Rudy Giuliani, the personal lawyer to US President Donald Trump whose role in the Ukrainegate scandal is under intense scrutiny, on Friday said he was unaware of any investigation into his activities in the country by prosecutors in New York.
The New York Times reported late on Friday that federal prosecutors in Manhattan had opened an investigation into whether Mr Giuliani, a former New York mayor, had violated lobbying-related laws with his efforts to oust the former US ambassador to Ukraine.
“I have no such knowledge of Manhattan prosecutors investigating me,” Mr Giuliani told the Financial Times when asked about the New York Times story.
The office of the US attorney for the southern district of New York — a position that Mr Giuliani once held before becoming mayor of New York — declined to comment.
Mr Giuliani, 75, is a central figure in the Ukraine scandal that has sparked an impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump. He was instrumental in trying to get Ukraine to find dirt on former vice-president Joe Biden and his son, and also orchestrated a campaign to remove Marie Yovanovitch from her position as US ambassador to Kiev.
Mr Giuliani, an aggressive defender of Mr Trump, came under an even harsher spotlight this week after two of his associates were arrested for allegedly violating campaign finance laws. The pair allegedly were also involved in efforts to dig up dirt on Mr Biden and the Ukrainian business activities of his son Hunter.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were arrested on Wednesday as they tried to board a one-way flight out of the US. The charges included allegations
Mr Parnas sought to oust Ms Yovanovitch, in part, “at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials”.
The charges were connected to their alleged efforts to oust Ms Yovanovitch, who was abruptly recalled from Kiev earlier this year.
Appearing on Capitol Hill on Friday, Ms Yovanovitch accused Mr Trump — who has publicly disparaged her — of leading a “concerted campaign” to remove her from the role, which occurred when she was told in May to return home “on the next plane”.
Ms Yovanovitch told lawmakers she had had “only minimal” contact with Mr Giuliani and did not know his motive for attacking her. But she said some of his associates may have been concerned about her support for anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.
“Individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine,” Ms Yovanovitch told the House intelligence committee.
The Manhattan US attorney on Thursday alleged that Mr Parnas, a Ukrainian-born US citizen, and Mr Fruman, a US citizen born in Belarus, “sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official — a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the US ambassador to Ukraine.”
An attorney for the two men told Congress last week that they had “assisted Mr Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump”.
Mr Trump has pushed back aggressively against the heavy scrutiny over his efforts to pressure his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens. On Friday, however, he appeared to distance himself somewhat from Mr Giuliani, a decades-old friend.
Asked by reporters on the White House South Lawn if Mr Giuliani was still his personal lawyer, Mr Trump replied: “Well, I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to Rudy. I spoke to him yesterday briefly. He’s a very good attorney, and he has been my attorney.”
Mr Giuliani told the FT that he was still serving in the position. “I do know, however, that I am the president’s lawyer along with Jay Sekulow, my co-counsel,” he said.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi