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Giuliani Tries To Downplay His Contacts With Ukrainian Lawmaker Sanctioned By U.S.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Rudy Giuliani spent months looking into Joe Biden's family and their activities in Ukraine, and that, of course, featured prominently in President Trump's impeachment proceedings. Now one of Giuliani's Ukrainian contacts has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department and declared a Russian agent. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here with more. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

PFEIFFER: Ryan, you've been in touch with Giuliani, who, of course, is President Trump's personal attorney. What did Giuliani have to say?

LUCAS: So I was able to reach Giuliani last night via text message, and he very much is trying to distance himself from this now sanctioned Ukrainian lawmaker, Andrii Derkach. Giuliani says he only met Derkach in late 2019 during the impeachment proceedings. He says that he'd finished gathering information on Joe Biden and Ukraine by that point. And as you said, Giuliani and his efforts featured very prominently in President Trump's impeachment.

Giuliani also says he didn't get anything new, really, from Derkach, and that anything that he did get he didn't pass along to the State Department. So Giuliani here is very much trying to put distance between himself and Derkach. But what Giuliani glosses over is the fact that he appeared alongside Derkach on the One America News Network to push unsubstantiated allegations against Joe Biden back in 2019, and then Giuliani used clips from that interview again this February and this March in his own podcast.

PFEIFFER: And now the Treasury Department says that Derkach has been pushing a false version of the story. Is that right?

LUCAS: Exactly. And the Treasury Department says that the false narratives are part of a concerted covert influence campaign by Russia to try to affect the American election. Derkach has released edited audiotapes and other information to try to hurt Biden's presidential prospects. He's also pedaled his disinformation in news interviews, including the one that I mentioned earlier that he did with Giuliani. And so what we have here is the U.S. president's personal attorney wittingly or unwittingly helping promote a Russian disinformation campaign that aims to undermine the U.S. election. Giuliani told me that he himself, for his part, has never tried to influence the election here.

PFEIFFER: So now that the Treasury Department has taken this action, what does that mean for what we could hear about Ukraine and Biden from now on? Does it put it to bed in any way?

LUCAS: Despite the fact that this topic has been turned over time and time again, particularly over the past year, it is not behind us yet, no. Two Republican senators, Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley, are investigating Biden's Ukraine dealings. They have been accused by Democrats of laundering Russian disinformation, including information from Derkach, as part of their investigation. The two senators reject that. They say that they are very mindful of Moscow's actions. But I have heard a lot of concern from national security officials that Johnson and Grassley are promoting, amplifying Russian disinformation. Now, Johnson has said that he hopes to have his last interview as part of this investigation perhaps next week and wrap everything up, he hopes, before November.

PFEIFFER: And, Ryan, I want to turn quickly to news out of the Justice Department this afternoon. One of the top prosecutors on the department's probe of the Russia investigation has quit. What can you tell us about that?

LUCAS: That's right. The prosecutor's name is Nora Dannehy. She has resigned from the Justice Department. The department did not give a reason for her departure, but this is significant. Dannehy was a highly respected prosecutor. She's basically the No. 2 person on the team investigating the origins of the Russia probe, something that Attorney General William Barr has concerns about and is very personally interested in. Democrats, of course, are concerned that Barr wants to use anything that investigators turn up to perhaps try to influence the election. Barr rejects those allegations. But again, Dannehy's departure here is significant, and it could suggest some sort of tension inside the Justice Department over the probe.

PFEIFFER: So I'm sure we'll be hearing much more from you about this in the coming months. That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you for that.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.