Two years ago, Rudolph W. Giuliani finally got one thing he was looking for in Ukraine: the Trump administration sent the US ambassador there, a woman Giuliani believed to have hampered his efforts to unearth the Biden family.
It was a Pyrrhic victory. Mr. Giuliani’s push to oust Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch has not only become a focal point of President Donald J.’s first impeachment lawsuit, according to people familiar with the matter.
The long-running investigation reached a turning point this week when FBI agents seized phones and computers at Mr. Giuliani’s home and office in Manhattan, people said. At least one of the warrants sought evidence related to Ms Yovanovitch and her role as an ambassador, the people said.
In particular, federal authorities were to search electronic devices for communications between Giuliani and Trump administration officials about the ambassador before she was recalled in April 2019, one added. people.
The warrant also covered his communications with Ukrainian officials who had clashed with Ms Yovanovich, including some of those who at the time were helping Mr Giuliani research damaging information about then-candidate President Biden and his family, people said.
The problem for investigators is a key question: Did Mr. Giuliani sue Ms. Yovanovitch solely on behalf of Mr. Trump, who was her client at the time? Or was he also doing it on behalf of Ukrainian officials, who wanted her expelled for their own reasons?
It is a violation of federal law to pressure the United States government on behalf of foreign officials without registering with the Department of Justice, and Mr. Giuliani has never done so.
Even if the Ukrainians did not pay Mr Giuliani, prosecutors could pursue the theory that they provided assistance by gathering information on the Bidens in exchange for his removal.
One of the search warrants for Mr. Giuliani’s phones and computers explicitly stated that the possible crimes under investigation included violations of the law, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, according to the reports. people aware of the matter.
Mr Giuliani has long denied working at the behest of the Ukrainians or accepting money from them, and said he did not expressly urge Mr Trump to fire the ambassador.
On Wednesday, after FBI agents seized his devices, Mr. Giuliani again denied any wrongdoing. He said the search warrants demonstrated a “corrupt double standard” on the part of the Justice Department, which he accused of ignoring the “blatant crimes” of Democrats, including Mr Biden.
Asked about the search warrants Thursday, Biden told NBC’s “Today” show that he “had no idea this was in progress.” He said he pledged not to interfere in any Justice Department investigation.
Mr Giuliani’s attorney, Robert J. Costello, said his client had offered to answer questions from prosecutors on two occasions, except for those regarding Mr Giuliani’s privileged communications with the former president.
The warrants do not charge Mr Giuliani with wrongdoing, but they do point to his legal peril: They indicate that a judge has concluded that investigators have probable reason to believe a crime has been committed and that the search would reveal evidence of this crime.
The investigation arose out of a case against two businessmen of Soviet descent, who had helped Mr Giuliani research damaging information about Mr Biden and his son, Hunter. At the time, Hunter Biden was a member of the board of an energy company doing business in Ukraine.
In 2019, the businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were indicted in Manhattan, along with two others, for unrelated campaign finance crimes. A trial is scheduled for October.
In the Giuliani investigation, federal prosecutors focused on the action he took against Ms. Yovanovitch. Mr Giuliani admitted that he had provided Mr Trump with detailed information about his claim that she was obstructing investigations that could benefit Mr Trump, and that Mr Trump had put him in contact with the secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
After a few failed attempts to drive her away, Yovanovitch was finally recalled as ambassador at the end of April 2019 and told that the White House had lost confidence in her.
Mr Giuliani said in an interview in late 2019 that he believed the information he provided to the Trump administration contributed to Ms Yovanovitch’s dismissal. “You should ask them,” he said of Trump officials. “But they leaned on it.” He added that he never explicitly asked for her to be fired.
Prosecutors also examined Mr Giuliani’s relationship with Ukrainians who had conflicts with Ms Yovanovich, according to people familiar with the case. While an ambassador, Ms. Yovanovich tackled corruption in Ukraine, winning her quite a few enemies.
The investigation focused on one of his opponents, Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s leading prosecutor at the time, the people said. At least one of the search warrants for Mr. Giuliani’s devices mentioned Mr. Lutsenko and some of his associates, including one who had helped introduce him to Mr. Giuliani.
The relationship had the potential to become symbiotic.
Mr Lutsenko wanted Ms Yovanovich to be deported and, as the president’s personal lawyer, Mr Giuliani was able to help. Mr Giuliani wanted negative information about the Bidens and, as Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Mr Lutsenko was reportedly given the power to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden’s dealings with the energy company. Mr Giuliani also viewed Ms Yovanovitch as insufficiently loyal to the President and an obstacle to investigations.
Mr Lutsenko hinted at a potential quid pro quo in text messages that became public during the impeachment trial. In March 2019, Mr Lutsenko wrote in a text message in Russian to Mr Parnas that he had found evidence that could be damaging to the Bidens. Then he added, “And you can’t even bring down an idiot,” in an apparent reference to Ms. Yovanovitch, followed by a frowning-face emoji.
Around the same time, Mr Giuliani was in negotiations to also represent Mr Lutsenko or his agency, The New York Times previously reported. Draft mandate agreements called for Mr Giuliani to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the Ukrainian government recover money he believed was stolen and hidden abroad.
Mr Giuliani signed one of the mandate agreements, but said he ultimately did not return to work because his representation of Mr Trump at the same time could constitute a conflict of interest.
When Ms Yovanovitch testified at Mr Trump’s impeachment hearings at the end of 2019, she told lawmakers that she had had minimal contact with Mr Giuliani during her tenure as ambassador.
“I don’t know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me,” she said. “But people who have been quoted in the press and who have contact with Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal and financial ambitions were hampered by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”