RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
What exactly was Rudy Giuliani doing in Ukraine and to whose benefit? It all could have been more self-serving than we previously thought. According to several reports, including The Washington Post, Giuliani negotiated a deal to represent Ukraine's then top prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, for at least $200,000. At the same time, Giuliani was working with Lutsenko to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post has been covering this story, and he joins us now. Good morning, Matt.
MATT ZAPOTOSKY: Hey, good morning.
MARTIN: So this isn't any old prosecutor in Ukraine. This is the guy at the center of the entire impeachment inquiry, right? Remind us who he is.
ZAPOTOSKY: Yeah. Yuriy Lutsenko is the now former top prosecutor in Ukraine, well known to Americans because Rudy Giuliani was working with him to investigate the Bidens. People have probably also heard his name if they've been watching some of the impeachment hearings because Ambassador Yovanovitch, in particular, testified how she believed this guy was corrupt and was probably the driving force behind this shadowy effort that Giuliani was also involved in to oust her from her job. So this is the guy that Rudy is working with, you know, on these investigations of interest to President Trump. And as we reported yesterday, Rudy is also at the same time trying to get work for himself, for Rudy, from this guy, at least a $200,000 retainer fee, to do some work related to asset recovery that this person was interested in.
MARTIN: Do we know more about what that means, why Lutsenko wanted to hire Giuliani?
ZAPOTOSKY: Well, the stated reason in some of these draft contracts that were described to us was that Yuriy Lutsenko believed some Ukrainian assets had been stolen. And he wanted the help of the U.S. Justice Department in getting them back. And he believed Rudy could essentially help him get an audience with the Justice Department. Of course, observers of this would say really what Lutsenko might be trying to do is just buy some influence in the U.S. government, that here's the president's personal lawyer. If he can get him on retainer, that would just be a good thing for him and Ukraine generally.
MARTIN: And as you reference, your evidence are contracts, actual signed documents.
ZAPOTOSKY: Yeah. So various drafts of contracts were exchanged and described to us describing various financial arrangements between Rudy and Lutsenko and the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice and some other lawyers here in Washington. Ultimately, they're never sort of consummated. Rudy says that he never actually gets paid for this. They never actually sort of execute the contract. But that is the evidence, that he was, you know, contemplating this, that he was in talks to do this.
MARTIN: Right. Which is interesting. This is what Giuliani has said in a tweet - (reading) I did not pursue a business opportunity in Ukraine, as they misrepresented - was paid zero.
I mean, his argument is that because the deal was never sealed, there's nothing wrong. That's the same argument put forth by the president's allies in the impeachment inquiry - right? - that there was no quid pro quo because the aid was eventually released.
ZAPOTOSKY: Yeah. Essentially, he's making the argument that, well, we talked about this, but, ultimately, I never actually formally signed on board, so it all amounts to nothing. The legal experts we talked to say that, look, this could be significant. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are currently investigating Mr. Giuliani. One of the reasons is failing to register as a foreign agent. This could be evidence that could kind of help advance that case. It is important that the deal was never consummated and Rudy - so that's why Rudy is harping on that. But it still could be a piece of evidence that would advance prosecutors' investigation.
MARTIN: Real quick - President Trump was in an interview with former Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly recently, and he appears to be distancing himself from Rudy Giuliani. He raises questions about, hey, I don't even know what Rudy was doing in Ukraine. He's got lots of clients. What do you make of that, just real quick?
ZAPOTOSKY: Well, various witnesses in the impeachment inquiry have testified that Trump knew exactly what was going on. And Trump himself said in this phone call that everyone has read the rough transcript of to Ukraine's president, hey, talk to Rudy - so interesting to see him distance himself.
MARTIN: All right. The Washington Post national security reporter Matt Zapotosky, he joined us on Skype. Thanks so much.
ZAPOTOSKY: Thank you.
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