Donald Trump’s newest Russia investigation lawyer, former New York mayor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, has made numerous public and media appearances since last Thursday — roaming far afield from the Russia collusion case. Instead, Guiliani has spoken at length about the “hush money” payoff to adult film star Stormy Daniels, and on Saturday, he took a deep dive into Trump administration foreign policy.
In a speech to the Iran Freedom Convention for Democracy and Human Rights, Giuliani announced that Trump was “committed to regime change” in Iran, a position not yet stated publicly by Trump himself. But Giuliani’s unexpected foray into Iran policy has brought new scrutiny on the 73-year-old Trump lawyer, who was once known as “America’s Mayor” for his leadership in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Specifically, “America’s Mayor” has long-standing financial ties to a shadowy anti-goverment and anti-american Iranian group that spent 15 years on the United States government list of “foreign terrorist organizations” and is known to be responsible for numerous attacks on Americans — including the murders of three U.S. military officers and three independent civilian U.S. contractors. The same group, known as the MEK, supported and may have even taken part in the seizure of American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.
The MEK, or Mujahidin e-Khalq, paid Giuliani an annual fee of at least $20,000 for many years, for what a report by Politico magazine called “brief appearances before the group and for lobbying to have it removed from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” But in addition to its long history of anti-American violence, the MEK is generally considered a cult, with members fanatically devoted to the group’s leader, Massoud Rajavi, and his wife, Maryam Rajavi.
Giuliani was reportedly one of the chief lobbyists behind the State Department’s decision to take the MEK off the terror list in 2012, a move that, according to terrorism scholar Mila Johns, “creates the dangerous impression that it is possible for terrorist organizations to buy their way off the list.”
In fact, the conference that hosted Giuliani’s Saturday speech was sponsored by a group known as the Organization of Iranian American Communities, described in a 2015 report by The Intercept as “an opaque network of Iranian-American community organizations” whose purpose was to press for the U.S. government to take the MEK off the terrorism list, and promote other MEK objectives.
The MEK itself was founded in 1965, according to a study by the RAND Corporation think tank, as an Islamist-Marxist group dedicated to overthrowing the U.S.-backed authoritarian government of Shah Reza Pahlavi. But when an Islamist revolution ousted the Shah in 1979, the MEK quickly turned against the new Iranian government as well.
When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, the MEK was designated as a “hostile force,” due to its support for then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The group also took part in Saddam’s bloody suppression of a Kurdish uprising after the first Gulf War in 1991, according to the RAND study.
The MEK took Iraq’s side in the bloody, eight-year Iran-Iraq War that dragged on from 1980 to 1988, fighting against the military of its own home country. As a result, the group is said to be widely despised even today inside Iran.
The RAND report described the “cultic practices” of the MEK group, which had Giuliani on its payroll, saying that MEK members must recite “an oath of devotion to the Rajavis on the Koran,” and pledge themselves to a practice of “mandatory divorce and celibacy” with “love for the Rajavis to replace love for spouses and family.” But the Rajavis themselves were exempt from these strict rules governing their followers’ loyalty and sexual behavior.
Giuliani is not the only prominent figure in Trump’s inner circle who has long been a supporter of the bizarre MEK group. Trump’s recently hired National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has also been a staunch advocate for the MEK, leading Foreign Policy magazine to declare that the violent, anti-American and cult-like group “might finally have a voice in U.S. policy.”