Lev Parnas Says Bill Barr Should Recuse … But Doesn’t Say Why

In this post, I laid out why Lev Parnas’ current publicity tour may not be as insane, from a defense standpoint, as it seems. I laid out how Barr would have significant ability to protect potential co-conspirators of Parnas — starting with Rudy and extending to Rudy’s client. I explained how Barr’s veto authority over some of this might limit Parnas’ ability to cooperate his way out of his legal problems, and at the very least increases the chance he’s stuck holding the bag for various plots that include far more powerful people. Most interesting, however, were the ways Parnas hinted at but stopped short of implicating Barr in the plot by suggesting,

  • He had been told, by Rudy and others, they had spoken to Barr about all this
  • He had witnessed Rudy and others speaking to Barr about all this
  • He might have texts proving Barr’s involvement, but couldn’t remember whether that was the case or not

To be clear: Parnas is obscuring the degree to which he insinuated himself in Trump’s circles to make all this possible. He is pretending everything he did was ordered by powerful Americans, when the evidence suggests otherwise. So it might not serve justice for him to try to cooperate with prosecutors (because he could well be the most responsible). But I’m beginning to understand how pursuing this angle might be a reasonable defensive approach.

Today, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy just sent a request to Barr requesting his recusal, copying it to his docket.

It actually flubs the argument it tries to make about how impeachment relates to this criminal case, describing how both the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call transcript and the whistleblower complaint mention Barr over and over, without mentioning that Parnas and Igor Fruman were also incorporated in the whistleblower complaint by repeated reference to this article, which includes the influence peddling for which the grifters were already indicted. That is, the case is far stronger than this letter lays out, because both Parnas and Barr were named in the whistleblower complaint.

Worse still, this letter doesn’t talk about any of the things Bill Barr’s DOJ has done that obstructed full investigation of the complaint:

  • Scoping the assessment of the complaint to specifically avoid connecting the complaint to the investigation of Parnas and Fruman
  • Not sharing the complaint, as required by MOU, with the FEC, which would have led the FEC to tie the complaint to the pre-existing investigation it had of Parnas and Fruman
  • Getting OLC to invent reason to withhold the complaint from Congress, which if it had been successful would have prevented all investigation of these activites

In short, the actions of DOJ overseen by Barr, not just his mention in the complaint and ties to Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, mandate his recusal. But for some reason (perhaps because that would be more aggressive than even Bondy is willing to go), Bondy doesn’t include those actions.

Most interestingly, Bondy doesn’t include any of the allegations Parnas had made publicly about Barr’s potential more direct role. Nor does he answer the question of whether or not Parnas has texts more directly implicating Barr.

What Bondy does do, in the wake of the press blitz he has choreographed, is note that “evidence has been brought to light linking you further to your long-time colleagues Victoria Toensing and Joseph DiGenova, as well as to Mr. Giuliani, which undoubtedly creates at least the public appearance of a conflict of interest.” I mean, there is, absolutely, the appearance of a conflict of interest, but Bondy was the one who brought all that evidence to light!

Finally, though, Bondy suggests, with uncertain veracity, that SDNY has done things that suggest a purported conflict has already harmed Parnas.

In addition to harmful perceptions, this conflict of interest appears to have caused actual harm to Mr. Parnas who, given delays in the production of discovery in his federal case, was rendered unable to comply with a duly-issued congressional subpoena in time for congressional investigators to make complete use of his materials or properly assess Mr. Parnas as a potential witness. Furthermore, prosecutors have, thus far, refused to meet with Mr. Parnas and to receive his information regarding the President, Mssrs. Giuliani, Toensing, DiGenova and others–all of which would potentially benefit Mr. Parnas if he were ever to be convicted and sentenced in his criminal case.

For better and worse, getting FBI to image a bunch of phones and return them to a defendant within three months including two major holidays is not that long a wait. It took two months before Special Master Barbara Jones first started making privilege designations in the Michael Cohen case (involving one of the same prosecutors), and that was an even more politically sensitive case than this one. So while mentioning the delay is useful for Democrats (especially when the Senate tries to refuse to hear Parnas’ testimony because it didn’t get turned over in time), and valuable from a defense standpoint as it lays groundwork for appeal, it’s not a real injury on the part of prosecutors.

With regards to prosecutors’ refusal to meet with Parnas about cooperating against his possible co-conspirators, as the WSJ reported yesterday, late last year Bondy failed to convince SDNY that Parnas was not — as accused in his indictment — directed by a still-unnamed Ukrainian official to try to oust Marie Yovanovitch.

At a meeting with prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office late last year, people familiar with the matter say, Mr. Parnas’s attorney disputed that he pushed for the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the behest of a Ukrainian official—one of the charges in the campaign finance indictment.

This is another way of saying that Parnas is unwilling to plead to the allegations in the existing indictment, and may also suggest that while Parnas is happy to incriminate Rudy and his American buddies, he’s not willing implicate his original boss, whoever that might be. So prosecutors likely have good reason not to meet with Parnas to hear him implicate Rudy and friends (not least, because they already have this documentary evidence that implicates them anyway, and now Parnas is providing whatever testimony they might need on the Rachel Maddow Show).

Bondy is absolutely right: Bill Barr should have recused from this — and all review of the whistleblower complaint — back in August when it was clear he was named. Even assuming Barr took no action on any of this influence peddling, this goes well beyond just the appearance of conflict to known participation in known events — such as the meeting with Rudy that DOJ admitted to only last week after covering it up for months — that merit recusal.

But Bondy is also being less than candid with his letter, playing the public docket as much as he is making a real legal request.

42 replies
  1. obsessed says:

    I wonder what’s going on with Fruman (and Correia and Kukushkin). I guess they’re behaving normally for indicted people by staying quiet, but it’s interesting that Parnas seems to have staked out his own very public course. Also, do we think that he stipulated to Maddow that they not discuss the other three as a condition for the interview? And – just from his facial expressions – Igor seems very different from Parnas. Parnas is a classic con-man in that he comes across as so gentle and sympathetic, lulling you into his confidence. Fruman looks like the other guy in the “good con, bad con” routine.

    • Newt_Ron_Bomb says:

      It’s my understanding that Fruman has much deeper ties to the Russian and Ukrainian mob and that Parnas is the middleman glad hander. I don’t know if that’s true, but it would give a reason why Fruman is keeping his mouth shut.

    • J says:

      Or maybe he, like Parnas, was counseled on how to be a fall guy and is actually going along with it. Out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established—if only Parnas is talking, with nobody else involved backing up his story he ends up looking desperate and all the more ignorable to anyone who matters.

  2. timbo says:

    Yep. Why is Barr still involved in any of this in an official capacity—a good, good question with a likely bad, bad answer.

  3. pseudonymous in nc says:

    I just looked back at this 2006 piece on Bondy:


    It kind of gets into game theory (!) here. Billy Barr and Bondy both know what documentary evidence FBI/SDNY have gathered from Parnas’s devices. Is there something in there, more than the assumption that Barr has set up a firewall above Lev? This isn’t about the recusal request but about whether it sets up a follow-up. So far, Bondy’s been pretty good at photo-album follow-ups, but that’s a different kind of back-at-ya.

  4. Nehoa says:

    Who can compel Barr to recuse himself? Is it up to him? Will the DOJ IG investigate the decision on the matter (ha ha), and does the DC Bar association have anything to say on this?

    • BobCon says:

      It’s safe to say the DC Bar is not touching it.

      I’m curious if Parnas can use Barr’s involvement as part of his case, though, and get a court to force DOJ to provide evidence about what Barr has been doing.

  5. Nehoa says:

    Oh, and I forgot…what about that visit to Rupert Murdoch, and international man of mystery tour to get dirt on the Russia investigation. I bet there was no conflict in any of those activities!

    • Nehoa says:

      Oh, and I forgot…what about that visit to Rupert Murdoch, and international man of mystery tour to get dirt on the Russia investigation. I bet there was no conflict in any of those activities!

  6. Badger Robert says:

    Delay and a chance to testify before the Senate are in Parnas’ interest. If Parnas hurts Trump’s re-election chances, and Trump loses, that helps Parnas in the long run.

  7. Badger Robert says:

    The Senate is getting close to a no witnesses without depositions rule, which indicates to me that they think there are explosive revelations still ahead.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Or just that Moscow Mitch is treating this as a pure display of power. It’s not as if there are going to be enough votes to remove. The intention is to stick it to the House and to the Dems in general, with the assumption that Schumer won’t get his shit together sufficiently to push back — something that can’t happen within the chamber itself — and that the press will bothsides it.

  8. vicks says:

    I get the sense that it’s been cat and mouse and tit for tat all along.
    I’m not sure who is the mouse but there are several moves where the US/Barr appears to tag-team with pro-Russia-Ukrainian bad guys for dirty “wins” for one or both sides.
    During Zelenski’s campaign Zelenski’s biggest benefactor Ihor Kolomoisky (a billionaire bad guy himself, BUT, he was also a big protagonist of Poroshenko) had his bank seized.
    The US put a cherry on that Ukrainian power move against a big Zelenski supporter by announcing right around the same time our own investigation into Kolomoisky with a claim of him money laundering in the US.
    In exchange for whatever Rudy was dangling, Poroshenko had no problem using his “position” to help Rudy with his plan to trash the Biden’s before the US elections.
    No problem that is, until Zelenski won the election and “decided” to investigate Poroshenko and then fire him.
    One of the perks of Poroshenko’s fall/Zelensky’s squeeze, was Poroshenko double crossed Rudy and took back every word he said, actually Biden and son had actually broken no laws, One would think this backpedaling must have thrown a big wrench in Rudy’s task of proving the bat shit crazy alternate story that seems to STILL be in the works.
    Almost as if it were a response to that bad news for team Trump, Barr came to the rescue, declaring that Durham’s investigation into the bat shit crazy alternate story had suddenly escalated into a criminal investigation.
    Funny how each side justifies their revenge filled/self serving moves (and themselves) as corruption fighting “investigations” by corruption fighting superheroes.
    I see one filthy hand washing the other and now Parnas is jumping in with what may (or may not) be a fishing expedition for SDNY.
    Parnas was the one who pointed out the fear people have of Barr’s power to investigate, he also added he was ready to put all his cards on the table.
    That’s big talk considering with the exception of some obvious attempts to protect a chosen few it’s all been smack that names not just pro-Trumpers, but those Ukrainian dudes acting in the best interest of first themselves but then Russia and Putin.
    It seems to me Parnas is either a total idiot or has somehow, been offered something, by someone, in exchange.
    Immunity from anything with legs that Barr may turn up in an “investigation”?
    Perhaps Parnas caught wind of a plot bigger than what he could stop by firing Trump’s ass-h*le lawyers and this is really his only way to save himself?
    I am in way over my head here, but I get the feeling that we may start learning soon that this strategy of announcing investigations of a leader’s enemies (once only popular in corrupt countries) might have cleared the testing phase and already gone far beyond “lock her up” in our country as well.

    • Mitch Neher says:

      There’s a remote possibility (with the emphasis on remote) that Lev Parnas might be a genuine Ukrainian patriot instead of the usual scoundrel taking refuge in his supposed patriotism.

      However, that hypothesis would require that Parnas knew nothing about Manafort’s persistent pedaling of the Ukrainian peace plan that serves Russia’s interests before Downing showed up at the jail house to represent him.

      • Vicks says:

        I’m not sure why Pranas would feel patriotic towards Ukraine?
        IMO Parnas, like Cohen as mentioned in other posts is a man on a mission to save himself, and who, if anyone, he throws under the bus is directly related to who is supporting his efforts.
        Unlike Cohen, it appears Parnas may have documents that can cause damage to either side of this, and possibly other scandals.
        Parnas COULD be fishing for SDNY or he could be taking the initiate and is trolling both sides with his dirt because he is uncomfortable on on his own and looking for a signal or an offer of help.

        • Mitch Neher says:

          It is likelier that Parnas is the proverbial scoundrel taking his last refuge in make-believe patriotism.

  9. Matthew Harris says:

    A lot of what Parnas is doing right now reminds me of what Michael Cohen was doing about 20 months ago: he is testing the waters, waving his insurance, and seeing if Trump et al. will come to his aid. Right now, I don’t take anything he says at face value, anymore than I did with Cohen in May or June of 2018.

    What is going on right now is a publicity campaign. As the saying goes, “There is a difference between feeling bad, and feeling bad that you got caught”. Right now he is the second. Just like with Cohen, though, breaking on the surface, even for advantage, is probably making him rethink a lot of things.

    • A. Non says:

      Parnas is publically implicating his co-conspirators, which is arguably the worst possible way to get Trump et.al. to come to his aid.

  10. Frank Probst says:

    Parnas’ strategy seems crazy as hell to me, but his attorney seems like he’s having fun tossing out photos (and sometimes video) of everyone who says they’ve never met him, and it makes Parnas look a little bit more credible every time. I honestly don’t understand why it’s so hard to say something plausible like, “I have no recollection of ever having met this guy. He could have been at some of the same events that I was at, so there may be photos of the two of us together, but he’s not someone I remember having meetings with or anything of that sort.” Yes, it may be technically true that you don’t “know” him, but you look like an idiot when you make a flat denial and then there’s a photo of the two of you together. You look like even more of an idiot when you’re the third or fourth person that this happens to.

    For the moment, he doesn’t seem to have helped himself much, but it doesn’t look to me like he’s hurt himself much, either. He’s admitting to things for which the FBI already has documents to show his guilt, and his super-intense lawyer would probably have shut him down if he starting digging himself a hole, or digging himself deeper into one his already in. He’s thrown away a possible pardon, but I think that those are going to be more difficult to come by than a lot of people are anticipating. If he miraculously ends up testifying in front of the Senate, he’s going to bury Giuliani but probably not Trump. If he doesn’t testify, he can say it’s because they’re afraid of what he’s going to say.

  11. Frank Probst says:

    So do we have any more follow-up on this Hyde character? The last I saw, he was sending messages to someone in Belgium, or maybe to someone with a Belgium phone number. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to indicate that there might actually be something there.

    • P J Evans says:

      Guy in Belgium named de Caluwe, who also uses the name Calloway, and is in pics with a lot of GOP-T characters.

      • Eureka says:

        I noticed a different pattern/quality to the trolling/ratio-ing Hyde gets on tweets where he names de Caluwe or the woman Hyde recently alleged to have been dating de Caluwe: heaviest onslaught of ‘demoted reply’ tweets I’ve pretty much ever seen.

        The troll farms are working hard there. Suggests to me that there’s quite something to it…

  12. Eureka says:

    Did I miss or forget where Parnas (unlike other witnesses/participants) has ever mentioned (or released texts/ docs citing) anyone at State being involved? Crickets? I mean Rudy went on at such length about his Dept of State mandate… how’d that not come up in their chit-chat?

    [That’s a genuine fact-check query, albeit heavy on the sarcasm font.] [Beyond what may have been implied / reasoned from the Yovanovitch stalking-related texts; consensus being that Parnas downplayed all that and maligned Hyde because Parnas didn’t want to implicate himself in more criming, but what about the veiled threat of receipts on others by his having released them in the first place?] [ Also what about getting / blocking travel credentials for certain people (thinking of the passport photo)?]

    So he’s saying Barr’s name for ‘reasons’ — along with Trump’s and Rudy’s — but not saying others’ names so much. Which just seems to highlight that other parts of the operation keep chugging along…

  13. salient green says:

    I think Parnas wants media attention for basic primal safety reasons. He knows the Russians poison and some of their stuff is painful as hell. Con men are paranoid because of what they do so he has to be just a bit worried about the lengths that some may go to free his testimony and presence from the world. But if the Russians kill him now or later they will at least be exposed and though Barr would be disinclined to investigate at least the world would know. I think his fear is real. He has lots of reasons for playing the games he is playing now because he is a con man of smooth kindness on the outside and those are the ones who love life the most.

    • P J Evans says:

      The Dems are doing their best to get their case out in front of the people who are watching or listening, and especially in front of the senators who claim they don’t want Trmp in office any more.

  14. orionATL says:

    honest to god,

    the picture posted here of rudy, lev, and igor (yes! igor)

    January 19, 2020

    brings the three stooges scuffling into memory.

  15. Zinsky says:

    Very late to the game, but I find myself getting mildly nauseous when I think too much about the fact we have a brain-damaged sociopath as a president, enabled by an inflatable giant panda of a man like William Barr who is as vicious as a cobra. I still say the smart move by the Democrats would have been to impeach Barr first and, in Nancy Pelosi’s immortal words, Trump would have “impeached himself”!

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