Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, at a news conference on legal challenges to vote counting in… Pennsylvania in November 2020. Photo by AP Photo/John Minchillo
Rudy Giuliani was once best known as the hard-charging New York prosecutor who tried to take down the mafia with one of the most explosive and high-profile criminal racketeering cases in U.S. history.
That was then. This week, he found out he’s the target of a criminal probe in Georgia that some legal observers expect to spawn a racketeering case of even greater history-making proportions—because it could involve a former president of the United States.
Giuliani has emerged as a key focus in Georgia’s rapidly expanding criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s allies’ efforts to flip Trump’s loss into a win. On Monday, Giuliani was notified that he’s officially a target of Fulton County District Attorney Fan Willis’ criminal probe into election interference.
Willis wouldn’t take such a step lightly, lawyers following the case told VICE News. The “target” designation means Giuliani will probably be charged, said Page Pate, a defense attorney in Georgia who’s known Willis professionally for years.
“If there’s going to be an indictment, Giuliani’s name will be on it,” Pate told VICE News. “That’s my prediction. And I’d be shocked if she doesn’t indict anybody.”
The bad news from Georgia is only the latest and most dramatic installment of Giuliani’s recent bout of head-spinning legal jeopardy.
He’s facing a bewildering range of threats. Giuliani’s third ex-wife, Judith Giuliani, recently asked a judge in New York to throw him in prison if he doesn’t cough up the quarter-of-a-million dollars she claims he owes from their divorce settlement.
He’s being sued for billions by voting technology companies Smartmatic and Dominion, and recently lost his license to practice law in both New York and Washington, D.C., over alleged false election fraud claims.
The Department of Justice is ramping up its own probe of the scheme to advance slates of “fake electors” in key swing states to help Trump stay in power despite losing the 2020 election—a plan in which Giuliani reportedly played a starring role.
Michael Cohen, who served as Trump’s personal attorney before catching his own criminal case, said he thinks Giuliani will ultimately be forced to flip on Trump now that the pressure is ramping up in Georgia.
“Rudy is well aware that Trump has no loyalty to anyone other than himself,” Cohen told VICE News on Tuesday. “To avoid spending his last leg of life behind bars, I predict Rudy will become a cooperating witness.”
That would be a tectonic shift for Giuliani, who has shown no sign yet of wavering in his support for Trump. On a talk radio show Monday, Giuliani dismissed the probe as politically motivated, calling Atlanta a “Democratic dictatorship” and one of “the most crooked cities in the country.”
But Willis’ investigation is still heating up—and Giuliani is about to face the fire in a crucial test.
What’s next for Giuliani?
On Wednesday, Giuliani is due to sit for questions before a special grand jury in Atlanta investigating election interference.
“If these people think he’s going to talk about conversations between him and President Trump, they’re delusional,” Costello said.
Giuliani himself reinforced that point in a defiant appearance on Newsmax Monday, arguing his role as Trump’s lawyer meant he can’t be forced to talk.
“I was [Trump’s] lawyer of record in that case,” Giuliani said. “The statements that I made are either attorney-client privilege, because they were between me and him, or they were being made on his behalf in order to defend him.”
Willis could theoretically pierce the claim of attorney-client privilege, however, if she decides to try and convince the judge that Giuliani and Trump were plotting election crimes together, said Pate.
While discussions between a lawyer and their client are typically shielded from scrutiny, the so-called crime-fraud exception means that those conversations lose that protection if they involve criminal activity.
If Willis succeeds, Giuliani could still refuse to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination—which would make logical sense, given that he has been officially told he’s a target of the probe, Pate said.
It’s not a great look for a once-famous prosecutor to plead the Fifth about his own behavior.
But Giuliani would only be the latest member of Trump’s circle to lean heavily on the legal crutch that Trump famously derided as fit for only guilty people and “the mob.” Other Trump allies to take the Fifth in recent proceedings include attorney John Eastman, political provocateur Roger Stone, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn—as well as Trump’s son Eric.
Trump himself invoked the Fifth Amendment over 400 times in a recent deposition with the New York attorney general in a civil fraud investigation into his family business.
Where did Giuliani’s problems start?
Giuliani’s troubles in Georgia stem from two appearances he made before the Georgia legislature in December 2020, during which he made a series of bogus claims about voter fraud.
At one point, Giuliani said a video of election workers showed them “quite obviously surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they are vials of heroin or cocaine.”
Actually, it was a ginger mint.
Giuliani’s statements were publicly flayed by the New York State appellate court that suspended his law license last summer.
Giuliani “repeated to lawmakers and the public at large numerous false and misleading statements regarding the Georgia presidential election results,” the court found in a 33-page ruling.
Giuliani claimed as many as 165,000 underage voters participated in Georgia’s election, the court noted. A Georgia Secretary of State audit found the real number was zero.
During a Dec. 3 legislative session, Giuliani showed lawmakers a video that “purported to show election workers producing ‘suitcases’ of unlawful ballots from unknown sources,” Willis’ team wrote in a document asking a judge to approve a subpoena for Giuliani.
The video was quickly debunked by Georgia’s Secretary of State. But Giuliani kept bringing it up anyway, Willis’ team wrote.
How might Giuliani go down?
Willis has said she’s investigating the possible crime of lying to officials.
Georgia has a law on the books banning false statements “in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of state government.” The crime carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
But if Willis can string enough crimes together, she may go bigger, lawyers following the case say—and that might mean turning Giuliani’s most notorious legal weapon against him.
According to Pate, Willis appears to be gearing up to execute her signature move: a sweeping racketeering charge that links multiple members of Trump’s inner circle together into the same case through the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as Georgia RICO.
Georgia RICO is the junior cousin of the federal RICO statute, which was created in 1970 to bring down the mafia. The statute was famously used by Giuliani himself in a mid-1980s case against the heads of New York’s five families known as the “Mafia Commission Trial.”
In a nutshell, both laws prohibit anyone from using an organization to commit a series of crimes.
In Georgia, the organization in question could be the Trump campaign, and the series of crimes could be as straightforward as a trail of lies told to Georgia officials about baseless fraud allegations, according to Pate and others.
Such a move could wrap Trump together with his allies into one big Georgia RICO case.
Willis’ investigation began after Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2 and urged the state official to help Trump “find” enough votes to win. The call was recorded and then leaked to the media.
“All I want to do is this,” Trump told Raffensperger. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.”
Follow Greg Walters on Twitter.