Rudy Giuliani denied in an interview with BuzzFeed News Friday that he could have been manipulated by Turkish disinformation.
“I don't worry about propaganda,” Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and a lawyer working for President Donald Trump, told BuzzFeed News, despite having championed similar kinds of misinformation in the past, a claim which he denied: “Half of what's written is not true.”
He also alluded to an organized effort to discredit him. “It's really being done because there's a concerted effort to destroy my credibility, because I had the audacity to bring up all this corruption of the Democratic Party. Honestly, I don't know why half the rumors start,” he said, before offering a guess. “People don't like you. People are trying to hurt you.”
Giuliani has been relatively quiet this week, following two weeks of nonstop calls with journalists and TV appearances. When reached by BuzzFeed News, an assistant named Megan answered the phone, saying she needed to get him “out of a meeting,” before putting him on the phone.
This week the Washington Post reported that in 2017, Giuliani pushed for the extradition of Muslim Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen from Pennsylvania to Turkey. The Republican was reportedly so intense about the matter that senior administration officials specifically asked him not to bring up Turkish issues with Trump.
Giuliani denied advocating for Gülen’s extradition, calling the Post’s report a “malicious and totally ridiculous rumor.”
“Not only was I not interested, I didn't want him extradited. It would have hurt me if he was extradited,” Giuliani said.
The extradition of Gülen has been a goal for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for years. It’s likely that Giuliani’s reported fixation on the cleric may have been inspired at least in part from Turkish-sponsored trolls on anonymous message boards pushing an anti-Erdogan narrative, which was then picked up by conservative media in the United States.
Giuliani has denied that he needed to register as a foreign agent. “I don't work for the Turkish government,” Giuliani said.
After a failed coup in 2016, Erdogan blamed members of the Gülen movement (or “hizmet,” which means “service” in Turkish), a volunteer network focused on a religiously tolerant form of Sunni Islam, for carrying out an attempt to overthrow his government in conjunction with the US intelligence community.
Many of Gülen’s followers have jobs in the Turkish state’s security or civil services, despite their leader having lived in exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Gülen and his followers were previously aligned with Erdogan, but a 2013 corruption scandal led to a split between the two.
Giuliani said that in 2017 he was acting as legal counsel for Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, who had been indicted in New York, and was attempting to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Turkey to free Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was arrested during the 2016 coup.
“If I had been advocating for the extradition of Gülen, it would have taken the place my client was going to occupy. Let's call it the trade date for Pastor Brunson. That is absolutely nuts," Giuliani told BuzzFeed News.
Giuliani told BuzzFeed News that he has only been to Istanbul once, in February 2017, and spent one night, meeting with Erdogan to personally negotiate for the release of Brunson, a negotiation previously reported by the New York Times. Giuliani has been accused of running a “shadow foreign policy,” horrifying White House officials. Giuliani did reportedly attempt to stop Zarrab’s prosecution in the fall of 2017, by pressing former secretary of state Rex Tillerson. Tillerson reportedly refused.
“It was my first trip to Turkey. It was on behalf of my client,” he said. “I have nothing to do with the Turkish government. I was negotiating against them. They wanted Gülen. I wanted them to take Zarrab.”
Before his assistant Megan brought the conversation to a close, Giuliani waved away any concerns that he might be impacted by foreign propaganda spreading across social media, refusing to talk about which news outlets he did trust.
“You can print what you're going to print, but it's going to turn out to be totally false,” Giuliani said.