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Rudy’s Ukraine caper looks even worse now
More evidence has emerged about the willingness of Trumpworld to exploit Russian disinformation.
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There’s something so utterly predictable about Rudy Giuliani setting out to refute the Trump-Russia allegations and winding up in the middle of a Russian spy conspiracy. The guy got punked by Borat, after all — he’s kind of an easy mark.
Giuliani has been many things in his life. He was a US attorney, mayor of New York City, and a presidential candidate. But for the past five years, he’s served as the premiere chaos agent in American politics, the role for which he will now be most remembered.
Giuliani steered Donald Trump into two impeachments with his frantic scrambling to keep Joe Biden out of the White House. His efforts to overturn the 2020 election got him suspended from the practice of law in 2021, which meant that he could no longer hoover up cash from foreign governments by claiming to be doing “legal work” (and definitely not foreign lobbying). This was very bad timing, since he owes his lawyers millions of dollars for their efforts to fend off billions of dollars in defamation suits and a criminal prosecution in Georgia. Rudy’s now been reduced to ranting into a camera while hawking supplements, plus the occasional Cameo appearance for extra cash. And on top of that, in what’s best described as karmic justice, Trump stiffed him for his legal services!
Now, Giuliani’s shady international misadventures are back in the news. This week, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) charged parliament member Oleksandr Dubinsky with treason, indicting him alongside former parliamentarian Andriy Derkach and former prosecutor Kostyantyn Kulyk, who have both fled the country. The three were part of a Kremlin-backed effort to feed Giuliani nonsense about Joe Biden getting bribed by the Ukrainian energy company that employed his son.
Dubinsky and Derkach met with Rudy in 2019 when he and a film crew from One America News were trawling Ukraine for dirt on Biden. In the resulting “documentary,” Giuliani and OAN reporter Chanel Rion made a series of nonsensical claims, including that they were pursued around the country by hundreds of armed soldiers and even octogenarian philanthropist George Soros himself.
From his official position, Kulyk drafted a memo suggesting that Biden should be investigated for threats to withhold US aid in 2016 if Ukraine didn’t fire its chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin. And Derkach famously handed Giuliani “proof” that then-Vice President Biden had forced out Shokin to protect Hunter Biden’s business interests. (These claims are still in fashion with House and Senate Republicans today.)
In fact, it was the consensus of the IMF, the EU, and the entire US intelligence apparatus that Shokin, aka “the diamond prosecutor,” had to go. But Republicans had a lot of practice at this game, since they spent a decade pretending that Hillary Clinton was solely responsible for the 2007 sale of a uranium mine to a Russian company, never mind that the deal was approved by the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Treasury, Commerce, and Defense, as well as the OMB, NSC, and Council of Economic Advisers. (Read the wiki — that Uranium One deal was even nuttier than you remember!)
Derkach, Dubinsky, and Kulyk were part of a cell run by General Vladimir Alekseyev of Russia’s GRU, which spent $10 million “to destabilize the socio-political situation in Ukraine and discredit our state in the international arena,” according to an English translation of an SBU announcement.
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“The suspect [Dubinsky] was spreading fakes about the higher military and political leadership of our country” and “fakes about the alleged interference of Ukrainian high-ranking officials in the  US presidential elections.” This last is a reference to the Republican fairy tale that it wasn’t Russia meddling in the 2016 US election to help Trump, but rather Ukraine interfering to help Clinton. It’s a favorite of Rudy’s.
But Giuliani has long since quit pretending to care if he’s being used to launder Russian disinformation.
Reminder: Rudy’s lies were debunked by the Trump administration
“The chance that Derkach is a Russian spy is no better than 50/50,” Giuliani told the Daily Beast in 2020 on the eve of the election, adding that he suspected George Soros of spreading the lie “because he wants to create a socialist country,” adding “he’d like to see us collapse and see us taken over by the international ... whatever.”
In fact, Derkach’s role as a Kremlin agent was confirmed by Trump’s own Treasury Department. But before that happened, Attorney General Bill Barr tapped the US Attorney in Pittsburgh, Scott Brady, as Rudy’s personal disinformation concierge, tasked with investigating whatever Biden dirt the Russians could cook up.
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As with so much during the Trump administration, this got mostly buried under the daily deluge of lunatic illegality. Or as the Washington Post put it at the time, “That Giuliani would have a direct pipeline to the Justice Department for providing information on a political rival of Trump raised fears among some legal analysts that federal law enforcement was being conscripted into doing campaign work for the president.”
In September 2020, the Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach, describing him as “an active Russian agent for over a decade” and charged him with participating in “a covert influence campaign centered on cultivating false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning US officials in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election, spurring corruption investigations in both Ukraine and the United States designed to culminate prior to election day.”
On January 11, 2020, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sanctioned Dubinsky and Kulyk for the “coordinated dissemination and promotion of fraudulent and unsubstantiated allegations involving a US political candidate.”
But Giuliani himself was never prosecuted for his role in the conspiracy to disseminate Russian propaganda to harm Biden’s electoral prospects. Former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman says Barr fired him in order to head off an investigation into Giuliani’s foreign entanglements, and journalist Marcy Wheeler offers further evidence that the former AG protected the president’s personal lawyer. But for whatever reason, it looks like Rudy’s going to skate on this one, too.
Giuliani’s absurd defamation lawsuit against Biden
Bizarrely, this has left Giuliani under the mistaken impression that none of that stuff regarding Ukraine ever happened. So now he’s suing President Biden for defamation because Biden pointed out during an October 22, 2020, presidential debate that Trump’s own national security advisor said that Giuliani was laundering Russian misinformation.
“He’s being used as a Russian pawn. He’s being fed information that is Russian, that is not true,” the future president said of Giuliani. Later he added that 50 former intelligence officials had signed a letter claiming that the Hunter Biden laptop bore signs of a Russian disinformation campaign.
“What [Trump’s] saying is a bunch of garbage. Nobody believes it except him and his good friend Rudy Giuliani,” Biden scoffed.
Both of those statements were simply true. Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien did warn Trump in 2019 that Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence operation. And those officials really did sign a letter on October 19, 2020, saying that “the arrival on the US political scene of emails purportedly belonging to Vice President Biden’s son Hunter, much of it related to his time serving on the Board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
Nevertheless, Giuliani insists that “despite all the years of public service and honorable conduct of the Plaintiff, he was substantially and irreparably harmed by these defamatory statements.” Is it possible for someone to be defamed after he leaked hair dye on national television, convened a press conference in a landscaper’s parking lot, and got chased down the street by Sacha Baron Cohen shouting "Put down your chram! She's 15! She's too old for you?"
We’re unlikely to find out. For starters: the complaint was filed in New Hampshire, where neither of the parties live, the statements were made in Tennessee and not directed in any way toward New Hampshire, and Giuliani hasn’t bothered to serve Biden or his campaign in the six weeks since he filed it. (New Hampshire has a longer statute of limitations for such cases than the other states.) If he ever gets around to sending a process server, Biden will immediately move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and/or because truth is an absolute defense to defamation. In short, this case has about as much chance of success as Rudy has of being added to Trump’s presidential ticket.
Republicans will continue to have no qualms about spreading Russian disinformation
But the charges in Ukraine highlight just how willing Trump and his Republican allies are to accept election help from our foreign adversaries. House Oversight Chair James Comer has spent an entire year trying to upcycle Giuliani’s Russian misinformation into something to impeach President Biden with. And while most of his party isn’t willing to admit that they’re delighted to be manipulated by Russian spies, at least one member of the GOP is openly announcing that they don’t care if what they’re saying about Biden is true.
And of course it’s not true. It was never true. The truth is that Trump was the grateful beneficiary of Russian hacking efforts in 2016, and, if Russia didn’t manage to help him in the 2020 election, it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. We’re now going into another election year where Republicans have bullied social media companies into removing all safeguards against election misinformation, even as President Biden is virtually the only guarantor of American support for Ukraine’s war of self-defense against Russia.
We have seen this movie before, and we know what comes next. We just don’t know how it ends.
That’s it for today
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