Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey have met with Turkey’s president and tried to meet “U.S. government officials” to dispose of a case against a Turkish gold trader charged with evading Iran sanctions, Manhattan federal prosecutors said in a new filing Friday.
The prosecutors handling the case against wealthy trader Reza Zarrab said they were told the two well-connected Republican powerhouses notified Attorney General Jeff Sessions of their planned visit to Turkey in late February, which was just weeks before the unexpected firing of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had been overseeing Zarrab’s prosecution.
Friday’s letter called it “curious” that Zarrab had hired Giuliani, a political ally of President Donald Trump, and Mukasey to try to negotiate a disposition without “directly engaging” the office prosecuting the case, but Zarrab lawyer Ben Brafman immediately took umbrage at the hint of attempted influence peddling.
“If the Government has the temerity to even intimate that Messrs. Giuliani or Mukasey are engaging in any inappropriate conduct then let them come out and say it,” Brafman responded in a letter filed with U.S. District Judge Richard Berman.
Zarrab, 33, is a key figure in a 2013 scandal in Turkey and is seen as a political ally of Turkish President Recep Erdogan. He has been in prison since he was arrested during a family trip to Disney World last year.
Bharara won tens of thousands of Turkish Twitter followers after filing the case against Zarrab. Since his removal on March 11, Bharara has not directly said that his firing was politically motivated, but he has posted two critical tweets about Erdogan and has also tweeted twice about the subject of political interference.
Giuliani is a former U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, and Mukasey’s son Mark, a Manhattan defense lawyer, is widely viewed as a leading candidate to be named by Trump to replace Bharara. Currently, Bharara’s deputy Joon Kim is serving as acting U.S. Attorney.
In a filing earlier this week, prosecutors did not detail the roles of Giuliani and Mukasey in representing Zarrab, but said that because their law firms also represented banks victimized in Zarrab’s sanctions-breaking scheme, they might have a conflict of interest. In Friday’s letter, the government also said Giuliani’s law firm was a registered agent for Turkey.
Brafman, however, told Berman that conflict of interest issues were a red herring, and that Manhattan federal prosecutors were just trying to protect their turf and “attract media attention in the hope of undermining the efforts of counsel to structure a resolution without the direct involvement” of Manhattan prosecutors.
He also told the judge that Bharara — as well as Sessions — was notified in late February that Giuliani and Mukasey were traveling to Turkey to meet with Erdogan. But neither Brafman nor the government disclosed what “other officials in the U.S. government” Giuliani and Mukasey have been meeting with on the Zarrab case.
Berman has scheduled a hearing on the issue for next week.