U.S. intelligence agencies warned the White House last year that President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence, according to four former officials familiar with the matter.
The warnings were based on multiple sources, including intercepted communications, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence during a December 2019 trip to Ukraine, where he was gathering information that he thought would expose corrupt acts by former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The intelligence raised concerns that Giuliani was being used to feed Russian misinformation to the president, the former officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information and conversations.
The warnings to the White House, which have not previously been reported, led national security adviser Robert O’Brien to caution Trump in a private conversation that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia, one of the former officials said.
The message was, “Do what you want to do, but your friend Rudy has been worked by Russian assets in Ukraine,” this person said. Officials wanted “to protect the president from coming out and saying something stupid,” particularly since he was facing impeachment over his own efforts to strong-arm Ukraine’s president into investigating the Bidens.
But O’Brien emerged from the meeting uncertain whether he had gotten through to the president. Trump had “shrugged his shoulders” at O’Brien’s warning, the former official said, and dismissed concern about his lawyer’s activities by saying, “That’s Rudy.”
Giuliani visited the White House on Dec. 13, shortly after the House Judiciary Committee voted to proceed with articles of impeachment, and he met with Trump at the president’s resort in Florida eight days later.
Officials’ warnings about Giuliani underscore the concern in the U.S. intelligence community that Russia not only is seeking to reprise the disinformation campaign it waged in 2016, but also may now be aided, unwittingly or otherwise, by individuals close to the president. Those warnings have gained fresh urgency in recent days. The information that Giuliani sought in Ukraine is similar to what is contained in emails and other correspondence published this week by the New York Post, which the paper said came from the laptop of Hunter Biden and were provided by Giuliani and Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former top political adviser at the White House.