During a 2017 oval office meeting, President Donald Trump urged then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to push the Department of Justice to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was being represented by Rudy Giuliani, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. The meeting was first reported by Bloomberg.
Reza Zarrab, Giuliani’s client, was accused of bank fraud, money laundering and helping the Iranian government in evading the U.S. economic sanctions on Iran to hinder its nuclear weapons program.
The source with knowledge told ABC News that many top level aides including Tillerson and then-White House chief of staff John Kelly told the president he could not get involved in the matter saying it would be interfering in an ongoing criminal investigation.
A representative for Tillerson declined to comment when reached by ABC News. Kelly did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Giuliani.
A person familiar with the matter said the Justice Department never considered dropping the criminal case. In addition to Giuliani, Zarrab was also being represented by former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
The incident, which had not been previously reported, underscores Giuliani’s close relationship to Trump and his influence over the president’s decision making as highlighted by the latest growing impeachment inquiry involving Ukraine.
Giulani has served as the president’s personal counsel since the investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 president election — led by former special counsel Robert Mueller — and has been running his own investigation for the last year into matters related to Ukraine, including allegations surrounding former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter and discredited conspiracy theories connected to the 2016 election.
The issues surrounding Ukraine came to a head after a whistleblower filed a complaint regarding a July 25 phone call that Trump had with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump pushed Zelenskiy to look into the Bidens and offered the assistance of Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr.
The president has repeatedly insisted that there was nothing wrong with the interaction.
“I’m against corruption,” Zelenskiy told ABC News’ Tom Llamas during a press availability in Ukraine on Thursday. “This is not corruption, it was just [a] call.”