The State Department warned the president’s personal lawyer against meeting with one of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s top advisers and others close to him, Rudy Giuliani said in a new interview.
In particular, Giuliani was briefed by State Department officials to avoid Andriy Bohdan, Zelensky’s chief of staff, he said in a phone interview. Instead, the former New York City mayor claimed, State preferred that he meet with Zelensky adviser Andriy Yermak when he traveled to Europe this summer.
“I’m sure Bohdan came up, I'll tell ya how Bohdan came up,” Giuliani said in the call. “When State asked me if they could give my number to Yermak, they said, ‘[Yermak] is a real lawyer, unlike Bohdan, who is a fixer.’ He came up as a distinction to Yermak. Yermak is straight; Bohdan is not.”
Giuliani spoke during two phone conversations on Saturday and Sunday with an independent journalist, Roger Sollenberger, who subsequently provided recordings of the conversations to BuzzFeed News.
The meeting with Yermak in Madrid this past August is one of several contacts between Ukrainians and President Donald Trump’s allies that are under scrutiny as the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry moves forward. Giuliani has previously claimed that he only met with Yermak at the State Department’s insistence, despite his efforts to meet with Ukrainian officials predating Zelensky’s election to the presidency in April. Yermak has also said he only suggested the meeting to then–US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker after Giuliani trashed the incoming Zelensky administration as being in the hands “avowed enemies” of Trump.
Giuliani also said twice in the call that he passed the concerns he’d heard about Bohdan’s position in the administration from the State Department’s briefing on to Yermak during their face-to-face, even though it was not part of the agenda he was there to push. (That mission revolved around trying to prove debunked conspiracy theories around the 2016 election and eventually expanded into looking for potential political dirt on former vice president Joe Biden’s son.)
“I said, you know, you have a guy like that around and it’s not going to do you and your country much good,” Giuliani said, in reference to Bohdan. “Now, I just offered that to [Yermak], and it didn't fit in to what I’m, what I had to deal with, a meeting and you know... I just gave him that advice.”
Before joining Zelensky’s administration, Bohdan previously served as lawyer to Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian media tycoon and one-time head of Ukraine’s largest bank. Kolomoisky funded the TV channel that launched Zelensky’s political career and is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for alleged money laundering and fraudulent loans. Though the neophyte president has tried to distance himself from Kolomoisky, hiring Bohdan has been seen by many as a step in the wrong direction. That includes the International Monetary Fund, which last week reportedly scuttled talks with Ukraine regarding a potential loan over the influence Kolomoisky has attempted to wield.
For his part, Zelensky has had to thread the line since taking office between seeming too eager to accede to Trump and Giuliani’s demands and rejecting them at the risk of losing a key ally in his country’s fight against Russian-backed separatists. BuzzFeed News reported on Wednesday that Ukraine was left in the dark for a month after Trump and Zelensky’s call in July about what was holding up nearly $351 million in military aid, a delay that is now being closely examined by House investigators.
“I have no doubt that part of their motive was to try to help Zelensky get away from what they regarded as bad influences on him,” Giuliani said of the State Department’s recommendation. He also said that Bohdan was one of two people close to Ukraine’s president that he was warned about because there was “a fear that what they would do is completely mischaracterize or misstate or use [any meeting] for some purpose of theirs.”
There are still several questions in the air about Giuliani’s contacts with the State Department ahead of his travels, including whom he spoke with and when. In the whistleblower’s complaint that launched the recent scramble towards impeachment proceedings, Volker and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland were named as two officials who “had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security.” The complaint said they also “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.”
Giuliani did not respond to a request to clarify whether Yermak viewed his comments during their conversation as coming from Giuliani in his role as Trump's lawyer or from the State Department. He also did not clarify what the State Department knew about the full scope of his pending conversation ahead of his meeting with Yermak.
The State Department did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
Volker, who resigned from his position in the administration on Friday, arranged the meeting when Yermak reached out to the State Department, according to a screenshot of a text message conversation that Giulani posted on Twitter. Giuliani said he debriefed the State Department about his trip twice, once in a phone call and in person on Aug. 12, the day the whistleblower complaint was filed. It’s unclear how Volker and Sondland reacted to Giuliani’s debriefings and how much content from those meetings reached Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo on Wednesday confirmed that he was one of the people listening in on the call between Trump and Zelensky in July.
Volker is slated to testify this week before three Congressional committees.
“Told ‘em the whole thing,” Giuliani said when asked about his debriefing and whether he brought up his Biden investigation. “Perfectly legal, perfectly normal. You have a perfect right to ask a foreign country to investigate a crime when it affects your client.”
But when asked exactly who in the State Department provided the warnings about Zelensky’s aides, Giuliani was only mostly sure of who gave him that information.
“I’m sure Volker did. But I get...I get the people mixed up who briefed me,” he said.