Political News

Gowdy worked with Giuliani on legal matter ahead of impeachment proceedings, new documents show

Posted July 16, 2020 5:33 p.m. EDT

— Former Rep. Trey Gowdy was working with President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani last summer when Giuliani secured a meeting at the Justice Department with Attorney General William Barr and senior Department of Justice officials on behalf of a Venezuelan client, according to newly disclosed documents.

The September 2019 meeting at the Justice Department happened one month before Gowdy was briefly named to Trump's impeachment defense, though the South Carolina Republican ultimately did not join Trump's legal team.

The new documents also show that Barr's participation in the meeting was planned well in advance when Giuliani met with top criminal prosecutors on behalf of his Venezuelan client. The documents make clear that Barr's office was involved in planning the Giuliani meeting and that the attorney general's presence was not just an incidental drop-by as Justice officials have tried to portray the encounter.

The meeting came at the same time that federal authorities in New York were investigating Giuliani and two of his associates helping to dig up dirt in Ukraine, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman -- and while Giuliani was working behind the scenes to push Ukraine to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.

Justice officials had sought to distance Barr from Giuliani, and had only initially disclosed that top criminal division officials were in the meeting, until Giuliani later told reporters that Barr had attended. At the time of the meeting, Justice officials have said, it wasn't yet known to top criminal division officials that Giuliani had become a major focus of the investigation by prosecutors in New York, who later indicted Parnas and Fruman.

The new details about Gowdy and Barr's involvement with Giuliani were disclosed in documents released by the Justice Department under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to the liberal-leaning transparency group American Oversight, which were shared with CNN. The organization has unearthed a number of Ukraine documents through FOIA lawsuits during last year's impeachment proceedings and in the months since the Trump's Senate acquittal.

The Justice Department meeting predated the House's impeachment proceedings and public disclosure of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry, in which Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine played a central role.

But Gowdy's work with Giuliani, which was previously undisclosed, adds a new layer of intrigue to Gowdy's brief appointment to Trump's impeachment defense team in October 2019. Gowdy, who left Congress in 2018, was named to Trump's legal team before the job quickly fizzled amid questions about whether Gowdy could take the job less than a year after leaving Congress, due to federal lobbying rules.

Giuliani and Gowdy attended the Justice Department meeting to discuss Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, a wealthy Venezuelan business executive. The Washington Post first reported last year that Giuliani was lobbying the Justice Department to argue Betancourt should not face criminal charges in a $1.2 billion Florida money-laundering case.

A person familiar with the meeting said Gowdy reached out to request the meeting on the Betancourt case. The attorney general's scheduler worked with Giuliani's office set it up after officials determined it was more appropriate for the criminal and national security division lawyers to meet with them. The person familiar with the meeting said it was a routine meeting and that the department doesn't usually discuss such internal meetings with private lawyers.

Gowdy joined South Carolina law firm Nelson Mullins in January 2019 after leaving Congress. Gowdy terminated his contract as a Fox News contributor in anticipation of the job on the President's legal team in October 2019, and he's since returned to Fox News as a contributor and podcast host.

Gowdy did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Giuliani declined to comment. A Department of Justice spokesperson also declined to comment.

Giuliani's September 2019 meeting at the department became public in the wake of the arrests of Parnas and Fruman, who were working with Trump's personal lawyer to dig up dirt on Ukraine. Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, issued a public statement at the time expressing regret for holding the meeting, saying he wouldn't have met with Giuliani had he known about his role in the ongoing investigation.

But Barr's involvement, which CNN reported in January, showed the high level of attention that the Justice Department was providing to Giuliani. Giuliani's mission in Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Biden's did not come up in the meeting, a Justice Department official told CNN in January.

Lawyers Jon Sale and Frank Wohl also attended the meeting, according to the documents obtained by American Oversight. They were both lawyers for Betancourt, according to the Miami Herald.

Barr's drop-in was pre-planned, and Giuliani's side was told by the Justice Department he would join ahead of time, the new documents show.

"For, your awareness, we plan for the group to first discuss the case with the Head of the Criminal Division and his team. The AG will join later into the meeting for a quick chat," Barr's scheduler wrote to Giuliani's team.

In Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the President told Zelensky that he should work with both Giuliani and Barr. When a summary transcript of the call was disclosed, Justice officials distanced Barr from Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine. In February, however, Barr confirmed the Justice Department had been receiving information from Giuliani on Ukraine, while saying the department took steps to ensure the information was "carefully scrutinized."

Barr also took part in an August meeting with Joseph DiGenova, and a calendar item of that meeting was included in the documents provided to American Oversight. CNN previously reported that DiGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, met with Barr to ask him to intervene on behalf of Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman who also has worked with Giuliani.

Giuliani's work with Gowdy as well as DiGenova and Toensing is notable in part because of Toensing's reaction after Gowdy was named to Trump's legal in October 2019, when she attacked Gowdy in an interview with Yahoo News.

American Oversight executive director Austin Evers said in a statement the new documents raised "troubling questions" and showed that "members with connections to the President's defense team met with the Department of Justice well in advance of formal impeachment proceedings."

The newly disclosed set of documents also include an ambiguous letter GOP former Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida sent to Barr in December 2019. Meadows, who is now Trump's chief of staff, and Gaetz told Barr that Giuliani called each of them and said he had traveled to Ukraine "interviewing current and former Ukrainian officials related to their potential interference in the 2016 election."

The Republicans told Barr they were notifying him about "information potentially relevant to the ongoing impeachment investigation of Trump."

"We thought it would be prudent to alert you of the phone calls in case they bear relevance to any investigation under your supervision," the lawmakers wrote, adding they had also informed the Oversight Committee and did not intend to pursue any information Giuliani had offered.

Both Meadows and Gaetz had discussed in television interviews Giuliani's trip to Ukraine, which had been well publicized. Meadows defended it on CBS' "Face the Nation," the same day that Giuliani called him, saying Congress should consider any relevant information. Two days earlier, Gaetz told CNN's Chris Cuomo it was "weird" Giuliani was in Ukraine.

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