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Federal Prosecutors Reach Out To People With Ties To Giuliani And His Consulting Firm

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Two fresh signs now that Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, is the subject of increasing scrutiny from the U.S. attorney's office he once led. Federal prosecutors in New York are reaching out to people with ties to Giuliani and his consulting firm. According to The Wall Street Journal, subpoenas to these people detail possible charges from wire fraud to money laundering to serving as an agent of a foreign government without registering. Now, Giuliani has not been subpoenaed. He says he has not been contacted by prosecutors. So what might be going on here? Well, let's ask Rebecca Ballhaus, who's been writing about this for the Journal.

Hey there.

REBECCA BALLHAUS: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Start with a little more detail, please, on who these subpoenas are going to.

BALLHAUS: Sure. So our story describes specifically the charges that are outlined and the people about whom documents are requested from two subpoenas. And we don't identify who those subpoenas went to, but we do know that subpoenas have now been issued to several people both in Giuliani's orbit and in President Trump's fundraising circles. We know - for example, Pete Sessions is a former congressman who was close with Rudy Giuliani and met with two of his associates. He's someone who received a subpoena very early on in all of this. Brian Ballard, a top Trump fundraiser who's close to the president, more recently received one.

KELLY: And to throw two more names in the mix, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman - these are two Giuliani associates who were arrested last month trying to board a plane. They have already been charged. This is all part of the same investigation or - how did they fit in?

BALLHAUS: Our understanding is that the Giuliani investigation grew out of this investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. And so some of the charges that we mention in our story that were listed on some of these subpoenas, those are charges that Parnas and Fruman have already been indicted on. So, for example, making a contribution in - from a foreign national or in someone else's name - those are charges that were mentioned in the indictment for Parnas and Fruman.

KELLY: Does the word Ukraine appear in these subpoenas? Is this all tied into the larger Ukraine drama for which Rudy Giuliani has been so much in the news of late?

BALLHAUS: We - that's a good question. I don't think we know that the word Ukraine appears specifically in the subpoenas. We have reported previously that part of what Manhattan federal prosecutors are looking into is Giuliani's business dealings in Ukraine. And what we learned from these subpoenas more recently is that they specifically want documents related to Giuliani Partners, which is Giuliani's consulting business that he started in 2002 and that has done some work with Ukraine as recently as 2017.

KELLY: OK. I hear you picking your words carefully, of course, and your article is also carefully worded. You describe the subpoenas - you say these are subpoenas described to the Journal. Have you actually seen them? Have you read them?

BALLHAUS: They've been described to us.

KELLY: OK. So in terms of how you know all this, you have sources who've been able to share some of the information from those subpoenas. Would that be accurate?

BALLHAUS: That's right.

KELLY: OK. You have asked Giuliani for comment. What's he saying?

BALLHAUS: He continues to not entirely believe, I believe, that there is an investigation into him. He says he hasn't heard from investigators and that from everything he's read, he feels like he would be able to explain it if they just asked him some questions. And the other thing he's saying is that he feels like there is this campaign right now to discredit him, which he feels like is an attempt to undermine these claims that he has been making about the Bidens, which are, of course, at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

KELLY: Yeah. He also - he flat-out denied that he's ever served as a agent of a foreign government, and he was citing attorney-client privilege, saying there's some things he's just not going to discuss.

BALLHAUS: That's right. Yes. He says that whenever a client has asked him to do something that involves the Trump administration - that he's referred that client to a registered lobbyist, whether they're a foreign client or a domestic client; that he does not engage in lobbying of any kind.

KELLY: And do we have any sense of timing in terms of how quickly prosecutors are trying to proceed here?

BALLHAUS: We don't have that from the prosecutors. I would note that, given that we've already seen a criminal case involving one of the president's lawyers, Michael Cohen, one of the key considerations there was that they didn't want anything to happen too close to an election. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018, which was a couple of months before the midterm elections. So I would think that given that this time, it's going to be a presidential election, they would try and wrap it up as soon as they can before 2020 really gets going.

KELLY: That is Rebecca Ballhaus, reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

Thank you very much.

BALLHAUS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.