RETRACTION: The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NBC News all released major corrections on Saturday, retractioning earlier reporting that Rudy Giuliani had been alerted specifically by the FBI that he was the victim of a Russian misinformation operation.
The reports surfaced after the FBI searched Giuliani’s office and home on Thursday. The investigations were tied to a federal investigation into the former mayor’s commercial interests in Ukraine, and several communications devices were seized.
“An earlier version of this story, published Thursday, incorrectly reported that One America News was warned by the FBI that it was the target of a Russian influence operation,” read the correction by The Post, which first reported the news. “That version also said the FBI had provided a similar warning to Rudolph W. Giuliani, which he has since disputed.”
“This version has been corrected to remove assertions that OAN and Giuliani received the warnings,” the correction added.
It was told that originally the FBI warned Rudolph W. Giuliani in late 2019 that he was the focus of a Russian manipulation campaign aimed at discrediting Vice President Joe Biden politically ahead of last year’s election.
Originally it was thought that many current and former US officials, the alert was part of an extensive campaign by the bureau to advise members of Congress and at least one conservative media source, One America News, that they were at risk of being used to further Russia’s attempt to manipulate the election’s result. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, everybody talked on the condition of anonymity.
While closely engaged with former President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign and associated operations in Ukraine to surface unflattering or incriminating material about the Biden family, Giuliani acknowledged receiving the FBI’s alert.
The news arrived after the FBI confiscated Giuliani’s cellphone and other mobile devices this week as part of a long-running federal probe into whether he served as an unregistered foreign agent while serving as New York mayor and Trump’s personal counsel.
The alert, issued by counterintelligence officials, was unrelated to the Justice Department’s pending criminal investigation, but it represents a larger fear among US intelligence and federal investigators that Giuliani — among other powerful Americans and organizations — was being used by the Russian government to advance its interests, and that he seems to have brazenly disregarded those warnings.
Giuliani scheduled trip to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in December 2019, where he met with a Ukrainian lawmaker later branded “an active Russian agent” and sanctioned by the US government for conducting a “influence campaign” against Biden.
Officials said the operation included Ukrainian officials and political analysts who, according to the US intelligence community, were working as Russian agents not only to discredit Biden and derail his candidacy, but also to reduce US support for Ukraine.
The FBI has provided a defense briefing to Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI, who used his role as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ahead of the election to probe Biden’s relations with Ukraine when he was vice president and his son Hunter Biden occupied a lucrative seat on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm.
Johnson, a Trump supporter, recalled receiving a cryptic alert from FBI briefers in August, but he said Thursday that the warning had no significance and that the meeting was not a “defensive briefing” on his monitoring of the Biden family’s international business dealings.
“Regarding reports that I received an FBI briefing warning me that I was a target of Russian disinformation, I can confirm I received such a briefing in August of 2020,” Johnson said in a statement to The Washington Post.
“I asked the briefers what specific evidence they had regarding this warning, and they could not provide me anything other than the generalized warning. Without specific information, I felt the briefing was completely useless and unnecessary (since I was fully aware of the dangers of Russian disinformation).
“Because there was no substance to the briefing, and because it followed the production and leaking of a false intelligence product by Democrat leaders, I suspected that the briefing was being given to be used at some future date for the purpose that it is now being used: to offer the biased media an opportunity to falsely accuse me of being a tool of Russia despite warnings.”
In separate briefings earlier in 2020, FBI officials told Johnson and staffers of Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), another Trump ally in the Senate who helped Johnson with his investigation, that there was no need to end their investigation into Hunter Biden’s job in Ukraine.
Former FBI officials said it is not the bureau’s place to advise politicians whether to investigate or not investigate, or whether to halt or resume an investigation.
Senators alleged that the younger Biden’s work for the Ukrainian company raised a conflict of interest with his father’s involvement in influencing US policy against Ukraine and hampered US-backed anti-corruption efforts there.
Hunter Biden’s position with Burisma was “problematic,” according to their investigation, but it had little bearing on his father’s job or Obama administration policies against Ukraine.
Former officials claim that citizens are issued defensive briefings to warn them that they are being threatened by international governments for nefarious purposes. But, according to Frank Figliuzzi, a former senior FBI counterintelligence official, they’re often used “to see how they respond to that.” “They’re now on notice.”
Authorities confiscated Giuliani’s mobile equipment during raids of his Manhattan home and office on Wednesday as part of a federal probe into whether he worked as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukraine.
The investigation focuses on Giuliani’s contacts with Ukrainian officials in the run-up to the November election, during which he found evidence that could be used to discredit Joe Biden and called for the removal of the US ambassador to Ukraine, as well as pressuring Ukrainian officials to launch an investigation into Biden.
The ambassador was abruptly replaced by Trump in May 2019, but Ukraine did not initiate an investigation into the Bidens.
Former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani has categorically denied any misconduct, and his lawyer on Wednesday accused federal prosecutors of denying “clear evidence” of Hunter Biden’s “failure to register as a foreign agent” and the Biden family accepting “millions in bribes to sell [Biden’s] public offices.”
Giuliani, according to Costello, never spread false knowledge about the Bidens.
Giuliani was joined by a team from One America News, which has identified itself as one of Trump’s “greatest supporters,” during his December 2019 trip to Kyiv. The trip was later turned into a documentary series for the network.
Giuliani met with Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian politician who was sanctioned by the US in September and accused by the Treasury Department of being an active Russian agent “for over a decade” and keeping “close connections with Russian intelligence services.”
Derkach, a graduate of the KGB’s Moscow academy, has denied any links to international intelligence agencies or criminal practices.
Before Giuliani’s trip to Kyiv in late 2019, US intelligence agencies warned Trump’s administration that Giuliani was the focus of a Russian interference campaign.
Officials became suspicious after receiving data, including communications intercepts, that Giuliani was communicating with Russian intelligence officials.
As a result of the threats, then-national security advisor Robert C. O’Brien warned Trump that all intelligence Giuliani took back from Ukraine should be deemed tainted by Russia.
Despite the FBI’s alert, Giuliani spoke with Derkach again in February 2020 in New York, when he hosted a podcast with him. Derkach falsely said in the podcast that billions of dollars in US assistance to Ukraine were misappropriated or disappeared while Joe Biden was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine portfolio.
The National Intelligence Council, a research branch of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials attempted to sway the 2020 election.
According to Johnson, he has never met or spoken with Derkach. However, he and his team met with Andriy Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who promoted the argument that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for the 2016 US election meddling. Johnson has been silent about the conference.
Telizhenko was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in January, during the final days of the Trump presidency, for his role in attempting to sway the 2020 election. He has denied operating with Derkach and any participation in Russian activity or misinformation operations.
The Biden administration placed economic sanctions on 32 companies and individuals earlier this month in response to Russian government efforts to sway the November election.