Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was being paid by a global consulting firm when he sent a letter to the president of Romania last week that contradicted the U.S. government’s official position.
Giuliani’s letter to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis appeared to take sides in a fight at the top of the Romanian government over how to rein in high-level corruption.
The former New York mayor’s letter criticized the “excesses” of Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), contrary to U.S. State Department policy which has been supportive of the agency’s efforts. Although the missive did not claim to be sent on Trump’s authority, Romanian politicians seeking to blunt the power of the DNA have already used it to sow doubt about the U.S. government’s position.
In the letter, dated August 22 and first reported by Mediafax, Giuliani wrote that the DNA had overstepped its bounds, “including: intimidation of judges, defense lawyers, and witnesses; unconstitutional phone tapping; forced confessions; and, unfair judicial processes.”
Giuliani called for an amnesty to be extended “to those who have been prosecuted and convicted through the excesses of the DNA.”
The U.S. State Department has expressed concern at recent political upheaval in Romania around attempts to dial back those anti-corruption practices, including the firing of the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Codruţa Kövesi.
Giuliani — who regularly appears in the media as a public representative of Trump — told POLITICO Tuesday that his letter “was based on a report I reviewed” by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who runs a global consulting firm called Freeh Group International Solutions. “They are paying my fee,” Giuliani said of the Freeh Group.
He would not say how much he was paid or whether the Freeh Group retained him on behalf of a client, and he directed further questions to the Freeh Group, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
William Jeffress Jr, a partner at Baker Botts who represented Lewis “Scooter” Libby in his 2007 CIA leak case, said it was surprising that Giuliani had neglected to disclose in the letter that he was acting on behalf of a client.
“It is highly unusual, to say the least, for an American lawyer to write the president of a foreign nation to offer advice on that nation’s anticorruption efforts, [but] to do so without identifying the client or clients on whose behalf he is writing is astonishing,” Jeffress said.
“The only conclusion I can reach is that whoever put him up to this (and paid him) believes he will have influence because, and only because, he is the president’s lawyer.”
Liviu Dragnea, chief of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party, fought hard to have anti-corruption chief Kövesi fired. The party leader has been barred from serving as prime minister due to a suspended jail sentence for an attempt to rig a referendum in 2012.
Dragnea publicly welcomed the letter, portraying Giuliani as a representative of the U.S. “The bitter conclusion of this letter is that trust in the Romanian justice system is seriously shaken when it comes to foreign partners and foreign investors,” he wrote in a statement.
But the letter has drawn sharp pushback from officials in both Romania and the U.S.
“If Rudy Giuliani wants to be Trump’s lawyer and chief spokesman, he should not be taking public foreign policy positions like this on behalf of other paid clients,” U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat who had previously voiced concern about Kövesi’s firing, said in a statement to POLITICO.
Murphy said Giuliani’s letter “potentially undermines” his and the late Republican Senator John McCain’s efforts to call attention to corruption in Romania.
Romanian Ambassador to the United States George Maior said the letter was part of “a lobby initiated by people interested in defending figures who have problems with the justice system.”
The ambassador, who is also a former intelligence service chief, was quickly recalled by Romania’s foreign ministry, which reprimanded him for taking a stance not approved by the government.
The intervention in Romania will add to criticism of Giuliani for carrying out other foreign business while acting simultaneously as Trump’s personal lawyer. According to the Washington Post, he has represented clients in Brazil and Colombia and the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, an Iranian resistance group.
Kövesi, the anti-corruption prosecutor since 2013, had garnered praise from international bodies including the European Commission (and was selected as one of POLITICO’s 28 outstanding Europeans in 2016). However, she also became a target of Romanian politicians who claimed she went after sitting officials to attract media attention.
After Romania’s justice minister called for her to be fired, President Iohannis refused, but a court later required him to dismiss Kövesi.
That prompted McCain and Murphy to send a letter to Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă voicing their concern. “While the judicial process is an internal matter, we urge the Romanian government not to retreat in the important fight against corruption,” the senators wrote.
“[Kövesi’s] firing, together with recent judicial reforms and proposed legislation to decriminalize certain corruption offenses, raises troubling questions about your government’s willingness to prosecute financial crimes and hold high-level officials accountable.”
Giuliani’s letter took a different approach, and mirrored comments Freeh made last week to Forbes.
Freeh outlined a five-point plan to address the “rule of law crisis” in Romania. Forbes noted that Freeh is “advising a Romanian defendant contesting his conviction by Romania’s DNA anti-corruption agency.”
Last year, Business Review, an English-language magazine in Romania, reported that Freeh was representing Puiu Popoviciu, a Romanian property mogul who was sentenced to jail in a real estate fraud case.
A State Department official said the involvement of both men, who are not government officials, was perplexing. “Why are they suddenly interested in Romanian justice processes?” the official asked.
“Romania is approaching crisis level in regard to the rule of law and legitimacy of institutions,” the official said. “The positions Giuliani and Freeh are espousing are diametrically opposed to bedrock positions of the U.S. government.”
An official spokesman for the department declined to comment directly on the letter. “Romania until recently has shown considerable progress in combatting [sic] corruption and building effective rule of law,” the spokesman said. “We encourage Romanians to continue on this path.”
Siegfried Mureșan, a member of the European Parliament from Romania’s opposition National Liberal Party, said in a written statement that “Romanian politicians from the current governing coalition that are trying to weaken the rule of law” would use the letter to press their case.
“It is particularly worrying to see business people from a country that has been a pillar in defending the rule of law worldwide acting now in favour of weakening the rule of law in Central and Eastern Europe,” Mureșan said.
But some legal-ethics experts said there was nothing inappropriate about the president’s personal lawyer working on behalf of other clients.
“The letter is unremarkable,” Stephen Gillers, a professor at NYU School of Law, told POLITICO in an email. “I don’t know for whom he is writing it or anyone’s agenda. But that doesn’t matter. Whether he is writing as a lawyer for a client or to aid Freeh’s clients in their goals, or even as concerned citizen, there is nothing in it that is improper under U.S. legal ethics.”
Carmen Paun and Anca Gurzu contributed reporting.