Moron-Contra and Gordon Sondland’s Venezuela Involvement

The WaPo today clarified that the meeting Criminal Division head Brian Benczkowski took with suspected foreign agent Rudy Giuliani after SDNY started to focus on his influence peddling was not, as I and other suspected, to pitch Dmitry Firtash’s case. But it did have a tie to Rudy’s Ukraine influence peddling.

Rudy was pitching the case of Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López, who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a different money-laundering case.

Giuliani was one of several lawyers representing Betancourt in Washington. The lawyers met with the chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government attorneys to argue that the wealthy Venezuelan should not face criminal charges as part of a $1.2 billion money-laundering case filed in Florida last year, said the people, who, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The criminal complaint alleges that top officials of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, elite business leaders and bankers conspired to steal money from the company and then launder it through Miami real estate purchases and other investment schemes.

Betancourt is not one of the eight men charged in the case, a group that includes his cousin. But a person familiar with the matter said that he is referred to in the criminal complaint as a uncharged co-conspirator, as previously reported by the Miami Herald.

And when Rudy and Lev Parnas were in Madrid in early August to coach Yermak on what Volodymyr Zelensky had to do to get Trump to deliver on his promises, Betancourt hosted them.

When Rudolph W. Giuliani went to Madrid in August to confer with a top aide to the Ukrainian president and press for political investigations sought by President Trump, he also met with a previously unidentified client with very different interests.

While in Spain, Giuliani stayed at a historic estate belonging to Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López, who had hired Trump’s personal attorney to help him contend with an investigation by the Justice Department into alleged money laundering and bribery, according to people familiar with the situation.


During the trip, Giuliani met with Yermak at a hotel in Madrid, according to people familiar with the trip.

But he — along with Parnas and Fruman — stayed at an expansive estate belonging to Betancourt on the grounds of an ancient castle once used by Spanish royalty, the people said.

Effectively, then, Rudy’s ability to get Benczkowski to take his meeting subsidized Trump’s effort to coerce political benefits out of Ukraine.

As I have noted, Beczkowski’s claims of ignorance of investigations into Rudy might be true, but one way or another, they make it clear DOJ really went out of its way not to investigate the whistleblower complaint involving Rudy, Parnas, and Fruman, because if they had they would have known Rudy was under criminal investigation at the time of the meeting.

This story — in which one corrupt oligarch pays for Rudy to get other corrupt oligarchs to invent dirt on Trump’s enemies — makes the name some have adopted for this scandal — Moron-Contra — even more evocative, as Iran-Contra depended on slushing cash around various countries around the world.

The WaPo’s story notes the comparison to Iran-Contra may go still further. Fiona Hill expressed concern about what the Ukrainian grifters were doing in Venezuela.

In a closed-door deposition given to congressional investigators on Oct. 14, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill alluded to the possibility of a Venezuela tie to the ongoing Ukraine saga.

“I was told that by the directors working on the Western Hemisphere. I didn’t have a chance to look into this in any way. I was told that the same individuals who had been indicted had been interested at different points in energy investments in Venezuela and that this was quite well-known,” she said, referring to Parnas and Fruman, according to a transcript later released.

She did not detail the information she had been given, only that she had learned the two were “notorious in Florida” and involved with “strange things in Venezuela.”

“Well, I was extremely concerned that whatever it was that Mr. Giuliani was doing might not be legal, especially after, you know, people had raised with me these two gentlemen, Parnas and Fruman,” she said.

But there’s still another connection. As I noted when Gordon Sondland released his first of thus far three statements to Congress, he explicitly said that his mandate as Ambassador to the EU extended to (!!!) Georgia, Iran, and Venezuela.

My involvement in issues concerning Ukraine, while a small part of my overall portfolio, was nevertheless central to my ambassadorial responsibilities. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to other non-EU countries, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Georgia, with respect to which my Mission and I coordinate closely with our EU partners to promote policies that reflect our common values and interests.

So the way in which Betancourt ties Venezuela to Moron-Contra should raise further questions about why the Ambassador to the EU has any business in Venezuela.

68 replies
  1. CaliLawyer says:

    Oooo, the invasion of Venezuela rears its nasty head again. Is Sekulow still on tv slobbering about Venezuelan oil?

  2. PeeJ says:

    Wow… this is just getting creepier by the day. I don’t suppose those Miami properties were Trump or Kushner properties too, were they? I wonder if we’ll ever know how big this is. Just more stuff Putin has on Trump.

    • TooLoose LeTruck says:

      I was just about to ask that question… about the Miami properties…

      Are there not Russian mercs on the ground in Venezuela now?

      Oh yeah… there are! Wonderful… the Wagner Group…

      I remember back when I first read that Maduro had accepted a massive loan from Putin and pledged Venezuelan oil fields as collateral… I didn’t like it then and I like all of this even less now…

      Russians… on the ground… in S America… so much for the Monroe Doctrine…

      What a spectacular shit show this is turning into… Vlad’s gotta be loving this…

    • Thebuzzardman says:

      Thanks for posting that question about Trump/Kushner possible money laundering. It’s the EXACT first thing that popped into my mind reading this.

  3. P J Evans says:

    An honest SoS would have shut Sondland down when he started getting into areas far outside the EU. An honest president wouldn’t have been looking for dirt on a political rival.
    We have a gang of criminals in charge, and they’re planning to stay there indefinitely.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Iran, Georgia, Venezuela, Ukraine?

    Nothing logically connects those countries sufficiently to have a single, political appointee in charge of them, working on the State Department’s dime and with its imprimatur. (At the expense of an under-represented and lobbied EU – which sets a common foreign policy for most of Western Europe.)

    That must mean the “appointment” is something personal, rather than presidential, for Donald Trump. The first possibilities that come to mind are oil & gas deals, money laundering, and networking with various bent oligarchs, who often act in support of Vladimir Putin.

      • Peterr says:

        Ding ding ding.

        To be fair to Sondland, diplomats with the rank of ambassador who have appointments to non-nations have less-than-obvious lines of responsibility. To use an example outside this mess in Ukraine, Sam Brownback is the US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, which in theory allows/requires him to be involved all around the globe. In exercising that responsibility in a particular geographic country, he is also required to work with and through the US Ambassador in that country — but he is within his responsibility to be interested and get involved. It does not make him superior to the local ambassador, but puts him on the same level.

        With Sondland, energy issues are a very big deal in the EU these days, including especially the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for natural gas from Russia to Germany. Thus, for him to have interests in other energy-driven nations is not at all surprising.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I think that analogy with Sondland is strained. The EU does, in fact, set a common foreign policy for western Europe. It does it in a complicated process that involves Brussels and member state capitals.

          The coordination necessary to pursue American interests in that process is considerable. If it’s being done under Trump, it’s being done below the ambassador’s level. Gordon is otherwise engaged.

          I suspect, though, that since Vlad thinks the EU’s policies and pesky rules get in his way, Trump – like the UK’s Brexiteers – is only interested in throwing the occasional monkey wrench into its works.

        • P J Evans says:

          One of my uncles was with an offshore drilling company. Others, in the generation before that, also worked in oil. You learn this stuff.

        • AMG says:

          especially because the nord stream 2 bypasses/screws ukraine, poland, and the baltics AND bonus, it’s been sowing discord among EU members. that’s a win-win for putin.

        • vvv says:

          I recall in the recent testimony that one of the witnesses, perhaps Sondland himself, “explaining” that Ukraine was in his remit because it was “aspirational” towards NATO.

    • Mitch Neher says:

      One of the grievances of the Donestk and Luhansk separatist militias is that the central government of The Ukraine in Kyiv refused even to consider allowing Donetsk and Luhansk to opt out of The Ukraine’s integration into The European Union.

      Please don’t ask me what that has to do with Venezuela. Because I do not know. And I’m still busy lifting myself by the hair everyday now, anyhow.

    • Cathy says:

      Dr. Hill’s reference to Venezuela in her testimony was clearly as deliberate as it was vague. Taken in conjunction with her statement early in the session that she would not comment on the President’s calls (beyond the one he had obviously declassified), it makes me wonder how many times we would hear about Venezuela if the Trump-Putin calls were released. Remember Hill referencing calls she “self-directed” to report to the lawyers?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Reminds me of the list of countries in Three Days of the Condor, a book translated only into Dutch, Spanish, and Arabic.

    • Geoguy says:

      It always seems to be about the oil (or gas), who has it, how it gets out and where the money flows. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that Venezuela has the world’s largest proven reserves followed by Saudi Arabia and then Iran. Venezuela is in a warm climate and not to far from our Gulf coast refineries. It also produces a heavier oil that our refineries are suited to processing. Saudi Arabia’s problem with their Saudi Aramco IPO is that no one outside the country really has a good idea of how much they have left. The West of course has been busy trying to keep Iran’s oil off the market.

  5. punaise says:

    Did Sondland exceed his briefs? Depends.

    Based on his chair-squirming testimony it would be irresponsible not to ask.

  6. David Karson says:

    OT / Can anyone provide any color on the letter that Giuliani sent to Lindsey Graham on 11/22 regarding Joe Biden. Giuliani is claiming that he has 3 witnesses that can testify about Biden and Ukraine. Is assume it is just a bunch of typical Giuliani codswallop and misinformation, especially since he does the typical smear on Schiff in the beginning of the letter. But I don’t know what he is referring to and was hoping someone on this board has more insight into his allegations. TIA. Dave Karson

    • Peterr says:

      He seems to be actually successful at running hotels, and his foundation actually gives money to charitable causes. He also coughed up an actual $1m to the Trump inauguration, which suggests he actually has money and puts it to use, rather than simply accounts for it on paper.

      Trump, OTOH, . . . not so much.

  7. Matthew Harris says:

    My own summary of this is that it is a lot to keep track of, as the parade of sketchy governments and sketchy foreign transactions multiplies, but what would surprise me is if there is nothing that Giuliani did that couldn’t be prosecuted under Structuring or FBAR.

    As I understand it, both structuring and FBAR are probably really easy to get an indictment for, but hard to get a conviction for. It is in paper and in black and white that someone took 6,000 dollars out of their bank every day for a week, or that someone had a 30,000 dollar bank account in Bermuda that they never told the IRS about…but those things are also very hard to get a conviction for, because they have to have proof of intent. They had evidence that Paul Manafort specifically asked his accountant to lie, and there were still at least one person on the jury who wasn’t sure there was intent. So I am imagining that while they can probably already get Giuliani on something financial, because that is a lot of money juggling around, they aren’t sure they have an 80-90% conviction probability with it, which is what federal prosecutors like.

  8. e.a.f. says:

    so it reads like a novel where a bunch of billionaires and wanna be billionaires figured out if one of them became president of the U.S.A. they could all make a lot of money. they could move around the world setting up their businesses influencing governments, removing rivals all under the protection of the political arm of the american government. The oligarchs of Russia need to expand their business they’ve most likely gotten as much as the can out of RUSSIA and now they need other countries. Rudy is only too happy to help, given his need to feel important.
    What I find some what amuzing is they spend so much time in these oil and gas countries while in the next 50 years much of those resources won’t be used and with climate change some of these countries will not be in good shape enviornmentally. Buying land now in Florida doesn’t make sense with rising ocean levels. oh, well lots of these crooks are good at being crooks but they aren’t that bright.

  9. Jenny says:

    Thank you Marcy. Spot on: “So the way in which Betancourt ties Venezuela to Moron-Contra should raise further questions about why the Ambassador to the EU has any business in Venezuela.”

    Remember it took Sondland 3 times to update his impeachment testimony. Frankly, I am surprised he still has a job as Ambassador to the EU.

  10. Jenny says:

    Saw this on Marcy’s Twitter: See this thread for background.

    Susan Simpson on Twitter:
    The impeachment inquiry has been crippled from the beginning by the Exec Branch’s obstruction, and its refusal to produce any records to the House.
    But detailed, contemporaneous documentation showing Sondland lied in his testimony does exist. Because the NSC lawyers have it.
    10:37 AM – 22 Nov 2019

    For me, an excellent time line and explanation – great sleuthing.

  11. Maureen A Donnelly says:

    By the way, Moron-Contra is PERFECT. Happy Thanksgiving. “Contra” is another example of how language, in this case–Central American Spanish, gets co-opted for evil (e.g., collusion). Once Somoza was overthrown in 1979, the Sandinistas ruled as a a single body (junta), but like all good things, it began to have internal disagreements. On the other side, the “Somocistas” were still jonesing for the old, corrupt, regime. Comandante Zero, a member of the original Sandinistan junta, broke off, formed a group near the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border and his group were known as the “Contras”–they were still against the old regime. When Zero ran out of gas, the Somocistas co-opted “Contra” and then got in bed with Ollie North, Ronnie Rayguns and another corrupt Republican administration to trade drugs for arms with Iran. I watched all the Nicaraguan story play out while I was a doctoral student working on poison frogs in northeastern Costa Rica (1979-1987 . . .)

  12. Pete T says:

    Haven’t a clue is this leads anywhere. I mean South Florida is A money laundering capitol of the world. But a (Leopoldo) Alejandro Betancourt López as principal in a company named named Derwick Associates USA LLC, which was 2011 INACT LLC (via in Ft. Lauderdale, was sued in Miami via the company Derwick Associates in 2019: Derwick Associates USA LLC was located in Ft. Lauderdale, Broward County FL. I am unaware of any Trump properties in Miami except Doral. I have asked Mr Sleuth Jim White to dig. There generally are no coincidences with these criminals.

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “People are saying” that instead of a free toaster for opening an account, Deutsche Bank is offering loan officers who make loans to Donald Trump a one-time only discount at Ropes ‘R Us.

    Sad news for Mr. Bowers and his family. But the connection with the endlessly corrupt Deutsche Bank and Donald Trump would explain why investigators would look further into this.

  14. dat says:

    I presume others have recalled this, and (unlike myself) are restrained by the correct spelling fairy.
    Recall the ACA fight? One of the notorious picket signs? I’m sure you all are speaking of Moran-Contra.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The hits keep on coming. It’s as if holiday weeks are becoming the new Friday night news dump.

    In 2016, ICE created a fake university – Farmington [MI] University – “recruited” an authenticate organization to vouch for it, and recruited foreign students to attend it. Most were from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. They obtained legitimate visas to come to the US and paid millions in hard-earned tuition. ICE arrested them – for attending a fake university – even students who transferred to legitimate schools after discovering the fraud.

    The supposed “sting” was on ICE and US taxpayers. What did and will this cost taxpayers, what more harm will it do to US standing abroad, and what happened to the tuition money?

    The Trump rot has clearly metastasized. It will take years of Reformatherapy to send it into remission.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Early 2016, of course, is during Obama’s administration. ICE and all of DHS are badly in need of auditing, congressional oversight, and substantial reform. As constituted, they are not fit for purpose.

      The Heimatsicherheitsdienst was set up post-9/11 by Dick Cheney’s minions to crush federal labor unions. The purposes of the agencies they lumped together vary so much, they should not be part of a single department. They have had so much money thrown at them for so long, without oversight, that they have gone feral.

      • Valley girl says:

        icck indeed. And, I did read the article before posting the link. Based on my personal experience (being stalked by an undergrad prof when I was in college, plus several other subsequent experiences) and shared stories with other women, most often these men are repeat offenders.

      • Eureka says:


        [Aside: lol at woman’s sign — in photo from article, taken at protest outside one of his hotels — that says, “I’m too old to learn Russian. Impeach Trump.”]

  16. Vicks says:

    I don’t know,
    I’m struggling to see Trump’s fingerprints on some of this.
    Why would Rudy need to get rid of Yovanovitch to get the President of Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden?
    She wasn’t even there at the time.
    It kind of seems like Rudy was serving many masters, not just Trump.
    Trump didn’t seem to mind that Rudy was clearly whoring out their relationship maybe organizing a campaign to smear Biden was just payment for using his name.
    Like licensing his name for a hotel.

    • AndTheSlithyToves says:

      Where she was or who she was didn’t matter to these two ignoramuses–they’re both mobbed-up thugs.

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