Where Rudy Giuliani’s Money Comes From
While he represents the president for free, he travels the world consulting, giving speeches, and building his brand.
When Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv, in November 2017 to advise the mayor, an unconventional scene awaited him. In an anteroom outside the mayor’s office, his pet parrot, Johnny, perched in a large metal cage. Giuliani doesn’t speak Russian, so Johnny’s standard squawk to visitors—“Privet!” (Russian for “hello”)—was perhaps lost on him. But the mayor’s security precautions certainly were not.
An armed policeman in a bulletproof vest guarded the anteroom, where a motley collection of visitors waited with Johnny to see the mayor, Hennadiy Kernes, who’s ruled over this city less than an hour from the Russian border for the past nine years. Beyond the bird lay another waiting area with bodyguards, all with the blunt, ex-mixed-martial-artist look common to the profession in the former Soviet Union. Inside the mayor’s office were a large lion and a small lynx, stuffed.
“I’m not surprised by heavy-duty security anywhere,” Giuliani said when I asked him recently what he thought of the bodyguards around Kernes. “I do a lot of work in dangerous places.” Giuliani said he was in the country, for his second visit in less than a year, as a private citizen to advise Kharkiv on security. But he was also serving at the time as President Trump’s cybersecurity adviser, and Ukrainian TV headlined it as a “visit by Trump’s adviser.” On both visits, Giuliani met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who’s now fighting an uphill battle for reelection.
On a freezing January day, I visited Mayor Kernes, 59, in his office while a Russian soap opera played on a large TV. He’s been in a wheelchair since April 2014, when an unknown hit man shot him while he was jogging near the forest on the city’s outskirts. Before the assassination attempt, the mayor maintained an active Instagram account on which he posted photos of himself flashing his expensive watches, traveling on private jets, and meeting with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2017 for “extrajudicial killing, torture, and other gross violations” of human rights. Kernes himself was a close ally of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was forced from the country by the Maidan Revolution in February 2014 and fled to Russia.
Speaking in a gravelly voice, Kernes explained that he’d wanted to tap Giuliani’s vast experience. Giuliani advised him to create an emergency service akin to 911. “Giuliani met with President Poroshenko, and with the support of the president we decided to go ahead,” he said, sipping tea.
The story of how Giuliani ended up advising a mayor in eastern Ukraine is a tangled one. Kernes wasn’t paying Giuliani; instead, his one-year contract, the value of which no one involved will discuss, was funded mostly by a Ukrainian-Russian minigarch named Pavel Fuks, who moved back to Ukraine in 2015 after about 20 years in Moscow, where he made a fortune in real estate and banking. In the mid-2000s, Fuks had held talks with Trump about building a Trump Tower Moscow, but they couldn’t agree on a deal.
I visited Fuks in Kiev, where he, too, had armed bodyguards outside his office door. A 47-year-old Kharkiv native who’s been friends with Kernes for 30 years, Fuks said he’d hired Giuliani to give back to his hometown. “Giuliani’s company provides lobbying services, and they are very strong in security,” he said. “He’s a star.”
The Ukrainian gig is one slice of a globe-trotting consulting business Giuliani has continued to pursue while serving first as a key campaign surrogate for Trump, then as his cybersecurity adviser, and finally as his personal lawyerduring special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Now that Attorney General William Barr has reported that Mueller didn’t find Trump’s campaign to have knowingly conspired with the Russian government and didn’t draw a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice, Giuliani is taking a victory lap. His success in shielding Trump from an in-person interview with Mueller may have helped the president steer clear of an obstruction charge, an accomplishment that could make Giuliani’s currency as a consultant even more valuable around the world.
Long lauded as the prosecutor who skewered the New York Mafia and once known as “America’s mayor” for leading New York after Sept. 11, Giuliani is still courting clients for security contracts such as the one in Kharkiv. He’s made millions of dollars while acting as Trump’s unpaid consigliere—$9.5 million in 2017 and $5 million in 2018, according to disclosures from his ongoing divorce proceedings with his third wife, Judith Nathan. At the age of 74, Giuliani has eschewed a quiet retirement in favor of life in the limelight. “If I retired, I would shrivel up,” he said. “What I do is enormously exciting.” In addition to Ukraine, in the past two years he’s given speeches and done consulting and legal work in Armenia, Bahrain, Brazil, Colombia, Turkey, and Uruguay, among other countries.
Much about the Trump presidency is unprecedented, but Giuliani’s role is particularly unusual. His work abroad led seven Democratic senators in September to request that the U.S. Department of Justice review whether he should be disclosing his activities under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires registration by individuals and organizations acting as agents of foreign principals “in a political or quasi political capacity.” FARA was rarely a hot topic until 2017, when Mueller indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates for failing to register as foreign agents as required.
“As President Trump’s personal attorney, Mr. Giuliani communicates in private with the president and his senior staff on a regular basis,” the senators wrote to the Justice Department. “Without further review, it is impossible to know whether Mr. Giuliani is lobbying U.S. government officials on behalf of foreign clients.”
Giuliani has consistently denied lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of Ukraine or any other foreign government. He told me that most of his work has been in the form of consulting within foreign countries, which FARA experts say typically wouldn’t trigger an obligation to file as a foreign agent. “Most of our contracts involve giving a state within the national government a security plan to reduce crime, investigate terrorism, secure critical infrastructure,” he said. In Ukraine, he said, he advised only on security issues, not on how to promote Kharkiv’s interests in the U.S.
“If I retired, I would shrivel up. What I do is enormously exciting”
When I first called Giuliani in mid-February, he said over a crackling line that he was at a Warsaw conference on Iran, a U.S. government-led summit at which Trump administration officials urged European allies to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. It was the first of two phone calls; in both, Giuliani said he had five minutes, then spoke for almost 45. His still-sharp mind and natural argumentativeness were evident, but he also misstated the dates of his many recent foreign trips.
Giuliani said he’d come to Poland to give a speech about Iran, and he defended his dual roles working closely for Trump and foreign clients, noting that he spells out in his contracts with those clients that he doesn’t lobby the U.S. government. “There’s no conflict. What’s the conflict?” he said. “I don’t ask the president for anything for them ever. I’ve never represented them in front of the U.S. government. I don’t peddle influence. I don’t have to. I make a good deal of money as a lawyer and as a security consultant.”
The question of conflict arises, in part, because Giuliani keeps popping up in world capitals to make pronouncements that dovetail with Trump’s foreign policy positions. While in Warsaw, just outside the official Iran conference, he spoke at a rally organized by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a political front controlled by the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, which has agitated for regime change in Tehran. It was a cold and gray day when Giuliani, his trademark U.S.-flag pin affixed to his lapel, stood at a podium in front of hundreds of people waving Iranian flags. “In order to have peace and stability in the Middle East, there has to be a major change in the theocratic dictatorship in Iran,” he said. “It must end and end quickly.”
Giuliani told me he’s worked with the MEK since 2008. At the time, the U.S. Department of State designated the group a foreign terrorist organization, describing it as “cultlike” and saying members were forced to take a vow of “eternal divorce” and participate in weekly “ideological cleansings.” When the State Department revoked the designation in 2012, it nevertheless expressed serious concerns about the organization, “particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its members.”
Giuliani isn’t alone in stumping for the organization. The MEK has a history of enlisting prominent American politicians on both sides of the aisle, including national security adviser John Bolton—and paying $20,000 or much more for a brief appearance. Giuliani’s advocacy has been quite open. In January 2017 he joined almost two dozen other former U.S. officials in writing a letter to the president urging him to open “dialogue” with the NCRI. After he became Trump’s personal lawyer in April 2018, Giuliani gave speeches at several MEK events, including a Paris rally during which the French security services foiled a bomb plot they blamed on Iranian intelligence. Giuliani appears to revel in his rock-star status at the group’s events. At the 2018 Iran Uprising Summit at a hotel in Manhattan’s Times Square in September, MEK supporters greeted Giuliani with a standing ovation and whoops and whistles. “I hope I say enough offensive things so they put me on that list to kill me, if I’m not already there,” he said to laughter. His speeches railing against Iran echo Trump’s hard-line stance on Tehran but go further by explicitly calling for the regime’s ouster.
“It’s wildly inappropriate for Giuliani to continue to openly associate with” the MEK, says Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution. “Those who have any association with them really can’t claim ignorance of how bizarre and cultlike the group is. This is one of those cases that in any other administration, Republican or Democrat, it would be a front-page scandal.”
His anti-Iran rhetoric didn’t stop him from working for Reza Zarrab, the man accused of orchestrating a $1 billion money laundering scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions
Dan Pickard, a partner and FARA specialist at the Washington law firm Wiley Rein LLP, declines to discuss Giuliani specifically, but he says that if someone is paid by a foreign political group to give a speech in the U.S. to influence policy, he should file as a foreign agent. “FARA is so much broader than just lobbying,” he says. Giuliani told me he’s getting paid not by the MEK but rather by an American organization of Iranian dissidents. Is it the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, which is allied with the MEK, I asked? “I can’t remember the exact name,” Giuliani said. He dismissed concerns about FARA, saying, “It’s no different than if you did work for an American Jewish group that has strong views on Israel.”
His anti-Iran rhetoric didn’t stop him from working for Reza Zarrab, the man accused of orchestrating a $1 billion money laundering scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions. In February 2017, while acting as Trump’s cybersecurity adviser, Giuliani traveled to Turkey to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in hopes of resolving Zarrab’s case. A Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Zarrab had been arrested in the U.S. and accused of helping Iran dodge U.S. sanctions by processing hundreds of millions of dollars through his network of companies. At the time, there was dismay in Turkey over Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and Giuliani had recently told Fox News he’d advised on the policy during the president’s campaign. Giuliani said he tried to negotiate a deal for Zarrab to return to Turkey as part of a prisoner swap. It didn’t work. Instead, Zarrab pleaded guilty to money laundering, bribery, and sanctions violations and became a U.S. government witness against a banker in the case. He hasn’t been sentenced, and it’s unclear if he remains in federal custody.
Giuliani’s role shocked many, including U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who oversaw the Zarrab case. “I knew the old Rudy,” says Berman, who was appointed by Giuliani as a family court judge in 1995. “There seems to be somewhat of a disconnect between the old Rudy and the new Rudy.” In an interview with Courthouse News in June, Berman went further: “I am still stunned by the fact that Rudy was hired to be—and he very actively pursued being—the ‘go-between’ between President Trump and Turkey’s President Erdogan in an unprecedented effort to terminate this federal criminal case.”
Lawyers are usually exempt from requirements to file as a foreign agent, but that exemption may not apply in this case, according to Ben Freeman, who studies influence operations at the Center for International Policy in Washington. “There’s an exemption for lawyers, but none of their activities can go outside of the courtroom,” he says. “Once you do something FARA would constitute as a political activity, just one thing, that would prevent you from being able to claim that exemption.” Berman says Giuliani never stepped foot into the courtroom during the sanctions case.
Sounding like an annoyed prosecutor, Giuliani disputed that interpretation of the law. “I didn’t represent the Turkish government,” he said. “I represented a single individual who was in jail, and he wanted to see if he could get a prisoner exchange with the Turkish government.”
Giuliani markets himself globally as the supercop who reduced crime in New York City using the “broken windows” strategy, which pursued crackdowns on minor offenses to prevent bigger ones. Crime rates did drop dramatically in the city while he was mayor, though the cause remains hotly debated; some experts attribute it as much to the economic boom of the 1990s and to a fall in unemployment. During his time as mayor, Giuliani was also heavily criticized for police brutality and the shootings of unarmed black men, a record that was largely forgotten when he emerged from the wreckage of the Twin Towers to speak for the city and was applauded worldwide for his composure and courage.
Once his second term as mayor ended, Giuliani sought to quickly capitalize on his fame. Early in 2001, during divorce proceedings with his second wife, Donna Hanover, Giuliani’s lawyer claimed his client had just $7,000 to his name. Giuliani did, however, have a $3 million book deal. He went on to set up a series of companies: Giuliani Partners LLC, a management consulting firm for governments and businesses; Giuliani Security & Safety LLC, another consulting business, this one focused on law and order; and Giuliani Capital Advisors LLC, an investment bank (which he sold to Macquarie Group Ltd. in 2007). As private firms, they don’t have to disclose how much they earn.
Within a few years, Giuliani had made many more millions. In 2002, Mexico City agreed to pay him $4.3 million for his advice on fighting crime. In 2004 he traveled for the first time to Ukraine. He also visited Russia, where he met with Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov; it’s unclear if Giuliani was paid for the visit or who financed the trip. He was also on the speaking circuit, routinely pulling in $100,000 to $200,000 per speech. When he made a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2007, he reported earning more than $11 million in speaking fees alone in the preceding year and a half, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Giuliani lost the nomination and returned to his peripatetic life as a consultant and after-dinner speaker. “Since the day I left being mayor, I’ve given over 1,000 speeches,” he told me. “I’ve been in at least 80 countries. Giuliani Security & Safety has worked in 30 different countries, probably three, four different ones per year.”
He’s convinced dozens of clients around the world, from small-town mayors to presidents, that what worked in New York can work anywhere. In Brazil, for example, the state of Amazonas signed a $1.6 million contract with Giuliani Security & Safety in February 2018 to improve border security and policing. (The arrangement is now under investigation by local prosecutors. John Huvane, chief executive officer of Giuliani Security & Safety, says the probe isn’t targeting the firm: “They’re investigating the Brazilian process for picking us.”) In Colombia, where Giuliani said he’s probably done the most consulting on security, his firm signed a five-month, $295,000 contract in 2015 to help police design a crime-reduction strategy in Medellín called puntos calientes (“hot spots”). Huvane says the plan reduced crime in Medellín by 42 percent while the company was on the job, though the homicide rate has worsened since it left. Luis Felipe Davila, a security researcher based in Medellín, says Giuliani Security & Safety didn’t address the structural issues behind the city’s crime.
Giuliani’s consulting has given him access to a unique network of global politicians, some of whom sought his advice when Trump won the presidency. He’s kept close ties with Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president when Trump was elected, which may have come in handy when the Colombian government was looking for guidance on what to expect from the new administration. In November 2016, two days after the presidential election, Giuliani spoke with Santos and assured him that Trump was committed to maintaining aid levels set by President Obama, according to a person familiar with the conversation. On Nov. 11, Santos tweeted, “I spoke with President-elect Donald Trump. We agreed to strengthen the special and strategic relationship between Colombia and the United States.” Giuliani has returned to Colombia at least once since Trump became president, delivering the keynote address at a security conference in Medellín in December 2017.
Giuliani said he doesn’t recall talking about Trump with Santos, who stepped down in August. “I probably have assured them at various times that our government is supportive,” he said. “I have never done anything to help Colombia with the U.S. government formally or informally.”
Giuliani’s foreign clients may be more necessary than ever. When he started working as Trump’s lawyer in April 2018, he agreed to do so for free. Within weeks he’d resigned from the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, which he joined in 2016 as global chair of its cybersecurity and crisis-management practice—a position that provided him from $4 million to $6 million in annual income, according to his divorce proceedings. And Giuliani lives well. At a court hearing in November, a divorce lawyer for Nathan said the former mayor spent $12,000 on cigars and $7,000 on fountain pens over five months. Giuliani and his future ex-wife calculated their personal monthly expenses at about $230,000 each. Their bitterness erupted into the open during a March hearing at which they squabbled over how to share a house they own in the Hamptons, and the judge told them to stay away from each other at a Florida golf club where both are members.
As Trump’s personal lawyer, Giuliani has sometimes given cable-TV interviews sprinkled with contradictions that have often left viewers baffled. When he was asked on NBC’s Meet the Press in August why Trump shouldn’t agree to be interviewed by Mueller, Giuliani said the president risked falling into a perjury trap even if he told the truth. In an exchange that may go down as one of the Trump era’s most memorable, Chuck Todd, the host, responded, “Truth is truth.” To which Giuliani replied: “Truth isn’t truth.”
To Giuliani’s admirers, Barr’s summaryof the Mueller report makes any missteps immaterial. “He’s as smart and quick as he was 25 years ago,” says Jon Sale, a former assistant special Watergate prosecutor who went to law school with Giuliani. “Most of the time you judge a lawyer’s performance by the result. In this case the result was a home run.”
Giuliani and Trump have known each other since the late 1980s. Trump supported him during his various political campaigns, and they were close enough that in 2000, as part of an annual parody show, Giuliani dressed in drag in a skit with the future president. A video clip shows Trump nuzzling Giuliani’s bosom as the mayor exclaims, “Oh, you dirty boy, you!” After Giuliani endorsed Trump in April 2016, he became a frequent campaign surrogate and one of the few people to defend the candidate after the leak of a recording in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitals. Giuliani’s son, Andrew, who now works in the White House office of public liaison, “considers Trump an uncle,” Giuliani told me. Many people expected Giuliani to take a plum post in the administration, but he said he bowed out early from any cabinet positions. He denied that his foreign work had complicated his prospects of becoming secretary of state. “My soon-to-be ex-wife didn’t want me to do it, because of the significant reduction in pay,” he said.
As it is, Giuliani’s consulting work has often left him sounding like a wannabe secretary, sometimes creating headaches for the State Department. Just a few days after his “truth isn’t truth” declaration, Giuliani penned a letter to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, warning that the country’s battle against corruption had gone too far. Giuliani said he was paid to write the letter at the request of Louis Freeh, a former director of the FBI. Freeh represents Gabriel Popoviciu, a Romanian American real estate investor convicted in 2016 over a land deal and sentenced to seven years in prison. Giuliani’s letter didn’t mention Popoviciu by name, but Freeh issued a statement in 2017 saying the conviction wasn’t supported by “either the facts or the law.”
“I got paid by Louis Freeh, not by anybody else,” Giuliani said. “It was all directed to the Romanian government, not the U.S. government. Therefore, it doesn’t require any foreign agent representation. I was working as a subcontractor.”
Was he concerned his letter might be perceived as a message from the White House, given his other hat as Trump’s lawyer? “Of course it wasn’t,” Giuliani said. “I am not his White House counsel.” The State Department distanced itselffrom Giuliani’s actions: The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest issued a statement saying it “doesn’t comment on the opinions or conclusions of an individual American citizen” and reaffirmed its support for Romania’s fight against corruption. Freeh declined to comment for this story.
In October, while representing Trump in the Russia probe, Giuliani gave a speech at a conference in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, organized with the support of the Armenian government and the Eurasian Economic Commission, which brings together Russia and four other former Soviet countries and is broadly seen as Putin’s attempt to reassert Moscow’s influence. Giuliani spoke about cybersecurity right after speeches by Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Anton Siluanov and Sergei Glazyev, a Kremlin adviser the U.S. sanctioned for his role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent conflict with Ukraine.
Giuliani said he never met Glazyev at the conference and wasn’t concerned about attending the event alongside a sanctioned Russian official. “I didn’t know who he was. I found out afterwards,” he said, declining to say how much he was paid for the speech or who paid him. “I got up, gave my speech, and walked out.”
Giuliani’s ties to Ukraine go back more than a decade. In 2008 he advised Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion who was campaigning for mayor of Kiev, on what lessons the city could draw from New York. Giuliani described Klitschko, who won the office on his third try, in 2014, as a friend. In June 2017, Giuliani was paid by another prominent Ukrainian, billionaire Victor Pinchuk, to speak at a conference in Kiev, much to the annoyance of fellow oligarch Fuks, who thought his deal with Giuliani was exclusive. For his lecture, titled “Global Challenges, the Role of the U.S., and the Place of Ukraine,” Giuliani argued before more than 600 people that U.S. foreign policy should be focused on making sure the Ukrainian government regains control over the east from Russian separatists. On the same trip he met with the Ukrainian president, prime minister, foreign minister, and prosecutor general. “I didn’t advise them” on anything, Giuliani told me, declining to comment on his lecture fee. “It was nothing to do with President Trump.”
Less than two weeks later, Poroshenko traveled to Washington and sat down in the Oval Office for what the White House described as a brief “drop-in” ahead of Trump’s meeting with Putin the next month at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. A White House transcript said the two discussed “support for the peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.” (Giuliani said he had nothing to do with setting up the encounter.)
At the time, Trump’s views on Ukraine and its war with Russia were unclear. He’d spent much of the campaign and early months in office sounding conciliatory toward the Kremlin, a prospect that had many Ukrainian politicians worried Trump might side with Russia—and especially that he might lift sanctions on their adversary, mindful of Poroshenko’s perceived support for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton leading up to the election. These fears had prompted outreach by Ukrainian politicians and businessmen; just prior to the inauguration, the Ukrainian government signed a $600,000 contract with the BGR Group, a Washington lobbying firm founded by prominent Republicans.
Fuks also traveled to D.C. to attend events around the inauguration. He didn’t meet the president. A few months later, Fuks signed the contract with Giuliani to advise Kernes. Giuliani said he’d met Fuks twice in New York before seeing him again in Kharkiv, but he expressed surprise when I told him Fuks had met with Trump several times in the mid-2000s to discuss a Trump Tower Moscow deal.
When I met Fuks at his dark-panneled office in central Kiev, he talked expansively about his work with Giuliani but wouldn’t say how much he’d paid him. He dismissed a local press report that Giuliani received $400,000 just to give a speech during the trip. Everyone involved has a different understanding of Giuliani’s role. Fuks recalled talking to Giuliani about relations between the U.S. and Ukraine: “He said, ‘Ukraine is our partner, we will help.’ He has a very positive attitude toward Ukraine, so he undertook to lobby for us.”
“I got clients before I represented President Trump, and I’m gonna get clients afterwards”
Giuliani is adamant he doesn’t lobby. He explained that Fuks and Kernes wanted his advice because “they had been invaded by allegedly Russians and were afraid they’d be invaded again.” Fuks and Kernes said nothing to me about the Russia threat prompting their interest in bringing Giuliani to Kharkiv, and in fact Kernes faced allegations of siding with pro-Russia separatists during the Maidan Revolution—Ukrainian prosecutors questioned him about reports that he kidnapped and beat up anti-Russian activists. Kernes said his political enemies had cooked up the allegations, and criminal proceedings were dropped in 2018 after local prosecutors failed to pursue the case. After the questioning, he stopped supporting Yanukovych and backed Poroshenko, who won the presidency later that year.
Kernes is a wealthy man. He earns an official salary of about $32,000 a year as mayor, a position he’s held since 2010. Before then, he was president of a local refinery and a member of the city council for eight years. In recent mandatory filings he declared that he had almost $2 million in cash and had received $674,000 in dividends from an asset management company. He also reported owning shares in a local energy distributor and a bank. Despite his substantial influence in Kharkiv, and despite a lengthy report from Giuliani Security & Safety, the Kharkiv emergency service center remains unbuilt.
Transparency International calls Ukraine the most corrupt country in Europe after Russia, but Giuliani brushes off concerns about taking on clients there. “I do business honestly,” he said. “I’m doing the same things today as I was five years ago. They haven’t changed as a result of my representing the president.” Whatever he does next, whether it’s continuing as Trump’s personal lawyer or going back to full-time consulting, Giuliani is confident the business will continue to flow. “I got clients before I represented President Trump, and I’m gonna get clients afterwards,” he said. “After I stop representing him, I’ll be doing more work overseas, because I’ll have more time.” —With Daryna Krasnolutska, Ezra Fieser, Luiza Ferraz, Erik Larson, and Andrew Martin
Bloomberg, By Stephanie Baker