Late in the evening on Oct. 16, Rudy Giuliani made a phone call to this reporter.
The fact that Giuliani was reaching out wasn't remarkable. He and the reporter had spoken earlier that night for a story about his ties toa fringe Iranian opposition group.
But this call, it would soon become clear, wasn't a typical case of a source following up with a reporter.
The call came in at 11:07 p.m. and went to voicemail; the reporter was asleep.
The next morning, a message exactly three minutes long was sitting in his voicemail. In the recording, the words tumbling out of Giuliani's mouth were not directed at the reporter. He was speaking to someone else, someone in the same room.
Giuliani can be heard discussing overseas dealings and lamenting the need for cash, though it's difficult to discern the full context of the conversation.
The call appeared to be one of the most unfortunate of faux pas: what is known, in casual parlance, as a butt dial.
And it wasn't the first time it had happened.
"You know," Giuliani says at the start of the recording. "Charles would have a hard time with a fraud case 'cause he didn't do any due diligence."
It wasn't clear who Charles is, or who may have been implicated in a fraud. In fact, much of the message's first minute is difficult to comprehend, in part because the voice of the other man in the conversation is muffled and barely intelligible.
But then Giuliani says something that's crystal clear.
"Let's get back to business."
He goes on.
"I gotta get you to get on Bahrain."
Giuliani is well-connected in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Last December, he visited the Persian Gulf nation and had a one-on-one meeting with King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa in the royal palace. "King receives high-level U.S. delegation," read the headline of the state-run Bahrain News Agency blurb about the visit.
Giuliani runs a security consulting company, but it's not clear why he would have a meeting with Bahrain's king. Was he acting in his capacity as a consultant? As Trump's lawyer? Or as an international fixer running a shadow foreign policy for the president?
In May, Giuliani told the Daily Beast his firm had signed a deal with Bahrain to advise its police force on counter-terrorism measures. But the Bahrain News Agency account of the meeting suggested Giuliani was viewed more like an ambassador than a security consultant. "HM the King praised the longstanding Bahraini-U.S. relations, noting keenness of the two countries to constantly develop them," it said.
The voicemail yielded no details about the meeting. But Giuliani can be heard telling the man that he's "got to call Robert again tomorrow."
"Is Robert around?" Giuliani asks.
"He's in Turkey," the man responds.
Giuliani replies instantly. "The problem is we need some money."
The two men then go silent. Nine seconds pass. No word is spoken. Then Giuliani chimes in again.
"We need a few hundred thousand," he says.
It's unclear what the two men were talking about. But Giuliani is known to have worked closely with a Robert who has ties to Turkey.
His name is Robert Mangas, and he's a lawyer at the firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, as well as a registered agent of the Turkish government.
Giuliani himself was employed by Greenberg Traurig until about May 2018.
Mangas provided an affidavit in the case of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader charged in the United States with laundering Iranian money in a scheme to evade American sanctions.
Giuliani was brought on to assist Zarrab in 2017. He traveled to Turkey with his former law partner Michael Mukasey and attempted to strike a deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to secure the release of their jailed client, alarming the federal prosecutor leading the case.
Giuliani and Mangas were both employed by Greenberg Traurig at the time. The firm and Mangas had registered with the Justice Department to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of Turkey, according to an affidavit from Mangas.
Mangas provided the affidavit at the request of a judge to explain whether there was any conflict in Giuliani representing Zarrab while still employed by a firm registered to lobby on behalf of Turkey.
Mangas, who did not return a request for comment, says in the court document that Giuliani was never involved in the representation of Turkey.
A Greenberg Traurig spokesperson said Mangas has not been to Turkey since 2013 and therefore could not have been the person discussed on the call.
"Mr. Mangas has not spoken to Mr. Giuliani since before he left Greenberg Traurig in May 2018," the spokesperson added in a statement provided to NBC News after the story was published.
In the voicemail, Giuliani's conversation partner can be heard responding to the "few hundred thousand" comment. But it's possible to make out only the beginning of his answer, and even that is somewhat garbled.
"I'd say even if Bahrain could get, I'm not sure how good [unintelligible words] with his people," the man says.
"Yeah, okay," Giuliani says.
"You want options? I got options," the man says.
"Yeah, give me options," Giuliani replies.
The exchange took place at the 2:20 mark in the voicemail message. The other man does most of the talking in the remaining 40 seconds, and it's difficult to piece together what he says.
Not the first time
By the time of that call, it was already clear that Giuliani butt dials don't only happen after 11 p.m.
The late-night Giuliani butt dial came 18 days after a midafternoon Giuliani butt dial.
The first one happened when the NBC News reporter was at a fifth-birthday party for an extended family member in Central Jersey.
It was 3:37 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, and a pink unicorn piñata had just been strung up around a tree in the backyard.
Amid his 3-year-old daughter's excitement, the reporter decided to let Giuliani's call go to his voicemail.
The previous day, the reporter interviewed Giuliani for an article quoting several of his former Justice Department colleagues who said they believed he committed crimes in his effort to push the Ukrainians to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden.
After the pink unicorn piñata came the bouncy castle and then cake. It wasn't until at least an hour after the call that the reporter realized it had led to a three-minute voicemail, the maximum his phone allows.
In the message, Giuliani is heard talking to at least one other person. The conversation appears to pick up almost exactly where Giuliani's phone call with the reporter left off the day before, with Giuliani insisting he was the target of attacks because he was making public accusations about a powerful Democratic politician.
"I expected it would happen," Giuliani says at the start of the recording. "The minute you touch on one of the protected people, they go crazy. They come after you."
"You got the truth on your side," an unidentified man says.
"It's very powerful," Giuliani replies.
Giuliani spends the entire three minutes railing against the Bidens. He can be heard recycling many of the unfounded allegations he has been making on cable news and in interviews with print reporters.
Among the claims: that Biden intervened to stop an investigation of a Ukrainian gas company because his son Hunter sat on the board, and that Hunter Biden traded on his father's position as vice president to earn $1.5 billion from Chinese investors.
"There's plenty more to come out," Giuliani says. "He did the same thing in China. And he tried to do it in Kazakhstan and in Russia."
"It's a sad situation," he adds. "You know how they get? Biden has been been trading in on his public office since he was a senator."
Shortly after, Giuliani turns to Hunter Biden. "When he became vice president, the kid decided to go around the world and say, 'Hire me because I'm Joe Biden's son.' And most people wouldn't hire him because he had a drug problem."
Giuliani's effort to spur a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry underway in the House. And Wednesday, two of Giuliani's associates pleaded not guilty to making illegal campaign contributions in part to advance the interests of foreign nationals, including a former Ukrainian prosecutor who was involved in the effort to oust the country's former U.S. ambassador.
In the recording, Giuliani doesn't mention anything about his own activities in Ukraine and elsewhere. But he does make unfounded claims about Hunter Biden's overseas work.
"His son altogether made somewhere between 5 and 8 million," Giuliani says. "A 3 million transaction was laundered, which is illegal."
Last week, Hunter Biden said in an ABC News interview that he will step down from the board of the Chinese investment company that he joined in October 2017.
One of Hunter Biden's early business partners was Christopher Heinz, stepson of former Secretary of State John Kerry. But Heinz objected to Hunter Biden's decision to work for the Ukrainian gas company and ultimately cut ties with him. Heinz had nothing to do with the Chinese investment fund.
But in the voicemail message, Giuliani is heard telling his friend that Kerry's stepson was working for the same foreign entities that employed Hunter Biden.
"His partner was John Kerry's stepson," Giuliani said. "Secretary of State and the vice president for the price of one."
The recording ends the same way it began. "They don't want to investigate because he's protected, so we gotta force them to do it," Giuliani says, before apparently turning to the president's now-infamous call with the Ukrainian president.
"And the Ukraine, they're investigating him and they blocked it twice. So what the president was [unintelligible word], 'You can't keep doing this. You have to investigate this.' And they say it will affect the 2020 election."
"No it…." Giuliani adds, but the recording cuts off before he can finish the thought.
Over the last 10 days, Giuliani has given few media interviews.
Calls to his phone Thursday led to a recorded message saying his mailbox was full. The call has not been returned — at least not yet.