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Russian National's Alleged Connection Could Escalate Case Against Giuliani Associates


When he announced the indictment against Parnas, Fruman and two others, U.S. Attorney Berman said the investigation is continuing. I asked Berman's predecessor in the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, where the case might lead.

PREET BHARARA: If you look at the reporting and you look at the conduct and you look at the indictment against four people, two of whom appear to be associates of Rudy Giuliani, there are a couple of possibilities. One is whether or not there's a campaign finance violation, and then there's the issue of the underlying Ukraine scandal that's fueling talk of impeachment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How serious are campaign finance violations? - because we saw in the Stormy Daniels case that they were perceived to have been campaign finance violations, but that sort of led nowhere.

BHARARA: Well, there's a gentleman by the name of Michael Cohen who would beg to differ with that 'cause he's serving prison time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, who's in prison - yes.

BHARARA: He's in prison, so let's - somewhere for him. I think people take campaign finance violations seriously. It depends on the extent. It depends on the scope. It depends on the amounts. You know, Geoffrey Berman, my successor at the SDNY, you know, looked, you know, fairly unhappy about the prospect of this kind of activity happening in the Southern District of New York. And further, with respect to these associates of Rudy Giuliani, if you read the indictment, there's an individual who's not named who was, in part, bankrolling these straw donations and these excessive donations, and he's a Russian national.

So it's bad enough when you have this kind of campaign finance violation. But for there to be substantial amounts - hundreds of thousands of dollars, apparently - coming to United States elections from a foreign national - and a Russian, no less - I think it's a higher order of magnitude of seriousness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's an irony here, right? Rudy Giuliani once served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, a job you later held. SDNY is, I think, sometimes referred to as the sovereign district of New York. How independent is it of the Department of Justice in Washington? - because that's become a key issue.

BHARARA: Well, historically, it's been quite independent. The reason I didn't return the phone call of President Trump on March 9, 2017, two days before I got fired, was, in part, to maintain the integrity and independence of the office. There shouldn't be direct lines of communication between sitting U.S. attorneys and political figures like the president of the United States.

You know, people may forget that Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney who hired me - when President Clinton decided to pardon Marc Rich under weird and cloudy circumstances, what did Mary Jo White do? She opened up an investigation of the president who appointed her to the office. So there's a long and storied history of there being independence there. And from everything I've seen, that continues.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm sure you've seen Trump's various statements and tweet about Rudy Giuliani. He's still backing him and is talking about the deep state being involved in Rudy Giuliani. What do you make of their relationship?

BHARARA: I don't know what to make of it. I think most rational clients who are in some jeopardy would not like the tactics of Rudy Giuliani. It is not standard operating procedure. He contradicts himself. He is sometimes confused as to what he has said 30 or 40 seconds earlier on television as - most notably in an interview he did with Chris Cuomo on CNN. He sometimes makes admissions that look like they could be partial confessions of bad conduct.

Donald Trump is loyal until he's not loyal, and he seems to prefer combat over, you know, well-crafted and constructed arguments. And to the extent Rudy Giuliani is engaged in combat and pushing back and always on offense, maybe he will stay in the good graces of the president. But as you say, the president hedges. And at any moment, I would not be surprised if he endorses the antics of Rudy Giuliani, and I would similarly not be surprised if he threw him under the bus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. Thank you so much.

BHARARA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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