Highly irregular: Rudy, the president, and a venture in Ukraine

Highly irregular: Rudy, the president, and a venture in Ukraine
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Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiCuomo steps into national spotlight with coronavirus fight Hannity offers to help Cuomo in coronavirus response with radio, television shows The Hill's Campaign Report: Officials in spotlight over coronavirus response MORE, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, was — according to Trump — engaged in promoting a specific political objective of the U.S. president in Ukraine throughout 2019. He did so outside the normal foreign policy and national defense structure of the United States.

Because of the tremendous power and authority of the office, presidents and ambitious advisors periodically are tempted to by-pass legal and established government organizations and procedures to pursue special, out of sight, projects directed or endorsed by the president.

The White House is designed to develop, coordinate and make policy. It is not staffed or equipped to conduct operational diplomatic missions, military operations or other operational functions of government abroad.


When the president turns the White House into secret operational headquarters largely beyond the structure of government, he takes direct personal responsibility for the outcome — and he does so at considerable legal and political risk. 

Recent examples of this mistake include Iran-Contra, the Watergate break-in, and now, the alleged political bribery of Ukraine — two of three leading to an impeachment process.

Giuliani, supported by U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandWhite House withdraws nomination for Pentagon budget chief who questioned Ukraine aid hold Juan Williams: Will the GOP ever curb Trump? House wants documents on McEntee's security clearances MORE and Secretary of Energy Rick PerryRick PerryThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes unexpected step to stem coronavirus Top National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role Overnight Energy: Green groups to sue over Trump rollback of Obama water rules | GOP climate plan faces pushback from right | Bezos launches B climate initiative MORE, constituted a form of special representative of the president in their mission in Ukraine. Any legitimate diplomatic task for Giuliani and his sidekicks is highly suspect since the president already had an operational U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine. Giuliani and Sondland’s direct personal contact with President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE during their mission to Ukraine is also very unusual for a special diplomatic effort.

Special Envoys are a useful foreign policy tool when an international problem requires high level attention and is beyond the scope of the U.S. Ambassador in an affected nation. Occasionally, a secret diplomatic channel also can be useful to promote American policy.

I have served in both capacities, and my experience raises serious questions about the Giuliani mission to Ukraine. 


Special envoys generally are the designated representatives of the U.S. President and the Secretary of State. Even if political appointees, they almost always have serious diplomatic experience. They operate under the organizational umbrella of the State Department — for support and policy guidance developed in coordination with the White House and other departments of government.

In the case of the Giuliani team, they functioned beyond the policy structure of the government. Instead, they dealt directly with the president. Even National Security Advisor John BoltonJohn Bolton Trump ignores science at our peril Bolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office US retaliates with missile strikes in Iraq MORE avoided any involvement in the Giuliani mission, referring to it as a “drug deal.” The Department of Defense also appeared to be detached from the Giuliani information circle. The personal role of the Secretary of State is unclear.

I have never heard of a special envoy routinely talking directly and privately with the president about their missions, as apparently Giuliani and Sondland did. Envoys deal through officials at State and the national security staff in the White House to insure coordination and consistency with U.S. policy. If the president is involved in a direct call, others in the policy staff also are included in the call.

As I noted, a “secret” diplomatic channel may also be useful, but again, this is done in close coordination with the NSA and State Department and other national officials involved in the issue. That was certainly my case during the NATO air campaign in Serbia and Kosovo. Again, Bolton avoided the Giuliani team, and others in the broader government seemed to have no visibility over the Giuliani effort in Ukraine.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulveney stated in a recent press conference that “We do it all the time,” when referring to the withholding of American tax-funded military assistance to Ukraine as leverage to gain personal political influence in a future American election.

That is not accurate.

I never saw any such thing in 40 years of U.S. national security and foreign policy service.

Yes, American officials use U.S. support as leverage to influence the actions of foreign governments — but that leverage is designed to support American policy interests and democratic principles broadly, and never, in my experience, to provide specific partisan political support to any American official at any level.

The Giuliani Ukraine mission appeared to operate at the specific direction of the president and outside all norms of effective diplomatic, foreign policy or national security operation, including sensitive ones.

Everything now known about the Giuliani team’s actions in Ukraine suggests that they were there to avoid the normal legal and coordinated foreign policy and national security oversight as they tried to shift blame for foreign interference in American elections from Russia to Ukraine while bribing the Ukraine Government to provide political dirt on Donald Trump’s most likely political opponent in the 2020 U.S. national election.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill Putin wears hazmat suit during hospital visit; Moscow mayor warns of undercounted cases Hillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID MORE must be ecstatic.

James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as deputy assistant secretary-general of NATO and is the author of "Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans."