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WASHINGTON (AP) – The question of whether to serve a search warrant for Rudy Giuliani’s files has simmered in the Justice Department in the final months of the Trump administration, dividing officials in New York and in Washington and remaining unsolved for a new leadership team to fend for itself.

The new crowd resolved it this week in a dramatic fashion. Federal agents raided the home and office of former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney on Wednesday, collecting phones and computers as part of their investigation into whether he broke US lobbying laws by not registering as a foreign agent linked to his work.

It’s unclear exactly why Justice Department officials chose this particular time to strike, but it was not out of place for the agency under new Attorney General Merrick Garland. The move was just one of a series of headline-grabbing decisions by a ministry quickly striving to assert itself in investigations and policy making.

Over the past two weeks, President Attorney General Joe Biden has also kept his promise to amplify the department’s focus on civil rights, announcing extensive investigations into the Minneapolis and Louisville Police Departments as well. as hate crime charges against three men from Georgia in connection with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

The FBI’s action in New York on Wednesday was particularly noteworthy both because of the high-profile nature of the Giuliani investigation and the heated debate the search warrant issue sparked within the Justice Department. Trump era.

New York prosecutors wanted last fall to serve an arrest warrant against Giuliani as part of an investigation into whether he had registered as a foreign agent for his dealings with Ukrainian officials . But that request was turned down by officials in the Assistant Attorney General’s office in Washington. In a dispute over investigative tactics, they raised concerns both before and after the election and failed to sign a warrant, several people familiar with the matter said.

A new management team under Garland has apparently come to a different conclusion, although it’s unclear on what grounds. New Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and John Carlin, her senior deputy, have both headed the ministry’s national security division – which is responsible for enforcing the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA – and will likely be engaged in the investigation as it advances.

Former Justice Department official David Laufman said it would be reasonable for the new management team to reassess how the lawsuits were brought, especially if they believed the previous administration had taken an incorrect decision “on an important investigative action in a matter of considerable importance”.

Stuart Gerson, who served as acting attorney general in the first few weeks of the Clinton administration before Janet Reno’s confirmation, said it’s common for new leaders to make big decisions when they take office.

“You have an informational book on your questions desk – if you didn’t know them before, you know them now,” Gerson said. “Whatever your philosophy, you find that some of these things are directly important in meeting a public need.”

To get a judge’s warrants, prosecutors had to present the probable cause that Giuliani had broken the law. He denied any wrongdoing and sought Thursday to discredit the investigation.

Investigators said they were conducting a FARA investigation, Giuliani’s lawyer Robert Costello said. At least one warrant also targets information relating to Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was dismissed two years ago on Trump’s orders.

Yovanovitch was a central player in the first impeachment case against Trump and detailed a smear campaign against Giuliani and other Trump allies that preceded his resignation in 2019.

The fact that the warrant mentions Yovanovich, and seeks communication between Giuliani and several Ukrainians, suggests that authorities are trying to determine whether Giuliani’s efforts to remove the ambassador were at the behest of Trump or the Ukrainians. This distinction is important because federal law requires anyone lobbying the United States on behalf of a country or foreign entity to register their work with the Department of Justice.

Giuliani, the 76-year-old former New York mayor, once celebrated for his leadership after 9/11, has been a staunch supporter of Trump and has stood up to his failed legal effort to overturn the election, wrongly claiming that ‘it was a massive effort. by Democrats to rig the results, even though election officials from both political parties and Trump’s Attorney General William Barr said there was no widespread electoral fraud.

Giuliani has also been deeply involved in efforts to encourage Ukraine to find damaging information about Biden in the run-up to the 2020 election, meeting with a Ukrainian lawmaker whom US officials have described as an active Russian agent and who released. audio recordings during the 2020 presidential election. campaign to discredit Biden’s candidacy.

Giuliani also lobbied for the ouster of Yovanovitch, whose departure was one of the crucial issues in Trump’s first impeachment case. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who served for decades under Republican and Democratic presidents and was first appointed by Ronald Reagan, chillingly testified during impeachment proceedings about a “smear campaign” against her by Giuliani and others.

Major decisions still await the Justice Department in other high-profile but unrelated investigations Garland inherited from the Trump administration, including a tax probe into President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and an investigation into the potential sex trafficking and public corruption by the Florida representative. Matt Gaetz.

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