Weeks before Rudy Giuliani publicly became a figure to avoid in Washington, he managed to get a meeting with the top official in the Justice Department’s criminal division on behalf of a client.
The Justice Department now says that official, Brian Benczkowski, and other fraud prosecutors at Justice headquarters wouldn’t have taken that meeting with Giuliani earlier this summer had they known about a Manhattan US attorney probe of two Giuliani associates who were indicted this month. It is striking that the Justice Department is having to distance itself from the President’s own personal attorney.
A Justice spokesman issued an unusual statement seeking to remove the department further from Giuliani, who has drawn scrutiny recently for his business activities in Ukraine and elsewhere seeming to bank on his close ties to President Donald Trump.
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“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they know,” Peter Carr, a department spokesman, told The New York Times on Sunday, which first reported the meeting.
Justice officials have said Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the case in February upon taking office. Information about the case also was shared with the public integrity lawyers working in Benczkowski’s division.
A person familiar with the matter said that at the time, Giuliani wasn’t a central figure in the case as he is now. That emerged in recent weeks, the person said.
Still, New York federal prosecutors had their eyes set on Giuliani months ago. A New York lawyer told CNN that FBI counterintelligence agents asked him questions in February or March related to Giuliani and his associates.
The Justice statement marks the second time in recent days that the department has publicly distanced itself from the collateral political damage surrounding Giuliani and his activities at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry into the President.
On Friday, a senior Justice official disavowed comments by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney linking a quid pro quo on Ukrainian aid to a Justice investigation.