Giuliani’s Letter to Romania, or How to Give Hope to Illiberal Democracies
On August 27, Romanian news agencies began reporting that Rudolph Giuliani had sent a letter to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in which he criticized Romania’s ‘over-zealous’ effort in the fight against corruption. Not surprisingly, the headlines described Mr. Giuliani as Donald Trump’s attorney. The letter, however, was actually sent under the Giuliani Partners letterhead. For those interested in the situation in Romania, this raised several important questions. Chiefly among these, many were interested in understanding the motivations behind Giuliani’s correspondence: Why did he write this letter? Who retained his services? Are there any connections to Romanian power brokers? Over the days that followed, those questions were at least partially answered. But what was left were other, more abstract inquiries. What, for example, is the geopolitical effect left behind by Giuliani’s willingness to defend those he calls ‘victims’ of the fight against corruption? Many in Europe are starting to argue that Romania is following Hungary and Poland down the path toward illiberal democracy. Surely, then, when the President of Romania receives a signal indicating that someone close to the President of the United States believes the fight against corruption to be ‘over-zealous’, many others in the region are likely to take notice.
Immediately after the letter was released to the public, Giuliani confirmed that it was Freeh Group International Solutions who paid his firm to send the letter, leaving still unaddressed the inquiry about any Romanian politician or party that might be behind the request. Freeh Group, which is operated by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, is known to have connections to business leaders and politicians accused and sentenced for corruption offenses in Romania. In 2017, the company represented Mr. Puiu Popoviciu, a businessman who was sentenced to 7 years in prison on charges of bribing and complicity in abuse of office. This connection undercut most of the letter’s credibility. The subliminal message sent, however, still lingers.
For the past year and a half, Romania has been engulfed in a political crisis. The ruling party (Social Democrats) have pushed for a reform of the justice laws in a way that many believe weakens the fight against corruption. The US government–along with many others–has been critical of these moves. Giuliani’s letter, then, may formally come from a private citizen, but it comes from one that has the ear of the President of the United States. What this letter showed, not only to Romanian leaders, but to all the leaders in the region, is that regardless of official US policy, backdoors for lobbying are still open.
When contextualized amid the political upheaval happening in the United States, the letter makes sense. Much of Trump’s rhetoric has focused on the attacks of the so-called deep-state, very similar to the rhetoric the Social Democrats in Romania use regarding the ‘parallel state’ working against them. Giuliani is promoting internationally the ideas that his client is using to defend against the serious accusations he is facing at home. In other words, not only is Giuliani getting paid to attack what his own government considers to be a legitimate fight against corruption. He is also contributing to the building of a defense for his client. A defense focusing on the conspiracies of deep-state sabotage and the overstepping of those seeking to punish corrupt offenses.
Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, a Liberal, has been a supporter of both the Anticorruption Directorate and of the country’s magistrates and prosecutors, which are at the frontline of the fight against corruption. The ruling-coalition, however, composed largely of Social Democratic Party (PSD) members, argues that politicians are being unfairly targeted and swept up in corruption investigations. When Rudolph Giuliani sent the letter to the president, basically espousing every single one of the Social Democrats’ talking points, this was immediately taken as a letter of support for the PSD and their allies, who have pushed for a broken reform of the national justice laws.
Only a week ago, The European Parliament voted on a report recommending the triggering of Article 7 procedures against Hungary. Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty begins the path toward sanctions against any member state who threatens rule of law and European Values. Similar steps are being taken against Poland. Meanwhile, Romania, who is not quite at the same stage, is still slowly being grouped in discussions with those slipping toward illiberalism. These sanctions include a suspension of the country’s voting rights in the European Council. It is, in other words, the European Union’s nuclear option. It is meant to single out and show governments that when they target the judiciary, or when they silence civil society, they stand alone and isolated. Giuliani’s letter to the President of Romania, however, showed these countries that they still have an ally, and it’s someone close to the center of power.