In the closing of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly attacked his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for the donations the government of Qatar made to her family’s foundation. He argued that the money undermined Clinton’s claims of compassion for women and LGBTQ people since Qatar was oppressive to both groups. He also insisted that the donations raised questions about Clinton’s national security judgment since, in private emails, she had acknowledged the clandestine role the Qatari government played in supporting terrorist groups.
That was before people voted. Now, Trump may be softening his position.
Looking to staff up his administration, the president-elect is reportedly leaning toward nominating former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as his next secretary of state. Guiliani’s ties to Qatar would be among a host of potential conflicts of interest that would come into play should that nomination take place.
When Giuliani ran for president in 2008, he refused to disclose his clients and dealings from his time at Giuliani Partners, a consulting firm he launched after leaving his job as mayor. But the The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007 that one of those clients was the government of Qatar, to which Giuliani provided “security advice.” Through Giuliani Partners, the former mayor also reportedly tried to enrich the Qatari government through real estate deals. The company’s bid to buy Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in New York ultimately failed, but foreign policy experts were troubled by the work Giuliani had done precisely for the reasons that Trump criticized Clinton.
As Newsweek reported: “The contract between Giuliani Security, a division of Giuliani Partners, and Qatar ‘is a huge conflict of interest,’ says Bob Baer, a former CIA officer who tracked Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. ‘He is metaphorically taking money from the same accounts that paid [Mohammed].’”
Giuliani resigned from his post at Giuliani Partners in 2007, but as Foreign Policy Magazine reported, he was still listed on the website as its chairman and CEO. It’s impossible to tell if the firm still has Qatar on its client list, which is not disclosed. In fact, Giuliani Partners’ website has been restricted to users with login information.
But the potential conflicts of interest don’t end there. Giuliani Partners has a security consulting arm, Giuliani Security & Safety, and added an investment banking arm named Giuliani Capital Advisors in 2004. Giuliani also added his name to the Dallas lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani. And at the beginning of 2016, he left that firm for the Greenberg Traurig law firm. Though Giuliani stepped aside from that gig after attaching himself to Trump, each of these different outfits had clients that could, ostensibly, have strategic and political interests that would intersect with Giuliani’s duties should he end up at Foggy Bottom.
Take, for example, TransCanada Corp. Giuliani advised the energy giant in 2007 on its plan to store liquefied natural gas on the Long Island Sound. It’s unclear if the company is still a client, since there is no disclosure. But should Giuliani end up at the State Department, he would find himself playing a critical role in one of TransCanada’s largest unfinished projects.
The company has expressed interest in resuscitating the controversial Keystone XL pipeline after President Barack Obama rejected it last November. To build the pipeline, however, TransCanada would likely have to go through the application process once more. And the person who ultimately signs off on a recommendation to go forward with construction or scuttle it is the secretary of state.
TransCanada isn’t the only foreign energy company with ties to Giuliani. The former mayor’s old lobbying firm also reportedly lobbied for Citgo, the U.S. subsidiary of the state-owned Venezuelan oil company, and the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia.
“This is a critical position in the federal government and every care should be taken to avoid a potential conflict of interest.”
Giuliani has ties to several foreign governments and political parties. He has reportedly advised the government of Mexico and the government of El Salvador on “how to curb soaring crime driven by lawless gangs and rampant corruption.” When he ran for president in 2008, his firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, lobbied for the Ethiopian political party Coalition for Unity and Democracy on legislation that the Bush administration deemed counterproductive to its counter-terrorism efforts.
He served as an adviser to former boxing great Vitali Klitschko when Klitschko was running for mayor of Kiev, Ukraine, in 2008. Still mayor, Klitschko has urged Trump to not change U.S. policy toward Ukraine, which has supported that country’s resistance to Russian incursion. Trump has been accused of being indifferent to, if not supporting, Russia’s interference in Ukraine.
From 2011 to 2012, Giuliani was among many retired politicians, government officials and U.S. generals to receive payments from the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, as it sought to be removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. He traveled to Paris to meet with the group’s charismatic leader and give a speech on the group’s behalf. He declared that MEK was “the only thing that will stop” and overthrow the Iranian government. It is not clear how much Giuliani was paid for his many appearances in support of the group, but other ex-government officials were paid tens of thousands per appearance. In 2012, then-Secretary of State Clinton formally removed MEK from the terrorist list.
“It poses a very similar conflict of interest that we saw with Hillary Clinton with her foundation,” said Craig Holman, lead lobbyist for the government reform and consumer group Public Citizen. “This is a critical position in the federal government and every care should be taken to avoid a potential conflict of interest so that we can be reasonably assured that our Secretary of State will represent our interest and not the interest of foreign clients.”
A call to Giuliani Partners was not returned, while the Trump transition team declined to comment.