When Your Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob Blows Up in Your Face

Last month, I argued that the John Dowd letter mapping out what amounted to a Joint Defense Agreement between the President, Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, and Dmitry Firtash (with Victoria Toensing, Joe DiGenova, and Dowd himself as the glue holding this orgy of corruption together) would one day go in a museum to memorialize how crazy things are. Right alongside that — I think after reading this NYT story — will go Trump’s written waiver of privilege as obtained by Jay Sekulow.

Mr. Parnas initially remained in Mr. Trump’s camp after House Democrats on Sept. 30 requested documents and testimony from him and Mr. Fruman. The men hired John Dowd, a lawyer who had earlier represented the president at one stage of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump signed off on the hiring of Mr. Dowd, according to an Oct. 2 email reviewed by The New York Times.

“I have discussed the issue of representation with the president. The president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman,” Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, wrote to Mr. Dowd, misspelling Mr. Fruman’s surname.

Dowd claims, his batshit letter notwithstanding, there was no tie between his representation of Trump and the magical selection of a bunch of grifters involved in Trump’s efforts to coerce electoral advantage from foreign countries.

Mr. Dowd said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s approval was sought “simply as a courtesy to the president,” because of the lawyer’s previous work for him. Mr. Dowd said he still represents Mr. Fruman.

A person close to Mr. Trump said that the email did not demonstrate that the president knew Mr. Parnas or Mr. Fruman personally but rather knew of them from media reports.

But now Parnas has decided to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry because Trump pretended not to know Parnas.

“We are willing to comply with the subpoena to the extent that it does not violate any appropriate privilege that Mr. Parnas may properly invoke,” said Joseph A. Bondy, who along with Edward B. MacMahon, Jr. now represents Mr. Parnas.

Mr. Bondy said that given the federal criminal charges, his client may invoke his right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself.

The turnabout occurred after Mr. Trump denied knowing Mr. Parnas when he was arrested.

“Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,” said Mr. Bondy, whose client has maintained that he has had extensive dealings with the president.

This move comes after Parnas’ (alleged) partner in crime, Igor Fruman, met spectacular failure at getting his bail conditions changed, after the prosecutor provided compelling evidence he tried to flee the country as soon as Congress subpoenaed him.

“What is clear is he was subpoenaed by Congress on October 7th, on the 8th he booked a one-way flight to Vienna, and on the 9th he was arrested on the jetway,” Roos said. “What was his reason to leave on such short notice? … Why such a rush to leave the country?”

Roos went on to detail Fruman’s many financial and political connections to Europe, attempting to demonstrate that Fruman could live a very pleasant life abroad if he were able to flee.

“He operates a bar called Buddha Bar” abroad, Roos said. He held up a printout of a glossy hotel brochure for the court to see, saying it listed Fruman as the president and CEO of a “luxury group” that owns a hotel, “restaurants, a beach club, and retail stores,” Roos told the court.

So maybe Parnas decided that “cooperating” (and I mean those scare quotes to be enormous) with Congress might be a quicker path to freedom.

Most other times that someone has protected Trump by demanding a pardon, Trump still held the leverage (in part, because they were dealing with DOJ, not an impeachment inquiry).

But at this point, I suspect, Parnas holds the upper hand, in part because SDNY is not that far into its investigation of the larger point of Parnas’ funding of the Republican Party (meaning, he has a pretty good idea of how bad things could get if the investigation is allowed to proceed unimpeded), and in part because the impeachment inquiry makes Parnas’ knowledge a far greater risk to Trump. He may be a grifter, but he put the pieces into place to  ensure he could take others down with him. And his marks were very easy marks. Plus, given he can claim both attorney-client and Fifth Amendment privileges, he may be able to neatly tailor what information he wants to release.

76 replies
  1. Tom says:

    I’m surprised President Trump would forget the estimable Mr. Parnas. After all, isn’t he the guy who likes to win friends and influence people by sending them dead rats in the mail?

  2. Jim White says:

    Okay, I’m still up to my eyeballs here with the new grandbaby and simultaneous failure of several pieces of major equipment around the house and farm, but this one got my attention.

    I’m wondering just how far back Parnas has documentation of knowing Trump. This would all become very interesting if there indeed was more to Parnas’ interactions with the Trump family than helping to sell a few of Fred’s coops way back in the late 80’s. If he was deeper than that then, he could be in position to do some serious damage on fronts that will take everyone but those who’ve been paying the closest attention very much by surprise.

  3. Bill Spransy says:

    What are the chances Mr. Parnas is overcome with the same wave of guilt that washed over Jeffrey Epstein before he met the rope?

    • While We're At It says:

      He pulled an El Chapo; alive via a trade.

      One day he’s a billionaire, the next a millionaire with less than 400,000,000. Convenient for his estate and his new home country taking him in for his skills and all.

      • bmaz says:

        Hilarious. You understand, I hope, that the “hyoid bone” blather out on the internet is stupid and that the injuries found on Epstein, including the “hyoid bone” one are deemed by most all professional ME’s except the one hired for big money gun of the Epstein family, who desperately wants an answer, any answer, other than suicide…is that Epstein’s injuries are indeed consistent with suicide given his age and body characteristics? You understand that, right?

        • P J Evans says:

          There are a surprising number of people who are buying into the CT about Epstein’s death, for one or another reason.

  4. Steve Wise says:

    Always appreciate how you distill this information so people who aren’t lawyers can understand what’s going on.

    In any case, it seems Trump really may be able to kill someone on 5th Ave and get away with it. No matter what he does, some very powerful people help wriggle him out of trouble.

    Honestly, these guys could have Trump in video chatting with Putin and laughing it up about how they stole the elections and nothing will happen. Did you see the polls today?

    What we’ve learned with Trump as President, is our democracy and Constitution will not hold unless we have two political parties upholding the law. Right now Parnas, Fruman, and all the rest won’t matter. After the Reeps in Congress read The NY Times poll, they’re going to back Trump through another four years of chaos and lawlessness.

      • Steve Wise says:

        Thanks, though I’ve been reading Marcy and EmptyWheel since the early years of the Bush Admin and her work with Firedoglake. Thankful this site is still producing relevenet material….so many others had to get out for health and other reasons. Reeps do literally make those of us who care physically ill.

    • Tom says:

      Why should Trump stop at shooting one person on 5th Avenue if he feels like it? What’s to stop him from pulling out an AR-15 at one of his MAGA rallies and spraying the crowd with magazine after magazine? According to his lawyer, William Consovoy, nothing! In the sense that Trump can’t be charged until he leaves office, which is why he’s so desperate to cling to the Presidency–i.e., to avoid facing the consequences of the crimes he’s already committed–a point which I wish the media would make more explicitly rather than talking vaguely of “Trump’s political ambitions” or “for reasons of domestic politics”.

      • Wm. Boyce says:

        ” What’s to stop him from pulling out an AR-15 at one of his MAGA rallies and spraying the crowd with magazine after magazine? According to his lawyer, William Consovoy, nothing!”

        Ah, it wouldn’t be a rally, it’d be a news conference.

        • e.a.f. says:

          Wondered where trump got the idea of shooting someone on 5th Ave. and getting away with it, then I remembered, back in the day, there was an African dictator who shot a number of children, who protested the cost of school uniforms. Can’t remember the name of the guy or country, but do remember some of his actions and in my opinion don’t differ that much from trump’s. trump talks about “shit hole” countries, but his actions do seem to be in the same league as some of the dictators of these ‘shithole” countries.

          At least the U.S.A. has a criminal justice system which can deal with these types of “shithole” actions. Looking forward to having trump and his gang behind bars at some future date.

        • ernesto1581 says:

          I think that would be Jean-Bedel Bokassa, self-proclaimed Emperor of Central Africa in the late ’70’s. A charming fellow, convicted in absentia of treason, murder, cannibalism, and I forget what all.

          In the words of Ray Walston aka Mr. Applegate,

          “Yehahaha, those were the good old days.
          I’d walk a million miles or more,
          for some of that gore,
          of those good…..old….daaaays.”

        • Tom says:

          Somehow I don’t think Trump would have to look as far afield as Africa to find examples of people being shot in the street in broad daylight for no good reason.

        • Tom says:

          Yes, and that’s the point I wish the media would make more sharply; i.e., that the Ukraine scandal is part of Trump’s increasingly desperate attempts to stay out of jail, that it’s more than just “subverting national policy for domestic partisan concerns” or some similar wordage.

        • MissingGeorgeCarlin says:

          An older woman (Librarian) was shot and killed down in Punta Gorda, FL a few years ago by a cop during a Police Dept. “training exercise”. He brought in his personal gun and a whole series of common sense failures later….dead woman.

          Of course, he was just found “innocent” via a “deal” with the Prosecutor that the woman’s family knew nothing about until it hit the papers.

          You don’t need to go to a big, dangerous city to find dead people in the street for no reason. This is the USA, the country that lost it’s collective mind.

    • OldTulsaDude says:

      The two unwritten norms that have preserved this republic are the reluctance to use official powers improperly and mutual toleration of the opposition party. The Tea Party began the assault on mutual toleration; it was only a matter of time until a president began to wield his powers for self-enrichment.

      • skua says:

        I’m not clear whether the Tea Party was the first to realize that it could do that and retain sufficient support to advance its objectives or whether it did that and enough people then decided to begin or continue their support of the Tea Party.

        There is another event that I’m similarly unclear about – that being a President lying when under oath.

        My inclination is to see both these events as having caused future negative events.

        But I suspect that a more accurate understanding come from seeing these events as being acceptable actions inside pre-existing social mores.
        That if the actions of the Tea Party had been unacceptable to sufficient people then the Tea Party would have disappeared or changed.
        And that if the actions of the President had been unacceptable to sufficient people then he would have been removed from office.

        This “acceptable action” view, if applied to the possibility of future Trump-like Presidents, suggests that “more critical” people are needed as electors, Representatives, Senators, officials.
        Which raises the troubling question of, “How can “more critical” people happen?”
        And the more troubling question, “How can things work if we get “less critical” people?

        (I also think stricter laws regulating the power of the Executive are needed to hinder bad actors. These laws face the problem that the party that is holding the office of POTUS would restrict their own power by passing these laws.)

        • OldTulsaDude says:

          The framework that in the past we used to determine truth has been virtually eliminated. In its place, we have a bombardment of opposing biases and some outright propaganda.

        • timbo says:

          The US Is one place where being a fringe loony is legally acceptable. That being the case, it’s unlikely that the mentality of folks like the Bundy brothers or Tea Partiers will ever be far from view. What is unacceptable to a decent society is the idea that any person is above others within the legal framework, that somehow one person is absolved of all responsibility because they are in charge.

    • William Bennett says:

      Re 5th Ave: I understand that the current Russopublican response is that it all depends on why he shot the person.

  5. lawrence a fisher says:

    He’ll cooperate like Manafort did. Strictly to get information. Don’t forget that these two characters really work for Firtash, a Putin oligarch. I’m sure Rep Schiff is aware of this.

  6. Charles says:

    What’re the odds that Parnas pulls a Manafort? Like Lawrence (above), I can’t believe that someone as mobbed up as Parnas would flip. As far as I know, he’s not under federal protection. If he’s threatening to say anything important, there are people who could make sure that he won’t.

    • Bay State Librul says:

      A vote for Lawrence and Charles.
      Parnas is a lying sack of shit.
      More legal maneuvers.
      Lawyers are taking to us to new places where we have never been before.
      Law school deans must be contemplating new courses such as: “How you can make up crazy, fake, and delusional strategies so I can charge a heavy fee and get me client off”

    • BobCon says:

      I think there is a good chance he is useless, but I don’t think it is a sure thing.

      He must realize a pardon is far from a sure thing, and there is a good chance the feds have more on him than what they charged when he tried to flee the country.

      I’m skeptical of claims that Putin or mobsters will try to kill a prominent US citizen witness, although there are no doubt plenty of other ways they can intimidate him. So there is that argument against serious cooperation.

      But it is also possible he is too radioactive now to jump back into the fraud guarantee game, he may be looking at huge legal costs, and he may have good reason to fear being thrown under the bus by Trump’s people.

      So I wouldn’t rule out he is rattling the bars of his cage to see who comes running with an offer. He may not be hearing anything from anyone and is getting nervous.

      • Jockobadger says:

        Right now this guy’s f-cked – he knows it. His only way out is to throw tr*mp under the bus. He cannot rely on a pardon and he knows it.

        Bolton is the real fly in the ointment. He knows what was going on with Rudy, what was going on with the actual extortion that has occurred, and he will spill it when the time is right (for him,)

        Curiouser and curiouser.

  7. Mitch Neher says:

    No immunity for anyone–least of all “The Volga [Don] Bagmen” (c/o Charles P. Pierce).

    Make them all bend like river birches straining under the wind load. The celebrated Russian [Ukrainian] fatalism demands no less.

    • Mitch Neher says:

      Parnas is probably going to try to offer to Congress the same conspiracy theories that he had paid Guiliani to peddle.

      It’s a good thing that Republicans don’t have enough votes to grant Parnas immunity.


      1 day ago … Parnas and Fruman, both American citizens born in the former Soviet … they were spreading conspiracy theories that Ukraine, not Russia, had …

  8. Frank Anon says:

    All these characters hold out hope they will be the One. Michael Cohen is sitting in jail, Mueller is if not discredited, at least diminished. Either the time is right and Parnas is in the right place that it doesn’t matter, or another hope is dashed.

    • William Bennett says:

      Millbank: “…Giuliani’s plans to get Ukraine to come up with compromising material on Joe Biden…”

      I mean, yeah, kinda sorta, that’s the way everyone keeps putting it out there in the beltway media, but it’s worth keeping an eye to the fact that in the actual “transcript” it’s explicitly the HEADLINE that they were demanding from Zelensky as the quid for the pro qo. They just wanted Zelensky to “get in front of a microphone” and say it, so it would be out there in the media per Cokie’s Rulez, and thus walled off from being attributable to them and thus more “authentic” and authoritative. Presumably they know as well as anyone that there’s nothing substantive to be found. Why even bother when the headline would do the political job for them, which is all this was about.

  9. retr2327 says:

    “Trump’s written waiver of privilege as obtained by Jay Sekulow.” Somewhat puzzled. The text describes what I would think is a written waiver of conflict, not of privilege (although the arguably joint representation might have privilege implications).

  10. Pete says:

    Thanks for the summary, which ties things together nicely. The one thing missing (perhaps more from the Comments than the post) is that ALL the rats have their priorities, including the larger rodents. At some point, McConnell will find it in his interest to dump Trump, and he will; but just as important, Putin and his network of financial and political allies will also, for the same reason, which is probably what Parnas is anticipating. Both events will be extremely dangerous but also provide an opportunity. The next year or so is gong to be … interesting.

    • @elk_l says:

      Yes. I do agree that Putin has a shiv ready for jamming into Trump’s back whenever he decides the time is right. Trump won’t even feel it going in for quite awhile.

  11. e.a.f. says:

    Most people do not like being “denied”. Telling the world you don’t know some one when you do, it hurts. It also sends a message, don’t count on me. Parnas, most likely decided he had to look after himself because he wasn’t going to be getting any help. no one has been “pardoned” by trump in this mess and it is doubtful anyone will be.

    I’m just waiting for trump to tell the world guilliane is acting on his own and not at his direction……….oh, I truly do believe we will see that day……..around election time.

    • timbo says:

      I want to know if or Cohen has been/will be deposed about these guys. Basically, Cohen is part of the larger circle of folks involved here and it would be interesting to hear his take on Parnas and Fruman. I mean, wasn’t Cohen made financial chair of the RNC just before he was forced to resign and report to prison?

  12. Larry Rosansky says:

    Two things: First, I haven’t seen the Sekulow email referred to in the NYT piece, but it appears to be a waiver of conflict-of-interest, which would be required if Dowd seeks to represent someone whose interests potentially conflict with those of a current client (Trump is a former client, but recent enough that Dowd felt like confirming to be safe). My understanding is that waiver of the potential conflict merely allows Dowd to represent Parnas — it does NOT in any way relieve Dowd of his duty to protect privileged material from other representations.
    Second, and this is off-topic . . . the Constitution lists Bribery as a high crime requiring removal from office, and we now have overwhelming evidence that Trump took part in a plot to solicit a bribe from Ukraine. On what basis do people simultaneously believe (1) that the Senate will (in complete disregard of the constitution) fail to remove Trump, and (2) that if the Dems appear to win a presidential victory in 2020, Trump will leave office voluntarily (and by so doing, subject him, his family, and his top cabinet officials to criminal prosecution)? If Trump gets to decide the facts in light of all evidence to the contrary, it seems pretty clear to me that he’s going to claim to “win” the election and remain in office in 2020 irrespective of how people vote, and no one in the federal government will stop him.

    • BobCon says:

      I think the odds are the Senate will not have enough GOP votes to remove him.

      I think a 2020 concession depends on the margin. A large EC margin probably makes it too painful for the GOP to back Trump.

      But if the Dem wins by a slim margin in one to three states, I would not rule out anything, including a reverse Bush v. Gore by the conservative Supremes allowing crazy litigation and blocking a rightful victory.

  13. Hops says:

    Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,”

    I.e., will not pardon him?

  14. Oxcart says:

    Meanwhile, Igor Fruman is growing tired of being the quiet guy who looks like a wall with a broken thumb for a head.

  15. Nehoa says:

    Your observation that the Dowd letter that amounts to a declaration of a JDA with Trump and Firtash as participants may go down in the history of this episode of our nation’s history as a crystallization of the larger picture. It brings together all of the things that Trump et al are doing in service of Putin’s strategic aims. One of Putin’s great ambitions is getting Ukraine under Russian control again. Trump has in so many ways served that purpose. This JDA illustrates the connections between Trump and some of Putin’s other assets.

  16. Vinnie Gambone says:

    Not enough is being made of what corruption in ukraine looks like. Buzzfeed wrote that $40 Billion in state assets were “easily” moved out of state and prosecutors did not follow leads. How many other Firtash’s are there? Was Trump, through Manafort, et al , angling to become the means through which the Firtash gang would launder that money? How much of that is still in offshore accounts still waiting to be laundered. No wonder Firtash didn’t blink at paying $130 Million to avoid extradition to USA. The magnitude of a $40 Billion theft in a country of Ukraine’s size is mind boggling. If Trump’s clamor for corruption investigations were along the lines of :find out where the $40 billion went and I’ll give you the Javelins, that would be one thing. But he has no interest of Ukraine getting to the bottom of it’s real corruption, just the corruption that has to do with Biden’s kid. BTW someone should run a list of all the Senator’s kids and where they get paid. Just that Hunter got the job was corruption enough for me to drop Biden flat. Trump should have said find out who has the $40 Billion and tell them to call me or Jared so we can sell them some property.

  17. BillyBob says:

    I suspect Parnas will not reveal anything. Too connected, and witness protection would be not enough to convince him.

  18. Tom says:

    Caught a bit of Ari Melber’s panel discussion yesterday on Trump and the Ukraine. Pleased to hear terms such as “the shakedown” and “the bribery plot” used instead of the bland “Ukraine scandal”.

  19. Frank Probst says:

    I missed this part the first time I read this, and I think it’s significant enough to highlight: Parnas fired Dowd and is now represented by a different legal team. That boosts the chances that this might be a serious cooperation offer. Granted, the “boost” is from about 1% to about 4%, so it’s not saying much, but it’s still a key part of the story.

  20. Fran of the North says:

    I’ve been wondering what the inciting event was for Trump’s visceral dislike of Ukraine in general, and Ambassador Yovanovitch in particular.

    Vinnie’s comment above leads me to this: I wonder if the combined efforts of President Zelensky and Yovanovitch had the effect of reducing the number of buyers for Trump real estate??? Either that or somebody told His Perfectness that there wouldn’t be an eponymous building in Kyiv.

    When in doubt, follow the money.

    • Vicks says:

      “All roads lead to Russia”
      Or Putin.
      Rudy, the useful idiot in this case, lost what was left of his mind chasing the Ukraine bait skillfully manufactured by the Russians and spread by a-holes with a-hole agendas
      And the next thing you know Russia and Ukraine are at war and Putin, the master manipulator has the President of the United States withholding military weapons/aid.

      • Tom says:

        The Democrats appear to want to focus their impeachment hearings on the President’s efforts to bribe and extort the Ukrainians to provide ‘evidence’ that will help Trump stay in office so as to avoid jail, but I hope the public hearings will expand on this. It would be good to hear from Ambassador Yovanovitch if she has information regarding the sale of weapons and other lethal aid to Ukraine; i.e., was it just another example of Trump trying to one-up Obama (see CNN story of Sept. 26, 2019 “Fact-checking Trump’s claim that Obama gave Ukraine ‘pillows and sheets’) or is there any evidence that Trump approved sending lethal aid to the Ukrainians just to use the threat of withholding it as leverage later on. William Taylor might have information on this point as well.

        Also, it would be good to know if Yovanovitch and Taylor have any information regarding the President’s general policy towards Ukraine. What was behind Trump’s advice to President Zelensky that he negotiate a settlement with Putin? What was Trump’s position on the Russian occupation of Crimea? Was Trump willing to sell out Ukraine and watch it become a Russian satellite state again?

        Finally, what led Taylor to fear for a “nightmare scenario” whereby Zelensky would publically announce he was carrying out the President’s wish-list but then have Trump renege on the deal and not send the weapons after all? And how does all of this fit into the report Barr is preparing that will supposedly let Russia off the hook for its efforts to sabotage the 2016 election by blaming it on Ukraine? Are the Ukrainians going to be fighting a war on two fronts: a military one with the Russians and a PR/smear campaign from Trump and the DOJ?

        • bmaz says:

          What would be good is if the House Democrats got their heads out of their asses and put all of the Trump crime wave out on display. Frankly, the obstruction and destruction of Congressional oversight is far more critical than the Ukraine thing.

  21. Vicks says:

    Speaking of a-holes.
    Why isn’t demanding the whistle blower be outed, witness tampering?
    Who the hell does that?
    I am so sick of these freaking goons and the people that support them

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