In the two months between President Donald Trump’s infamous “do me a favor” call with the Ukrainian president and the announcement of the House’s impeachment investigation, Attorney General William Barr and senior officials met with both Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and former Rep. Trey Gowdy, who were working on behalf of a Venezuelan client.
Those meetings, along with details on attendees, were revealed in records obtained by American Oversight from Freedom of Information Act litigation. On Thursday, CNN reported on those documents, which show that Barr’s participation “was not just an incidental drop-by as Justice [Department] officials have tried to portray the encounter.”
On Aug. 23, 2019, Barr met with Giuliani as well as Gowdy, who had chaired the House select committee that spent years investigating the Benghazi attack without turning up any evidence of wrongdoing. According to the documents, the Aug. 23 meeting had been requested by Barr on Aug. 19. Barr also dropped in toward the end of a Sept. 3 meeting between the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Giuliani and Gowdy.
The documents also reveal an Aug. 26 meeting — originally scheduled for Aug. 9 — with Joseph diGenova, an associate of Giuliani who was at the time representing Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash. Firtash was facing extradition charges to the U.S. on bribery and racketeering charges, and had reportedly been assisting in the effort to find dirt on the Bidens so as to secure the legal help of Giuliani and his associates.
Press had previously reported that Barr dropped in on a meeting around this time between Giuliani and top criminal prosecutors at the Justice Department, though the documents obtained by American Oversight reveal that there were at least two meetings with Giuliani. The presence of Gowdy — who later that year would be asked to join Trump’s impeachment defense team but would ultimately not join — had also not been previously reported, and as CNN wrote, “adds a new layer of intrigue to Gowdy’s brief appointment to Trump’s impeachment defense team.”
The subject of the single meeting that had been detailed in earlier press reports was a case involving a Venezuelan businessman who was being represented by Giuliani and others. Brian Benczkowski, then the assistant attorney general for the criminal division, later said that he wouldn’t have held the meeting if he had known about the Southern District of New York’s criminal investigation into two associates of Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
Administration officials had attempted to distance the Justice Department and Barr from Giuliani in the fall, with the department having issued a statement shortly after the House announced it was opening its impeachment inquiry in late September that said Barr had not “discussed [the Ukraine] matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.”
The Aug. 26 meeting with diGenova included Benczkowski as well as Seth DuCharme, then the principal associate deputy attorney general. Just this past week, Barr installed DuCharme as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in an echo of his controversial June firing of Southern District prosecutor Geoffrey Berman.
DuCharme is replacing Richard Donoghue, who was tasked in February with “coordinating” all of the Justice Department’s Ukraine-related efforts. Other documents uncovered by American Oversight revealed that duCharme had met or spoken more than a dozen times with U.S. Attorney John Durham, the prosecutor tapped by Barr to examine the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The newly obtained records also include a Dec. 11, 2019, letter to Barr from Rep. Matthew Gaetz and former Rep. Mark Meadows, who is now Trump’s chief of staff. The letter said that both congressmen had received phone calls from Giuliani on Dec. 8, who told them he had traveled to Ukraine to find information about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — one of Trump’s unsubstantiated claims, along with the claims about Biden, that Trump wanted Zelensky to investigate.
“We do not intend to pursue information offered by Mr. Giuliani,” Gaetz and Meadows wrote. Publicly, Gaetz had said it was “weird” that Giuliani was “over there,” but Meadows told CNN that if Giuliani were “finding something that is inappropriate,” he should bring it to Congress.
“It’s been more than 5 months since the Senate voted to acquit President Trump, and new facts are continuing to come out,” said American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers. “These documents show that people with connections to the president’s defense team met with the Department of Justice well in advance of formal impeachment proceedings, and raise deeply troubling questions about the role of Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and top officials inside the Justice Department, including the newly appointed prosecutor tasked with managing Ukraine investigations.”
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