(CNN) — Federal prosecutors are investigating whether some Ukrainian officials helped execute a sweeping plan to meddle in the 2020 US election, people with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times.
The investigation out of Brooklyn includes scrutiny of whether Ukrainian officials used Rudy Giuliani to spread misleading claims about then-candidate Joe Biden in an effort to bolster then-President Donald Trump’s election prospects, the people told the Times.
News of the criminal probe, which began during Trump’s final months in office, highlights a more forceful approach from the federal government in addressing foreign election interference — an issue that’s been top of mind in Washington since US intelligence detailed an expansive Russian meddling scheme in 2016.
Giuliani is not the subject of the investigation, the people told the Times, which is separate from the Southern District of New York probe into whether he violated foreign lobbying laws by operating on behalf of Ukrainian officials when he sought the ouster of the then-US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
According to the Times, the Brooklyn prosecutors are focused on several current and former Ukrainian officials thought to have worked to influence the US presidential election by pushing unfounded claims about Biden in multiple ways, including through Giuliani, who was Trump’s personal lawyer at the time.
In the course of the investigation, officials looked at a trip Giuliani had taken to Europe in 2019, when he met with multiple Ukrainians, the people told the newspaper. At least one of the Ukrainian officials whom Giuliani met with, Parliament member Andriy Derkach, has become a focus of the investigation.
Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, told the Times on Thursday, “When you investigate allegations of corruption, you talk to all sorts of people; some are credible, and some are not” as he defended Giuliani’s efforts.
New focus was put on Giuliani’s Ukraine dealings last month when federal agents executed search warrants at his Manhattan apartment and office as part of the years-long Southern District of New York probe.
In executing the search warrants in April, authorities seized 18 electronic devices, the Justice Department said, and they took the devices following a period during which Giuliani and Trump had made efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Giuliani has not been charged with a crime. He has said his activities in Ukraine were done in his capacity as Trump’s lawyer and that he “never represented a Ukrainian national or official before the United States government.”