Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

The statement was distinctively cynical.

"We're not meddling in an election, we're meddling in an investigation — which we have a right to do," Rudy Giuliani, lawyer for President Donald Trump, crowed last week.

That's remarkable even coming from the former mayor whose famous quotes have included "Freedom is about authority" and "Truth isn't truth."

This time Giuliani was telling The New York Times about a trip to Ukraine where he planned to convince top officials to keep probing the origins of the Mueller investigation — and question a Ukrainian gas company's hiring of a son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The trip's cancellation was announced following political blowback.

First, it shed new light on Trump's legal allies and married conservative media celebrities Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who had a role in this bout of privatized diplomacy.

Giuliani at first was quoted as revealing that Toensing actually represents Yuri Lutsenko, a prosecutor viewed as valuable to the Trump team, whom the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has said he's looking to replace. He's since amended that to say he was mistaken about the representation.

Either way the practical impact of these Trump-Giuliani gyrations, if any, is unclear.

The U.S. has an interesting role in Ukraine, both as a major arms supplier and a putative opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin's efforts to annex its eastern region. Now-imprisoned former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort built up his consulting income in Ukraine, but under a previous president allied with Putin.

Month after month, Trump & Co. howled about special counsel Robert Mueller leading a "rigged witch hunt" propelled by Democrats. By now it's clear that Trump's nastiest accusations may be prologue to his own actions.

The question here is whether Trump's famous attachment to "counter-punching" means trying to rig the terms of an investigation "in return," and soliciting a less-liberty-minded foreign government's assistance to frame his foes.

Before Giuliani became Trump's televised legal defender, he lobbied to become secretary of state, which friends call his dream job. Trump tapped Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, and when that didn't work out, he chose CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But with his involvement in this matter, the former mayor gets to taste of the life of a Trump diplomat off the books, without the president having to answer officially for him. The arrangement also allows Giuliani to drum up money for himself.

Giuliani has been a consultant to Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. In 2017 he arrived there amid local media proclaiming a “visit by Trump’s adviser.” At least twice, Giuliani visited Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who since lost to Zelensky.

Talk about entangling alliances. Last year, seven Democratic senators asked Trump's Justice Department to review whether Giuliani was complying with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Giuliani told Politico in a text, "Nothing done to influence U.S. government ever. Do they think I'm a fool like them. All of it security and law enforcement." Giuliani said none of his work "implicates FARA."

In one instance he got a fee from a firm run by ex-Clinton FBI Director Louis Freeh for a letter to Romania's president criticizing the nation's anti-corruption measures.

The letter reportedly did not jibe with a State Department position. But who knows? All interference may be viewed as legitimate if it comes under the aegis of meddling in an investigation.

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