It was the day of President Trump’s long awaited meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the United Nations in New York City — Sept. 24, 2019.
Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani was there at the U.N., too, but he was talking about something else.
“I am for regime change,” Giuliani told a crowd. “Down with the tyrants in Iran. Down with the ayatollah and the mullahs and all the crooks.”
Giuliani added that he was speaking in his “individual capacity,” a line he has used to describe a near-decade of apparent advocacy on behalf of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MeK), an Iranian dissident group alternately described as a cult, terrorists, or the world’s only fusion of Marxist-Leninist thought and Islamism.
But at a time when relations between the U.S. and Iran have worsened to the brink of war, Giuliani’s advocacy for a group that the U.S. government said last year could serve as a potential successor to the current regime in Tehran can be viewed in a new light.
The Daily Beast reported on Tuesday that Trump has asked Giuliani for advice about Iran since ordering the strike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani last week.
Throughout the Ukraine scandal for which President Trump currently faces an impeachment trial in the Senate, Giuliani spoke with the President about foreign policy and that country’s willingness to supply dirt. Most recently, Trump reportedly spoke with Giuliani immediately after the former New York City mayor returned from his December trip to Kyiv.
Giuliani’s history with MeK extends as far back as his ties to Ukraine, and has shaped much of the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York’s post-government, buck-raking career over the past decade.
The group launched a lobbying and public relations blitz in 2011, paying dozens of prominent Americans — ranging from Giuliani to Gen. Wesley Clark to former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge — to advocate for the State Department to remove MeK from its list of state-sponsored terrorist groups.
The State Department had added the group to its list of terrorist organizations in 1997, saying that it had been responsible for killing Americans in the past.
But the lobbying efforts paid off; the State Department removed MeK from the list in September 2012.
Most of the group’s high-profile mercenary advocates dropped off; Giuliani stayed on.
He has traveled to Paris for the MeK’s annual meeting multiple times since first going in 2012, and has remained a consistent advocate for the movement since.
The MeK opposed the nuclear deal concluded with Iran under the Obama administration in part because it views itself as a potential successor to the current Iranian regime; Giuliani called the agreement “catastrophic” at the time it was signed.
He appeared at another MeK event in Warsaw in February 2019, which occurred at the same time as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence hosted an international summit in the Polish capital regarding U.S. foreign policy on Iran.
It is not known if Giuliani met with Pompeo or Pence while on that trip; his presence reportedly annoyed U.S. officials managing the summit.
In July, in response to a TPM article about an event he was headlining at the MeK’s compound in Albania, Giuliani tweeted that criticism of MeK was “the false propaganda of the Iranian #RegimeOfTerror.”
Giuliani, Lieberman Attend Iran Cult Event |Talking Points Memo. The author is just ignorantly repeating the false propaganda of the Iranian #RegimeOfTerror. M.Rajavi is supported by leaders all over the world.Keep watching my tweets and dismiss #FAKE NEWS https://t.co/m7O3YBYSRa
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) July 13, 2019
“Utmost respect for Albania,” Giuliani was quoted as saying after the event, where he met with MeK’s leader Maryam Rajavi.
FARA filings show that Giuliani’s Sept. 24 rally in support of MeK was preceded by a meeting with lobbyists for the group on Sept. 23 and followed by a meeting with the same lobbyists on Sept. 25.
And as the potential for open conflict between the U.S. and Iran has continued to percolate, Giuliani has used the same language around Iran that he has used when speaking on behalf of his MeK backers.
The Ayatollahs’ 40 year #REGIMEOFTERROR is, and has been throughout, the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world.
The Obama-Biden administration practiced appeasement.
The Dems want to return to appeasement. The only way to avoid war is to stand up to them.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) January 8, 2020
By Josh Kovensky, talkingpointsmemo
Josh Kovensky is an investigative reporter for Talking Points Memo, based in New York. He previously worked for the Kyiv Post in Ukraine, covering politics, business, and corruption there.