Bill Barr’s DOJ Engaged in Conspiracy to Defraud the US on Trump’s July 25 Meeting

Yesterday, I wrote a long post showing that DOJ could not have followed their most basic investigative protocols when it got the whistleblower complaint in late August. Had they done so, one of the first steps would have been to see what material FBI already had on all the people named in the complaint. And because a profile of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was cited 4 times in the complaint (though their names did not appear in the complaint itself), the original assessment of the complaint should have discovered all the things DOJ already knew about their influence operation, which at that point would have included:

  • Parnas and Fruman were funded by a big transfer from an attorney specializing in helping foreigners launder money
  • They were using that money to provide straw donations to Republicans, most notably a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC
  • Those donations tied to meetings with the recipients and actions on Ukraine shortly thereafter
  • Parnas was involved in Rudy Giuliani’s disinformation campaign on Ukraine

This table shows what DOJ probably learned by when. Once one part of DOJ got new information on the grifters, that information would have become available to anyone doing a search on their name in FBI databases.

Thus, had DOJ done what it does in virtually all its other assessments of tips (particularly those that have a national security component), line investigators would have discovered that the July 25 call was obviously a part of the influence operation — including Parnas and Fruman, but also Rudy by that point — already under Full Investigation in SDNY.

DOJ explained how it managed to do so by claiming, falsely, that there was no firsthand knowledge reflected in the complaint itself, and so rather than using the complaint (which included that reference to Parnas and Fruman), they used the call transcript, which did not mention the Ukrainian grifters. Because it mentioned Rudy, queries on his name would still have made it clear that the call was part of an influence operation, though it’s possible and defensible that (as happened with the Trump Russian investigation, at least at first) DOJ did not do the same kind of back door searches they would do on everyone else because Rudy was a politically sensitive person.

But it turns out that’s not the only way DOJ affirmatively prevented people from connecting the dots in a national security issue.

Yesterday, MoJo reported on another way that DOJ prevented anyone from connecting the dots. Under a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the FEC, DOJ should have shared campaign finance related complaints with the FEC so they can assess whether the complaint merits civil penalties.

But under a 1978 memorandum of understanding between the department and the FEC—which, like Justice is authorized to penalize campaign finance violations—the complaint should have been passed onto the FEC even if the department declined to launch a criminal investigation, so the election watchdog can determine whether a civil penalty is called for.

Earlier this month, Klobuchar set out to uncover whether the Justice Department had honored this agreement, sending two letters to the FEC inquiring whether it had received any such referral. On October 18, the commission’s Democratic chair, Ellen Weintraub, confirmed to Klobuchar that the FEC had not been notified. “The refusal to inform the FEC and refer the matter regarding the President’s call to the FEC as required to do, as the Justice Department is required, undermines our campaign finance system and is unacceptable in a democracy,” Klobuchar said in Tuesday statement.

FEC, of course, already had the original and supplemental CLC complaint about Parnas and Fruman, so they might have connected the profile showing their work for Rudy, included in the whistleblower complaint, with the President’s demand that Volodymyr Zelensky cooperate with Rudy’s antics on the call.

By not referring the complaint, then, DOJ prevented FEC from connecting the dots, just as treating the call record instead of the complaint itself as the referral prevented Public Integrity investigators assessing the complaint from doing so.

Again: this kind of dot-connecting is what FBI and the rest of our investigative apparatus have been refocused on doing since 9/11, specifically to ensure that any threats to the United States will be identified as quickly as possible. But when such dot-connecting would have knowably implicated powerful Republicans, including the President, it magically didn’t happen in this case.

Unless DOJ can come up with a good explanation for why they failed to share the unclassified part of the complaint with FEC (I’m waiting for DOJ to say that once Matthew Petersen resigned on August 26, just as DOJ was assessing the complaint, the MOU lapsed), then the failure to do so constitutes a willful attempt to thwart FEC from doing its job, something Ellen Weintraub lays out clearly in her letter to Amy Klobuchar. As far as she knows, the MOU remains intact, and therefore DOJ was obliged to share the complaint.

As the Commission explained earlier this year, the MOU3 between the FEC and the DOJ remains active. Though some DOJ-published materials state that DOJ no longer considers the agreement to reflect its current policy,4 it has not renegotiated the agreement with the Commission.5 Indeed, the Commission confirmed in its May response to oversight queries from the Committee on House Administration that the Commission continues to rely on the MOU:

In 1977, the Commission and DOJ entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) relating to their respective law enforcement jurisdiction and responsibilities. The MOU remains the primary guidance/procedural agreement used by the Commission to assist in collaboration and consultation efforts (including referrals) between the Commission and DOJ.6

The Commission has taken no action to change its position that the MOU is the primary guidance and procedural agreement used by the Commission to assist in collaboration and consultation efforts (including referrals) between the Commission and DOJ.

It turns out that deliberately undermining FEC’s ability to do its job is a crime, one of the same crimes that Parnas and Fruman got charged with, the same crime that Bill Barr’s DOJ is vigorously prosecuting against the Russian trolls (though which a recent decision from Dabney Friedrich may put at risk): Conspiracy to Defraud the US.

There’s zero chance, of course, that Bill Barr will charge his top aides with thwarting the ability of the FEC to connect the dots on a referral that directly ties to another complaint already in their hands. But we should be clear that DOJ appears to be engaged in undermining the proper functioning of the campaign finance system in the same way Russian trolls and Parnas and Fruman have been accused of doing.

We Can Learn A Lot From That Lev Parnas Photo With Ivana Trump

Jim here.

Yesterday, Shelby Holliday of the Wall Street Journal provided a look at a private Instagram account for Lev Parnas. There is a treasure trove of information in what was revealed there. For this post, I want to concentrate on what appears to be the earliest entry by Parnas, dated April 24, 2015:

There is just so much going on here. As far as I can tell, this is the earliest evidence of Lev Parnas reuniting with any of the Trumps since his time as a teenager working for Kings Road Realty selling co-ops owned by Fred Trump. Recall that evidence is beginning to accumulate that Lev Parnas and David Correia may have been involved in the sale of Trump condos to Russian buyers in South Florida.

But note the date of this encounter: Donald Trump didn’t declare as a presidential candidate until June of 2015, and yet here is Parnas meeting with Ivana in April. As far as I can tell, Parnas began working with the Trumps in 1988. His end date with them is fuzzy, but I’m guessing it went until just before he got his registration as a stockbroker in December of 1993. Donald and Ivana divorced in March of 1992, so there’s a good chance Lev Parnas ran into Ivana while working for them and saw the divorce taking place.

Note that Parnas mentions both the location where they are, Lique, which is a very high end restaurant in the Sunny Isles (yes, that’s where there are a number of Trump high rises) region and Fraud Guarantee. Recall that Fraud Guarantee is the entity that was used to pay Rudy Giuliani at least $500,000 recently. We have to wonder now if those payments started much earlier. Fraud Guarantee was incorporated in October of 2013 in Florida but did not list Parnas or Correia even though they feature as founders on its website. No annual report was filed, so the Florida corporation was dissolved in 2014, before Parnas mentioned it in this post.

Lique is very interesting. From the website, it is clear that it is the background in this photo. The founder, Alex Podolonyy, is Ukranian. In a remarkable parallel to what happened to the Fruad Guarantee website, the bio for Podolonyy is on the Lique site, but the link to it has been removed from the home page.

So, we know that’s Lev Parnas on the left and Ivana Trump next to him. It’s also clear that’s David Correia on the right. One might guess initially that two remaining people are the wives of Parnas and Corriea, but I think that’s only half right. I’m pretty sure that’s Svetlana Parnas next to Correia. It seems that Correia’s wife very likely was indisposed at the time of this photo. She appears to have been sentenced for writing hot checks in October of 2014. There are a couple of lawsuits back and forth between Correia and his then wife, but it looks like after they split she continued her check kiting and even became somewhat notorious.

A hint for the unknown woman between Ivana Trump and Svetlana Parnas in the photo can come to us from the timeline of Parnas and Correia company formation. Just a couple of months prior to this photo, Lev Parnas and David Correia incorporated Mendo Cali, LLC on August 19, 2014. But, as you might recall from my previous post on this issue, there’s a third person involved in this entity: Inna Ponomareva. Subsequent to writing that post, I ran across this remarkable page with a “business card” for Inna Ponomarava as a Vice President of Miama Red Square Realty, the firm most closely associated with the sale of Trump condos to Russians in South Florida. (Hover your cursor over the image to get full color.) Below, I’ve put that image for Ponomareva alongside the unknown person in the photo with Ivana Trump:


Blowing up the Instagram image came at a cost of sharpness, but it sure feels to me that we are seeing Inna Ponomareva alongside Lev Parnas, David Correia and Ivana Trump. And that makes us wonder about just what “#bigbusiness” Parnas was bragging about. I think there’s a good chance it is him getting back to his roots, selling Trump properties.

How DOJ Worked Overtime to Avoid Connecting the Dots in the Whistleblower Complaint

As the legal saga of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman plays out against the background of an impeachment inquiry launched when DOJ tried to bury a whistleblower complaint, DOJ has been forced to offer a series of increasingly inconsistent explanations about who at DOJ knew what when. I’ve been working on a timeline examining What Did Bill Barr Know and When Did He Know It (that work in progress appears below). While I’m not ready to answer that question, one thing is clear: the personnel under Brian Benczkowski who reviewed and dismissed the complaint in August could not have followed normal process on assessing a referral if NYT’s reporting and Benczkowski’s most recent claims are true.

Benczkowski tries to prevent Rudy Giuliani from implicating him in his crimes

I’m speaking of a comment that Benczkowski had released to NYT for an October 20 story explaining why Benczkowski and fraud investigators would be willing to hear Rudy Giuliani pitch a client’s case when he was under active investigation for influence peddling in SDNY himself.

“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known,” said Peter Carr, a department spokesman.

That comment was a response to this Rudy-sourced Ken Vogel story that revealed the meeting, though without any of the answers as to Who What When questions that normally appear in finished news stories. The story may have been Rudy’s attempt to do the same thing he did as his shenanigans at State became public, raise the costs of making him the sole scapegoat by making it clear that his activities had high level knowledge and approval by Trump officials at the agency in question. That is, Rudy may have been making sure that if he gets in trouble for influence peddling, Brian Benzckowski will be implicated as well.

Importantly, both NYT stories on the meeting say the meeting happened a few weeks before October 18, a timeline that DOJ sources may be walking back in time considerably to “earlier this summer” included in this CNN article. One of the only ways for all these descriptions of timing be true is if the meeting took place around September 20, which would make it highly likely it involved Victoria Toensing, since Rudy was pictured meeting her and Lev Parnas across the street from DOJ that same day. (h/t DK for that insight) If it did (or if the descriptions of the meeting taking place a few weeks before October 18 are correct), then it means the meeting happened after DOJ reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky in late August.

As I’ll show below, the Peter Carr quote to the NYT might be true. But if it is, it means that well-connected Republicans can get a meeting with the Assistant Attorney General with almost no due diligence.

But if the Carr quotation is true (and if the timing of the meeting described to NYT is correct), then it is an on-the-record admission on behalf of Benczkowski that investigators working underneath him who reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint did not follow procedures designed to keep our nation safe that have been codified since 9/11.

Benczkowski’s claim he didn’t know ignores what DOJ knew

Benczkowski’s explanation in the October 20 NYT story is based on a further one that suggests the only way he could have known about the criminal investigation into Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy is if a subordinate informed him directly.

While the Southern District of New York has been investigating Mr. Giuliani’s associates — an inquiry that may be tied to a broader investigation of Mr. Giuliani himself — prosecutors there had not told Mr. Benczkowski of the Criminal Division of the case, as he does not oversee or supervise their work. The United States attorney’s offices report to the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen.

Prosecutors in Manhattan informed Attorney General William P. Barr about the investigation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman soon after he was confirmed in February, according to a Justice Department official.

DOJ has locked into a statement that Bill Barr had been briefed on this investigation shortly after he was confirmed in February and repeatedly thereafter since the day the arrest of the Ukrainian grifters became public. But Benczkowski claims he didn’t know about it because he’s not in that chain of command. SDNY reports to the Deputy Attorney General, which would have been Rod Rosenstein when Barr was initially briefed, but would be Jeffrey Rosen in any of the briefings DOJ has admitted to since.

This table attempts to summarize what DOJ learned of Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy when. It’s incomplete in at least one important respect, as I’ll show. But it captures most of the ways DOJ and FBI would have been informed about parts of the Ukrainian grift.

Remarkably, we don’t yet know how the SDNY came to open the investigation. It could have been a Mueller referral, SDNY could have discovered the grift from something that happened in NYC (though the venue that ultimately got laid out in the indictment suggests the obvious signs of corruption took place in FL), or it could have stemmed from a Campaign Legal Center complaint filed with the FEC on July 25, 2018. But by the time Barr was briefed in February, we should assume that DOJ knew at least as much as CLC knew the summer before, which is that Parnas and Fruman had set up a shell company, Global Energy Producers, that they were using to make big donations to Republicans, including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC just days after Parnas and Fruman met with Trump at the White House. That’s what Barr would have learned when he got briefed shortly after he was confirmed on February 14: that these Ukrainian-Americans were giving straw donations to Republicans in apparent coordination with key meetings with the recipients.

Here’s where the gap in this table comes in. Someone trying to spin the CNN for its version of the Benczkowski quote claimed that Rudy was not yet a focus of the SDNY investigation at the time Barr was briefed (the claim is silent, however, about all the other times Barr was briefed, per an October 10 statement from DOJ). Nevertheless, as CNN lays out, that claim is probably not true, because a NY lawyer was already getting questions from FBI counterintelligence agents by that time.

A person familiar with the matter said that at the time, Giuliani wasn’t a central figure in the case as he is now. That emerged in recent weeks, the person said.

Still, New York federal prosecutors had their eyes set on Giuliani months ago. A New York lawyer told CNN that FBI counterintelligence agents asked him questions in February or March related to Giuliani and his associates.

The day after the Ukrainian grifters’ arrest became public, NYT reported that Rudy was under investigation for FARA (for activities that extend well beyond his Ukraine work). Particularly given that the National Security Division is setting up a unit to prosecute FARA violations, that, plus the involvement of CI agents, should involve NSD and therefore would suggest that NSD head John Demers would know of the focus on Rudy. That can’t be guaranteed, however, because SDNY often does its own thing. So that’s the gap: We don’t know when Demers would have first learned that Rudy’s under investigation for his sleazy influence peddling.

We do know, however, that sometime in May, State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick sent FBI (we don’t know which unit) the “Rudy Dossier,” the disinformation developed as part of his Ukraine work. Among the things that dossier includes is an email via which John Solomon sent a draft of this article to Rudy, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas. Whoever received that dossier should have immediately identified that Parnas and Rudy were under active criminal investigation in SDNY for influence peddling, a topic on which that email would be directly relevant. In addition to Victoria Toensing and Rudy, the packet would also directly implicate the White House and Mike Pompeo, because the packet was sent under White House imprimatur to the Secretary of State. So by May, that dossier should have been in Parnas and Rudy’s investigative file. Except that, when Linick asked FBI if they were cool with him sharing the dossier with Congress, they were, which suggests it may not have been added to the investigative file.

Assuming that the vaunted SDNY is at least as sharp as a small campaign finance NGO, then by the time CLC updated their SEC complaint on June 20, SDNY would have known what that GEP’s straw donations (including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC) came immediately after Parnas got a $1.2 million infusion from a lawyer who helps foreigners launder money through real estate, something that should have raised further counterintelligence and foreign campaign donation concerns.

After that, the whistleblower complaint comes into DOJ, in two different forms. The first time, it comes when CIA General Counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood and White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg inform John Demers (who, remember, may or may not know about a FARA investigation into Rudy by this point). Demers went to the White House and reviews the transcript, which would have informed him that multiple people were concerned about the call, that Trump invoked both Rudy and Demers’ boss, Bill Barr, on the call, and that Trump was soliciting dirt related to both the investigation into the Russian operation in 2016 (ongoing parts of which Demers still oversees) and Trump’s imagined 2020 opponent, Joe Biden. If Demers did know that Rudy was under investigation for FARA at this time, Trump’s request that Ukraine share dirt with Rudy would have been directly relevant to that investigation, but in a way that implicated Demers’ boss as well. In any case, a simple database search would have revealed that, along with the $1.2 million cash transfer raising additional concerns about foreign money backing those campaign efforts.

Demers’ reported response to reading the transcript was to tell Brian Benczkowski (who claims not to have known about Parnas and Fruman, but whose Peter Carr quote was silent about whether he knew of any investigation into Rudy) and Jeffrey Rosen (who was probably confirmed after Barr’s first briefing on Parnas and Fruman, but who is currently Geoffrey Berman’s supervisor and so should be in the loop in the subsequent briefings that DOJ admitted Barr had after that initial briefing.

According to public reports, DOJ did nothing with this initial complaint.

DOJ avoids (admitting to) reviewing the full whistleblower complaint based off a false claim it doesn’t include direct knowledge

But then the whistleblower tried again, going to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and writing up his complaint, which then got referred to Brian Benczkowski and some public integrity investigators. According to Kerri Kupec, here’s what happened next.

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

In explaining how DOJ came to dismiss this complaint, Kupec cites not from the complaint itself, but from Michael Atkinson’s letter conveying the complaint. Kupec cites from the letter, which notes the whistleblower “was not a direct witness to the President’s telephone call,” and uses that to treat only the transcript of the call — not the broader whistleblower complaint itself, which does include firsthand knowledge — as the official record. And, having referred to just the call, DOJ viewed this as exclusively a campaign finance matter, and therefore dismissed it (DOJ ignores another crime laid out in Atkinson’s letter, a crime Mick Mulvaney has now confessed to, but I’ll come back to how they managed to ignore that).

In fact, parts of the whistleblower complaint make it clear that he was a direct witness to aspects of his complaint, and so DOJ should have treated the complaint itself as an official document (this is why the frothy right invested so much energy into the goddamned whistleblower form, to rationalize DOJ’s decision not to read the actual complaint).

Had DOJ read the complaint and done the most basic investigative work on the materials included in the complaint, they (including Benczkowski) would have known that Trump’s call related directly to matters under active investigation in SDNY.

While the whistleblower complaint does not mention Parnas and Fruman by name, it repeatedly invokes this OCCRP profile (see footnotes 4, 9, 10, 11), The profile would have made it crystal clear — if DOJ’s investigators couldn’t figure it out for themselves — how the evidence that SDNY was already reviewing (including the campaign finance stuff and the Rudy dossier) connected directly with the July 25 call.

Since early last year, the men have emerged from obscurity to become major donors to Republican campaigns in the United States. They have collectively contributed over half a million dollars to candidates and outside campaign groups, the lion’s share in a single transaction that an independent watchdog has flagged as a potential violation of electoral funding law.

The men appear to enjoy a measure of access to influential figures. They’ve dined with Trump, had a “power breakfast” with his son Donald Jr., met with U.S. congressmen, and mixed with Republican elites.

Months before their earliest known work with Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman also lobbied at least one congressman — former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican — to call for the dismissal of the United States’ ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She stepped down a year later after allegations in the conservative media that she had been disloyal to Trump.

While setting up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainian officials, the men also promoted a business plan of their own: Selling American liquefied natural gas to Ukraine to replace Russian imports disrupted by war.

Three days before the call itself, OCCRP and BuzzFeed had already laid out parts of the crime that SDNY has since indicted. And that profile was part of the whistleblower complaint provided to DOJ, in which DOJ claimed they could find no evidence of a crime.

FBI’s three investigative levels are Full Investigations (opened once FBI has evidence that a crime has occurred), Preliminary Investigations (opened once FBI has reason to believe a crime has been committed), and Assessments (the work FBI does to assess the credibility of tips). FBI Agents are expected — encouraged, explicitly, as a matter of national security — to do searches of FBI’s existing investigative databases at the Assessment level. They do this not just to make sure that suspected foreign agents like Parnas and Fruman aren’t allowed to insinuate themselves into top tiers of power unnoticed, but also for deconfliction, to make sure DOJ knows precisely which part of DOJ is investigating which people.

Had FBI followed its DIOG based on the information included in the whistleblower complaint, it would have been crystal clear that the July 25 call related to an ongoing Full Investigation, and the July 25 call — and the President’s extortion — would have been made part of that investigative record.

The Criminal Division Chief has confessed it did not follow protocols in reviewing this complaint

All of which brings me full cycle to DOJ’s efforts to pretend they didn’t know that Rudy was a suspected criminal when they met with him to discuss the accused criminals he represents.

Brian Benczkowski, the head of the Criminal Division (and yet, someone who has never prosecuted a case), claims that he had no way of knowing that Rudy Giuliani’s clients and co-conspirators were about to be indicted when he met with Rudy on some date no one wants to reveal. That may be true — though if it is, it means either his staffers did almost no due diligence before setting up that meeting, or the fact that Rudy, in addition to Parnas and Fruman, was under active investigation did not dissuade Benczkowski from taking the meeting.

But, if the meeting took place after the whistleblower review, as multiple reporters at NYT seem to believe it did, for him to claim that he didn’t know about Parnas and Fruman also amounts to an explicit confession that the investigators reviewing the whistleblower complaint did not follow FBI guidelines requiring them to look up all the names in a tip to see if the FBI already knows about them.

That is, Brian Benczkowski, in trying to claim ignorance of Rudy’s own legal problems in advance of that meeting, confessed that his division, hiding behind whatever false excuses, did not properly investigate the whistleblower complaint.


February 14: Barr sworn in.

February, undated: Barr and Public Integrity lawyers reporting to Brian Benczkowski briefed on investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, though NYT reported lawyer questioned about Rudy in that time period.

March 5: Barr briefed on Mueller investigation.

March 22: Mueller investigation concludes.

March 24: Barr releases misleading “summary” of Mueller Report.

March 26: John Solomon posts column first reviewed by Joe DiGenova, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas

April 19: DOJ releases redacted Mueller Report.

May, undated: State IG Steve Linick receives Rudy dossier, passes on to FBI.

May 31: Barr does interview explaining his Durham investigation without once explaining any irregularities to justify investigation.

June 20: Campaign Legal Center submits supplemental complaint to FEC.

July 18: OMB informs Departments that Trump has ordered suspension of all aide to Ukraine.

July 25: Trump-Zelensky phone call.

Week after call: Whistleblower informs CIA General counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood, who speaks several times to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

August 12: Date of whistleblower complaint.

August 14: Elwood and Eisenberg inform National Security Division head, John Demers.

August 15: Demers reads transcript of call. Senior DOJ officials, including Jeffrey Rosen, Brian Benczkowski, and Barr informed.

The deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the department’s criminal division, were soon looped in, according to two administration officials.

Department officials began to discuss the accusations and whether and how to follow up, and Attorney General William P. Barr learned of the allegations around that time, according to a person familiar with the matter. Although Mr. Barr was briefed, he did not oversee the discussions about how to proceed, the person said.

August 26: IG Michael Atkinson hand delivers message on whistleblower complaint to Acting DNI Joseph Maguire.

September 3: Original classified OLC memo deeming the whistleblower complaint “not urgent,” treating Barr’s involvement as Top Secret.

September 20: Rudy, Parnas, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova lunch at Trump International across the street from DOJ. Rudy also attends State Dinner for Australia.

September 24: Declassification of Telcon. Version of OLC memo hiding Barr’s involvement as classified issue.

September 26: Release of TelCon and whistleblower complaint. Justice Department explains non-prosecution:

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

September 29: AP claims Barr was “surprised and angry” when he learned he had been lumped in with Rudy. His further denials include a lot of wiggle room (including unofficial contacts).

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

October 1: State IG Steve Linick briefs Congress on opposition packet routed to him from Pompeo. Preservation letters to Parnas and Fruman.

October 4: Initial rough date for Rudy meeting with Benczkowski.

October 9: Parnas and Fruman lunch with Rudy at Trump Hotel across from DOJ, later that eventing they are indicted and arrested.

October 10: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman arrest unsealed. Anonymous DOJ sources report that Barr was briefed in February and “in recent weeks.”

Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the case in February, shortly after he was confirmed. Barr has received additional briefings in recent weeks and fully supports the case.

October 11: NYT reports that Rudy under investigation for Ukraine work.

October 18: NYT reports that Rudy was lobbying Brian Benczkowski and lawyers from Fraud section “a few weeks ago” about a very sensitive bribery case.

October 20: NYT story with on-the-record quote from Peter Carr states Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers would not have met with Giuliani if they had known of the investigation of his associates; it describes the meeting as taking place “several weeks ago.”

October 21: CNN adds DOJ clarification that Rudy was not central to investigation briefed to Barr in February, even though CI Agents were questioning witnesses by March, and that Public Integrity lawyers (who report to Benczkowski) were briefed.

Rudy’s Disinformation Campaign Ties Directly with Key Milestones in the Mueller Investigation

In this post, I suggested that Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to broker a complex deal in Ukraine, which dug up dirt on Democrats, undercut the Russian attribution of the 2016 hack, yoked the Republican party to a bizarre Ukrainian gas deal, and have led Volodymyr Zelensky to begin implementation of the Steinmeier Formula, may just be the continuation of a quid pro quo Paul Manafort may have been trying to deliver since August 2, 2016, when he discuss how he planned to win the election in the same secret meeting where he talked about how to carve up Ukraine. That’s all the more likely given three facts:

That is, Mueller suggested that Manafort was using his JDA with the President to conduct other business, and we’re now seeing Trump’s nominal defense attorney pursue precisely the same kind of business, still shielded by a claim to Joint Defense.

In this post, I laid out how the campaign against Marie Yovanovitch appeared to parallel the declining fortunes of Paul Manafort, even in spite of Ukraine’s halt to cooperation on the case against Manafort once Trump sold them some Javelin missiles.

In other words, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Ukraine grift is just a continuation of the Russian operation, and is perhaps even a payoff of a quid pro quo Manafort entered into to get help winning 2016. But it’s just circumstantial right now.

That said, we now have two temporal ties linking the Russian investigation to Rudy’s Ukraine graft. One has been known from the start of the Ukraine scandal. Just as Trump turned to his request for a “favor” from Zelensky in their July 25 call, he invoked Mueller’s “incompetent performance” the day before.

The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Trump did so to suggest that much of Mueller’s investigation “started with Ukraine,” which seems to be a reference to the disinformation about DNC efforts (as well as the overlapping efforts of Ali Chalupa) to learn about Manafort’s corruption, and the suggestion that’s the only thing that predicated (or renewed) the investigation into Manafort’s graft.

So the day after Mueller’s testimony seemingly closed his investigation once and for all, Trump got on the phone and extorted Zelensky to provide disinformation undercutting Mueller’s investigation, at the very least (though I think there’s more he was after) the black ledger.

But a WSJ piece on Lev Parnas’ private Instagram account provides another.

It reveals that Ukraine grifter Lev Parnas attended the celebration dinner Trump’s legal team had the day after Bill Barr released a summary about the Mueller Report that was, itself, disinformation. It shows that Parnas, at least, suggested Trump’s legal team deserved some kind of credit for Barr’s roll-out. And it claims that Ukrainian grifter and Trump’s legal team were hard at work moving (and includes notes in the picture that might reveal what Parnas and friends had planned).

So Barr announces the false results of the Mueller investigation and the next day someone involved in the production of disinformation claims credit and looks forward to his next task.

And Mueller provides what Trump claims to be an “incompetent performance” in the House, and the next day Trump extorts a foreign leader for disinformation that Rudy has been concocting with the Ukrainian grifter all summer.

Will Fox News Ask Its Commentators to Disclose Their Mobbed Up Clients?

Yesterday, I asked Fox Media Critic Howard Kurtz if he could dedicate a show to why Fox News commentators Joe DiGenova (who recently took to the air to accuse Democrats of “regicide”) and Victoria Toensing don’t disclose their representation of Dmitry Fitash, whom Rudy Giuliani has publicly asserted has close ties to mobster Semion Mogilevich. It would also be nice if they disclosed that in recent months they were being paid by corrupt Ukrainian oligarch Firtash $250,000 a month to to complain that Hunter Biden was paid $50,000 a month by a different corrupt Ukrainian oligarch.

To be sure, I’m not arguing that there’s a problem with DiGenova and Toensing representing a mobbed up oligarch. Everyone deserves good legal representation and if Firtash wants to spend his money paying for disinformation rather than sound legal advice, that’s his choice.

Mind you, Fox News might feel differently. After all, the network aggressively backed a smear campaign during the Obama Administration to tar any DOJ appointee who had ever represented a terrorism defendant. Among the Fox personalities who, in 2010, believed that lawyers’ past representation of certain kinds of defendants suggested a current ideological affinity for the underlying crime were:

According to Sean Hannity’s logic — “logic” I’m not adopting — DiGenova and Toensing’s representation of a guy with ties to organized crime suggests they, themselves, must support organized crime (and bribery, which is the charge Firtash is trying to beat in the US).

Still, particularly given this precedent, so long as Fox News pretends to be a news organization, it would seem advisable for the network to require DiGenova and Toensing to disclose their ties to someone that the President’s own personal lawyer says has ties to the mob.

Update: Laura Rozen notes that Chris Wallace was among the first to report that Di Genova and Toensing were part of Rudy’s plot.

FOX News has learned the president’s private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was not acting alone in trying to get dirt from Ukrainian officials on 2020 rival Joe Biden. Two high-profile Washington lawyers, Joe diGenova, who’s been a fierce critic of the Democratic investigation, and his wife Victoria Toensing, were working with Giuliani to get oppo research on Biden.

According to a top U.S. official, all three were working off the books apart from the administration. The only person in government who knows what they were doing is President Trump.

The Parnas Family Wire Transfers Released In The Pues Lawsuit Reveal More Than You Think

Much of what we know about the details of the transactions at the heart of the indictment of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was revealed in the lawsuit Michael Pues brought against Parnas for a scam in which Parnas got Pues to invest in a movie project that never came about. Because Parnas owed Pues $500,000, Pues was able to obtain Parnas business and family financial records including wire transfer information. Back in June of this year, the Campaign Legal Center obtained those records and included them in its supplemental filing on their complaint about the $325,000 contribution Parnas and Fruman made to America First Action.

The wire transfer records, which include a full page of incoming transactions and a full page of outgoing transactions, can be found as exhibits at the end of this filing by CLC. An accompanying explainer by CLC gives us this background on how the transaction broke the law (GEP is Global Environmental Partners):

And those documents reveal that GEP never contributed to America First Action.

Wire transfer records show that another LLC managed by Parnas. Aaron Investments I, LLC, transferred $325,000 to America First Action on May 17, 2018. The super PAC never disclosed receiving money from Aaron Investments I, LLC—it instead attributed the contribution to GEP.

It is not clear why Parnas or Fruman asked America First Action to misattribute the contribution, nor is it clear why the super PAC went along with this scheme. But in doing so, America First Action violated the straw donor ban: it accepted a contribution from one entity, and reported it as having come from another entity.

The explainer also gives us this on how the funds came into Aaron Investments I, LLC:

Other wire transfer records show that just two days before making the super PAC contribution, Aaron Investments I, LLC received a $1.26 million transfer from the client trust account of a Miami real estate attorney named Russell S. Jacobs (the funds in a client trust account don’t belong to the attorney: they belong to the attorney’s client.) Absent that transfer, it appears that the LLC would not have had the funds to cover the $350,000 contribution.

So the money used for the contribution appears to have come from Jacobs’ client. We don’t know who that client is–but Jacobs, the real estate attorney, specializes in working with foreign real estate buyers and advising realtors on how to avoid federal requirements aimed at disclosure of foreign buyers who use shell companies to launder money through U.S. real estate.In 2016, for example, he hosted a seminar titled “Avoid the Treasury Trap with Foreign Buyers.”

And yes, when we look at the wire transfer records, we see $1,260.329.80 coming in to Aaron Investments I, LLC on May 15, 2018 from Jacobs:

Only two days later ,on May 17, is the transfer of $325,000 back out to America First Action:

But these records also show us two more transfers out of Aaron Investments I, LLC and five more coming into it. There is one more outgoing wire transfer, and it may be the most interesting. It is marked as coming from a personal account for Svetlana Parnas, who married Lev in 2012. The transaction occurred on May 11, or four days before the $1.26 million transfer came in. It is for $3556.75. The recipient is marked as Victor Imber:

That is a very interesting name. The Daily Beast was first to investigate the contribution to America First Action and this is what they found back on July 19 of 2018:

We end today’s edition with a mystery. Leading pro-Trump super PAC America First Action disclosed nearly $5 million in second-quarter contributions this week. Among its donors was a company called Global Energy Producers LLC (GEP). It donated $375,000 in May, putting the company among the deep-pocketed group’s top 20 donors. But there’s very little indication of what the company does or who’s behind it.

It appears that GEP was incorporated in April in Delaware, a notorious black hole for corporate disclosure. But FEC filings listed its address as a Boca Raton, Florida, property owned by someone named Victor Imber. The FEC has no record of the Russian-born Imber or GEP making any previous federal political contributions. Additional public records indicate that Imber may have rented the property to someone named Michael Braid, who likewise has no other apparent connections to the company or history of political contributions. Braid did not respond to questions about GEP. Numerous calls to Imber went unanswered.

Hmm. So six days before Victor Imber’s address was used as a false location for Global Energy Partners Producers in a false representation that GEP made the contribution to America First Action, Sevetlana Parnas wired Victor Imber a little over $3500. Perhaps that is the actual “rental” of this address that was going on. That stands out as pretty significant.

But there’s more! I’ve heard mention of money going back out to Igor Fruman’s company, and yes, there it is. A transfer of $490,000 went out to FD Import & Export on May 16, only one day after the big transfer came in and a day before the America First Action transfer went out:

It’s especially confusing for Fruman’s company to get money from Aaron Investments I, LLC, because Fruman never shows up in any of the corporate filings for it. For further interest, David Correia was originally the Registered Agent and eventually a member, but Lev Parnas filed a form with the state on October 2, 2017 removing Correia from the company and making Svetlana the Registered Agent. Parnas backdated the form to June 15.

Mysteriously, there’s also a transfer into Aaron Investments I, LLC from FD Import and Export for $11,500 on May 10, five days before the big transfer in from the real estate attorney:

Perhaps Parnas had some expenses in getting the large infusion of funds organized? The indictment describes the $1.26 million as coming from “a private lending transaction between Fruman and third parties”. Other reports in the media have said it was a private loan secured by property Fruman owns. At any rate, we can rest assured that the government knows who the third parties are and there’s a good chance we will find out once the case goes to trial. It should also be noted here that in other reports, Parnas has claimed the $1.26 million came from the sale of a condo.

Getting back to the rest of the wire transfers, we find another outgoing transfer on the same day as the funds going to Fruman’s company, May 17. This transfer is for $12,950 and went to JetSmarter, Inc. That company has been described as an Uber service for private aircraft. This could well be payment for one of the many trips Parnas and/or Fruman made. I’ve tried to see if that time coincides with any of the trips we’ve seen reported, but so far nothing:

But the choice of flight provider is very interesting. Virtually every name associated with JetSmarter is Russian. In 2017, the then-CEO, Edward Gennady Barsky, resigned when he was indicted for embezzling $11 million from the real estate investment company he had just left to come to JetSmarter. The current CEO, who is one of the founders, is Sergey Petrossov, who is only 30. His father spent 15 years in Russian prisons and is best friends with “Vyacheslav Ivankov, a.k.a. Yaponchik, who’s been called the John Gotti of the Russian mob and once had a crew of 100 soldiers in Brighton Beach”. Yes, that Brighton Beach, aka South Brooklyn, where Lev Parnas grew up and got his first job selling co-ops for Fred Trump. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time Ivankov’s name has come up in the stories about Parnas and Fruman.

The earliest transaction we see in the wire transfer records is on May 30, 2017. Since it is so far removed in time from these other events, I’m not going to put the name in here from whom the money came, but it was for $30,000 received into Aaron Investments I, LLC. The name is Russian and comes up on searches as a male in his mid-20’s living in South Florida. The name also turns up in an email address for a Toyota dealership’s Russian flyer, but not on that dealership’s current staff list. The name is also associated with a defunct LLC incorporated in January of 2018 and dissolved by the state last month. At any rate, that’s a lot of money for a kid in his mid-20’s to have if he’s also helping to sell Toyotas.

On December 18, 2017, we have income of $10,000 into Aaron Investments I, LLC from WeHold, LLC. The one person affiliated with this company, which is still active, appears to be quite active in commercial real estate.

The final three wire transfers, which all came into Aaron Investments I, LLC within an 18 day period in the middle of January, 2018, totaled $5,300. These transfers came from Aaron G. Parnas. Aaron Parnas is the son of Lev Parnas and would have been in the middle of his first year of law school at the time of these transfers:

Much about Aaron, Lev and Svetlana Parnas can be read here, where we learn that this summer, Aaron interned at the Miami office of Rudy Giuliani’s former law firm. He also managed to get his undergraduate degree simultaneously with his high school diploma, which enabled him to enter law school at the age of 18. He volunteered for the Trump campaign and has said he wants to be president some day.

We of course don’t know the source of these funds Aaron put into one of many entities his father named after him. Some were incorporated around the time Aaron was born. The money could be as innocent as birthday gifts from friends and family. Recall, though that the Parnas family was at that time actively avoiding paying the $500,000 awarded to Pues in the lawsuit. And to put those funds into an entity that was being used to break the law is not a good plan for someone wanting to be president. That is, unless that someone plans to mirror the path of Donald Trump and the illegal schemes Fred used to funnel money to Donald.

Mick Mulvaney Confesses OMB and DOD Are Withholding Evidence of a Crime from Congress

Amid the tsunami of alarming news Mick Mulvaney made at today’s press conference (Trump is holding the G-7 at Doral next year, he likely will invite Putin, Trump did engage in a quid pro quo with Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25 call), one of the more important admissions got missed.

Mick Mulvaney admitted that the White House would have been breaking the law by withholding Ukrainian security funds because it did not have a “really really good reason not to do it.”

By the way, there was a report that we were worried that the money, that if we didn’t pay out the money it would be illegal. It would be unlawful. That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it, that makes it look a lot worse than it really is. We were concerned about — over at OMB, about an impoundment. And I know I’ve just put half you folks to bed, but there’s a, the Budget Control Act, Impound — the Budget Control Impoundment Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money you have to spend it. At least, that’s how it’s interpreted by some folks. And we knew that that money either had to go out the door by the end of September, or we had to have a really really good reason not to do it. And that was the legality of the issue.

He’s referring, presumably, to a WSJ report that OMB — the agency Mulvaney is still officially in charge of — put a political appointee in charge of withholding duly appropriated security funds for Ukraine so that President Trump could extort concessions from Ukraine.

The White House gave a politically appointed official the authority to keep aid to Ukraine on hold after career budget staff members questioned the legality of delaying the funds, according to people familiar with the matter, a shift that House Democrats are probing in their impeachment inquiry.

President Trump’s order to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in mid-July is at the center of House Democratic efforts to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump used U.S. foreign policy powers to benefit himself politically.

[snip]

The president has the authority to delay the release of money in certain instances, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research agency, including if there has been an unexpected change in circumstances for the program. But without being provided explanation or justification about why the administration was delaying the aid, some career officials at the Office of Management and Budget became worried they didn’t have the legal authority to hold up the funds, according to the people familiar.

While career civil servants put an initial hold on the aid, Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs in OMB, was given the authority for continuing to keep the aid on hold after the career staff began raising their concerns to political officials at OMB, according to the people familiar with the matter. Mr. Duffey also began overseeing the process for approving and releasing funds, called apportionment, for other foreign aid and defense accounts, according to a public document indicating the change.

As noted by Mulvaney today, a law passed in the wake of Richard Nixon playing games with appropriations requires that if you withhold duly appropriated funds, you explain to Congress why you’re doing so, a decision that Congress then gets to veto simply by refusing to approve of the decision. The law makes it clear that the President can’t simply ignore the will of Congress on appropriations.

And yet, that’s what Trump did for the entirety of the summer.

Worse, in his press conference today, Mulvaney admitted that Trump didn’t have a “really really good reason not to” release the funds. Rather, he had a really bad reason: he was trying to extort a quid pro quo.

And that’s why the decision — reported in ho hum fashion on Tuesday as if it were just another case of the Administration refusing Congressional subpoenas — that OMB and DOD would not respond to subpoenas is actually really important.

The subpoena to those agencies lays out some of the evidence that Trump withheld the funds after DOD cleared them. Then it lays out the evidence that Trump was defying bipartisan Congressional will in doing so.

As you are aware, the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 authorizes the President to withhold the obligation of funds only “(1) to provide for contingencies; (2) to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations; or (3) as specifically provided by law.” The President is required to submit a special message to Congress with information about the proposed deferral of funds.

On August 30, 2019, Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry of the House Committee on Armed Services wrote a letter to Mr. Mulvaney requesting information why military assistance to Ukraine was being withheld and when it would be released. They wrote: “This funding is critical to the accomplishment of U.S. national security objectives in Europe.”

On September 3, 2019, a bipartisan group of Senators–including Rob Portman, Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, and Ron Johnson–wore a letter requesting that OMB release the military assistance to Ukraine that the Trump Administration was withholding:

The funds designated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative are vital to the viability of the Ukrainian military. It has helped Ukraine develop the independent military capabilities and skills necessary to fend off the Kremlin’s continued onslaughts within its territory. In fact, Ukraine continues to fight daily on its eastern border against Russia-backed separatists in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and over 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in this war. U.S.-funded security assistance has already helped turn the tide in this conflict, and it is necessary to ensure the protection of the sovereign territory of this young country, going forward.

On September 5, 2019, Chairman Eliot L. Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to OMB urging the Trump Administration to lift its hold on security funds to support Ukraine, writing: “These funds, which were appropriated by Congress as Foreign Military Financing and as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and signed into law by the President, are essential to advancing U.S. national security interests.”

On September 9, 2019, the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight wrote to the White House requesting documents related to “the actual or potential suspension of security assistance to Ukraine.” The White House never responded to this request. However, two days later, on September 11, 2019, the White House released its hold on the military assistance to Ukraine.

On September 24, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that, although he was “very actively involved in advocating the aid,” he “was not given an explanation” about why it was being withheld, even though he talked to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. He stated: “I have no idea what precipitated the delay.”

The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the Committees to examine the sequences of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression.

That’s the subpoena that Mulvaney’s agency and DOD (the latter, after initially saying it would cooperate) are defying. It’s a subpoena that goes to the zenith of Congress’ authority, whether it is issued within or outside of an impeachment inquiry. But within an impeachment inquiry, it illustrates that on one issue of fact at the core of the investigation, there is bipartisan agreement that the White House was in the wrong.

And today, Mulvaney admitted that the White House did not have a very very good reason to withhold those funds, even while confirming that Trump was withholding the funds, in part, to extort a quid pro quo.

Even if the White House had a very very good reason, the law obliges the White House to explain to Congress why it blew off Congress’ power of the purse. The White House didn’t do it in real time — not even to Mitch McConnell. And the White House is refusing to do it now.

Update: Jack Goldsmith did a review of this issue in Lawfare today, but before the Mulvaney comments.

Update: Lisa Murkowski complained about this issue to Tim Mak today.

Sorting Out The Timeline For Lev Parnas And Program Trading Corp.

Jim here once again.

In yesterday’s post, I puzzled over the curious timeline of Program Trading Corp. appearing to have been incorporated with Lev Parnas involved before he was registered as a broker and before he says he moved to Florida. After a bit of further digging, it now looks as though Parnas did not have an association with Program Trading Corp. until August 20,1998, when his FINRA records indicate his registration was moved there. What caused my confusion is the fact that Florida’s corporate record database reflects only the most recent information on registered agents and corporate officers. That information appears alongside the incorporation date and can create the false impression I had that Program Trading Corp. had Lev Parnas as an officer from its founding in September, 1992.

Further complicating this mess is that the online records for Program Trading Corp. don’t include the original documents before the annual report that was filed in May of 1995. What becomes clear when looking at the early annual reports is that prior to 1999, Program Trading Corp. had only a single registered agent and officer, Robert J. Renneker. The company operated in Orlando rather than Boca Raton. Further, it appears that Renneker first incorporated the company as Renn Corp. Securities but after just one month changed the name to Program Trading Corp. While the 1998 annual report listed only Renneker, the 1999 report added Lev Parnas, Robert Grinberg and two others. See this Politico article from earlier today that gives details on legal issues (unrelated to Program Trading Corp.) that one of these  other new officers faced.

Very strange things happened on the corporate front for the next couple of years. In the 2000 annual report, Parnas and Grinberg were deleted, while in 2001, they were restored and Renneker was removed. In the final report that was filed, in 2003, the officers were whittled down to only Parnas and Grinberg. Interestingly, during the time Parnas and Grinberg were removed as officers, their broker registrations remained with Program Trading.

The timing for Parnas and Grinberg coming on board at Program Trading Corp. corresponds exactly with an arbitration judgement, totaling just under $154,000, awarded to clients of the firm. The case was closed on August 10,1998. Parnas’ registration moved to Program Trading on August 20, while Grinberg’s arrived on November 6.

At some time along the way, Program Trading Corp. became wholly owned by Aaron Investment Group, Inc. This entity was first incorporated on May 11, 1999, by an attorney at the high-powered firm of Broad and Cassell. There was only one director: Lev Parnas.  Grinberg and the other partners who were also with Program Trading at the time were added on the 2000 annual report. The two extras disappeared in the 2003 report, just as they did for Program Trading.

It is possible that Parnas and Grinberg knew each other while growing up. One of the addresses for Grinberg used in some of his other corporate filings ties the same name to two previous addresses in the southern part of Brooklyn where Parnas worked for Kings Highway Realty selling Trump Village co-ops, as described in yesterday’s post.

This timeline might also be subject to revision, as Grinberg claims in this bio for another company to have founded Program Trading Corp. in 1994, five years before there is documentation I’ve seen so far connecting him to the firm.

Both Program Trading Corp. and Aaron Investment Group, Inc., which owned it, were dissolved by the state after they failed to file annual reports for 2004. I don’t know if it is related, but I have found SEC filings with audits for Program Trading Corp. that were filed for calendar years 2001 and 2002. In the 2002 audit, the financials indicate a capital contribution from the parent (which would be Aaron Investment Group, Inc.) of $4.6 million. It appears that no audit was submitted to the SEC for 2003, and the FINRA page for Program Trading Corp. shows that SEC registration status was revoked on November 11, 2003. A more detailed FINRA page, however, puts the shutdown of the company a bit earlier, with registration being withdrawn on September 12, 2003. So whatever happened to blow up Program Trading Corp. happened between filing the annual corporate report with Florida on April 28, 2003 and the FINRA withdrawal of registration on September 12.

Beginning just before and continuing after the end of Program Trading Corp, Parnas and Grinberg embarked on incorporating many more entities, but describing those will have to wait for another post.

So, while in yesterday’s post it appeared that Parnas was a “made man” by age 23 when he says he moved to Florida, it may well be that it took a few more years for him to hit bigger operations in 1999 instead of 1995. And now just what he was up to between 1995 and joining Program Trading Corp. becomes a big question.

 

Gordon Sondland’s Statement Protects, Does Not Break with, Trump

Gordon Sondland is behind closed doors right now, trying to talk his way out of implication in crimes (he is represented, it should be noted, by the same lawyer who helped Karl Rove talk his way out of crimes in Valerie Plame’s outing, Robert Luskin).

But if Congressional staffers are doing their job, he’s going to have a hard job to spin what he did as anything but criminal. That’s true, in part, because his statement is full of obvious contradictions and evasions. But contrary to what many in the press (fed in advance with deceptive claims about his testimony) have claimed, the statement does not break with Trump, it protects him.

Who’s the boss?

Sondland’s first inconsistency pertains to one of the most important issues: why he was in charge of Ukrainian policy when Ukraine isn’t even in the EU. His general explanation for it is bullshit — and also should raise questions about what he has been doing in Georgia, Venezuela, and Iran. He studiously avoids explaining who ordered him to focus on Ukraine (as other testimony has made clear, the answer is because Trump ordered him to).

From my very first days as Ambassador, Ukraine has been a part of my broader work pursuing U.S. national interests. Ukraine’s political and economic development are critical to the long-lasting stability of Europe. Moreover, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which began nearly five years ago, continues as one of the most significant security crises for Europe and the United States. As the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, I have always viewed my Ukraine work as central to advancing U.S.-EU foreign policy. Indeed, for decades, under both Republican and Democrat Administrations, the United States has viewed Ukraine with strategic importance, in part to counter Russian aggression in Europe and to support Ukraine energy independence. 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. I always endeavoured [sic] to keep my State Department and National Security Council colleagues informed of my actions and to seek their input.

But the logistics of it are more interesting, particularly as it pertains to coordinating with Rudy Giuliani.

At times (at both the very beginning, after his description of the July 10 meeting, and again to explain away the July 10 meeting), he emphasizes that Mike Pompeo has approved of all this.

I understand that all my actions involving Ukraine had the blessing of Secretary Pompeo as my work was consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives. Indeed, very recently, Secretary Pompeo sent me a congratulatory note that I was doing great work, and he encouraged me to keep banging away.

[snip]

We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.

Furthermore, my boss Secretary Pompeo was very supportive of our Ukraine strategy.

[snip]

While I have not seen Dr. Hill’s testimony, I am surprised and disappointed by the media reports of her critical comments. To put it clearly: Neither she nor Ambassador Bolton shared any critical comments with me, even after our July 10, 2019 White House meeting. And so, I have to view her testimony — if the media reports are accurate — as the product of hindsight and in the context of the widely known tensions between the NSC, on the one hand, and the State Department, on the other hand, which had ultimate responsibility for executing U.S. policy overseas. Again, I took my direction from Secretary Pompeo and have had his consistent support in dealing with our nation’s most sensitive secrets to this very day.

Again, the public record makes it clear he was put in this role by Trump, not Pompeo. And while I’m sure Pompeo knew of what he was doing (his suggestion that Pompeo was “supportive of it” seems most clearly on point), he was reporting directly, via a third channel of authority, directly to Trump.

That said, his suggestion that Pompeo — a former CIA Director but now in charge of diplomacy, which is not supposed to be the realm of utmost secrecy — trusts him “with our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” suggests there’s something else going on here, something about which he’s reassuring Pompeo he’ll remain silent.

The claim that he took his direction from Pompeo, bolded above, is contradicted on the matter of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement.  His description of why Rudy was involved varies slightly over time. Initially, he says he coordinated with Rudy because the Three Amigos, collectively, decided they had to involve Rudy to achieve other diplomatic objectives.

Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Later, he claims that “his understanding” is that Trump ordered Rudy’s involvement, as if he didn’t get that order directly.

Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my Mission and I do not know what official or unofficial role, if any, he has with the State Department. To my knowledge, he is one of the President’s personal lawyers. However, my understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani’s participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President, and that Mr. Giuliani had already spoken with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker.

Still later, he strengthens that, suggesting he was “taking direction from the President” directly.

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose.

If he was taking orders from Trump on involving Rudy (which is almost certainly the case), then the claims of Pompeo’s role are just cover.

Sondland is obfuscating on both these issues: why the EU Ambassador was put in charge of Ukraine policy, and why Rudy was allowed to dictate Ukraine policy. While the press thinks Sondland has taken a big break from Trump, he has not on the key issue: that Sondland was taking orders from Trump and doing precisely what the President ordered him to.

The royal we

There are really telling passages in this statement where Sondland slips into the first person plural. Generally, he does so when describing something that he, Rick Perry, and Kurt Volker jointly believe. As noted, he does so is to explain why he and Rick Perry and Kurt Volker coordinated with Rudy.

It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani. It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed.

Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Another place he does so is to explain why the Three Amigos moved forward on scheduling the July 25 call when John Bolton and Fiona Hill were opposed (he’s utterly silent about the second half of his July 10 meeting with the Ukrainians).

We three favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not.

He also uses it to describe his meeting with Zelensky on July 26, after Zelensky had delivered on the quid pro quo, where he set up the White House meeting.

During this July 26, 2019 meeting in Kiev, we were able to promote further engagement, including discussions about a future Zelensky visit to the White House.

This is Gordon Sondland’s testimony, remember, not the Three Amigos’ testimony. But in these key passages, he claims — without explaining how he can do so — to speak for all three. He doesn’t explain if they had conversations (or WhatsApp threads) agreeing on all these issues, he just suggests he can speak for all three.

And his denials that he shared this statement with State or White House would not extend to these other people he invokes as “we.”

Perhaps a more interesting invocation of the third person plural comes where he claims that Bill Taylor, along with him and Volker, had no concerns about the push to get to Ukraine to publicly commit to an investigation that would deliver part of a quid pro quo.

First, I knew that a public embrace of anti-corruption reforms by Ukraine was one of the pre-conditions for securing a White House meeting with President Zelensky. My view was, and has always been, that such Western reforms are consistent with U.S. support for rule of law in Ukraine going back decades, under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Nothing about that request raised any red flags for me, Ambassador Volker, or Ambassador Taylor.

Taylor is still with State, so if Sondland is being honest when he says he hasn’t shared his statement, then Taylor has not bought off on this claim. I look forward to seeing whether he backs it when he testifies.

[Update, 11/20: I now believe that some of this use of royal “we” is meant to invoke Trump but not necessarily the other Amigos.]

Schrodinger’s quid pro quo

The press has been most excited about the fact that Sondland claims Trump may have had a quid pro quo, but he was ignorant of it.

But in fact, Sondland does not deny a quid pro quo. In fact, his carefully written statement admitting he knew the quid pro quo involved Burisma (which he claims he had no idea meant Biden) admits that the 2016 ask was part of it.

Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anticorruption investigatory topics of importance for the President.

And his denials about knowing that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 elections are laughable. His first such denial claims he only learned later about the specific nature of (part of) Rudy’s quid pro quo, but he doesn’t describe when he learned of it, either there or later.

I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Later, he denies recalling having any conversations about these aspects of the quid pro quo with 1) Rudy, 2) State, and 3) any “White House official” (does that description include the President?).

Third, given many inaccurate press reports, let me be clear about the following: I do not recall that Mr. Giuliani discussed Former Vice President Biden or his son Hunter Biden with me. Like many of you, I read the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call for the first time when it was released publicly by the White House on September 25, 2019.

[snip]

Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.

But he doesn’t deny talking about the nature of the quid pro quo with Volker (who’s not technically a State Department employee), Rick Perry (ditto), or the Ukrainian officials that Fiona Hill saw him discussing Burisma with on July 10.

When he denies Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, he denies only that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 election (and not Naftogaz considerations or claims about what happened in 2016 or, perhaps even more tellingly, Russian help in 2020).

Sixth, to the best of my recollection, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign.

In denying Bill Taylor’s concern about a quid pro quo, he dismisses it as a concern about the appearance of a quid pro quo, rather than the actuality of one.

On September 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: “What do you want from Ukraine?” The President responded, “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.” The President repeated: “no quid pro quo” multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.

Sondland here credits Trump’s statements, as if any Trump statement ever had any veracity, as true, even though they came at a time when the White House already knew about the whistleblower complaint, which makes what would already be unreliable outright laughable, if indeed Trump actually said that at all.

But the bigger point is this: Sondland doesn’t deny a quid pro quo. Just that he knew it was the quid pro quo that the House is currently most closely focused on early on in the process.

Gaps in the timeline

Given the way he is protecting Trump in all this, there are notable key gaps in his timeline.

Sondland doesn’t answer two obvious questions: why the Ambassador to the EU was part of the delegation to Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, and why the inauguration delegation flew back to DC, almost immediately, to brief the President on it.

On May 20, 2019, given the significance of this election, I attended the inauguration of President Zelensky as part of the U.S. delegation led by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, along with Senator Ron Johnson, Special Envoy Volker, and Alex Vindman from the NSC. During this visit, we developed positive views of the new Ukraine President and his desire to promote a stronger relationship between Kiev and Washington, to make reforms necessary to attract Western economic investment, and to address Ukraine’s well-known and longstanding corruption issues.

On May 23, 2019, three days after the Zelensky inauguration, we in the U.S. delegation debriefed President Trump and key aides at the White House. We emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine and the strengthening relationship with President Zelensky, a reformer who received a strong mandate from the Ukrainian people to fight corruption and pursue greater economic prosperity. We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.

One reason those players would have flown to DC to debrief Trump is because of the scheme to take over Naftogaz led by Perry, something Sondland doesn’t mention at all.

He also plays games with his antecedent in trying to claim that a June 4 meeting involving Zelensky, Rick Perry, and Ulrich Brechbuhl (where they discussed natural gas, among other things) had been long planned.

Following my return to Brussels and continuing my focus on stronger U.S.-EU ties, my Mission hosted a U.S. Independence Day event on June 4, 2019. Despite press reports, this event was planned months in advance and involved approximately 700 guests from government, the diplomatic corps, the media, business, and civil society. The night featured remarks by the Ambassador and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs. Following the main event, we hosted a smaller, separate dinner for about 30 people. President Zelensky and several other leaders of EU and non-EU member states attended the dinner, along with Secretary Perry, U.S. State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl on behalf of Secretary Pompeo, and numerous other key U.S. and EU officials. Though planned long in advance with the focus on improving transatlantic relations, we also viewed this event as an opportunity to present President Zelensky to various EU and U.S. officials and to build upon the enhanced government ties.

He uses “this event” to refer both to the larger 700 person event and the smaller 30 person meeting, effectively making a claim — that the larger event had been long-planned — that he tries to apply to the smaller one. He also is curiously silent about Jared Kushner’s involvement.

In addition to being silent about the second part of his July 10 meeting — the part that got John Bolton worried about what drug deals he was doing — Sondland is also silent about his pre-call briefing to Trump on July 25, after Bolton’s prep.

I was not on that July 25, 2019 call and I did not see a transcript of that call until September 25, 2019, when the White House publicly released it. None of the brief and general call summaries I received contained any mention of Burisma or former Vice President Biden, nor even suggested that President Trump had made any kind of request of President Zelensky.

And his denials about the post-call summaries mentioning Burisma or Biden do not amount to a denial that his prep did. Nor does that denial address his July 26 conversation with Trump (which he addresses in a different section), which he describes as nonsubstantive without addressing whether Trump mentioned the quid pro quo.

I do recall a brief discussion with President Trump before my visit to Kiev. That call was very short, nonsubstantive, and did not encompass any of the substance of the July 25, 2019 White House call with President Zelensky.

In other words, even where denies talking about the quid pro quo, the denials don’t amount to denials in the most important conversations.

Sondland’s silence about WhatsApp

Finally, Sondland is playing games regarding what communications he has had. With the exception of his July 26 and September 9 calls, doesn’t describe what direct communications with Trump he has had.

Just as key, he is mostly silent about his conduct of diplomacy on WhatsApp, precisely the crime (doing official business on private accounts) Trump accused Hillary of to get elected (though his lawyers wrote a letter claiming that they’re helpless in the face of State’s refusal to share his comms). That’s all the more telling given the structure of Sondland’s denials of extensive comms with Rudy. His statement deals with three different kind of comms. He focuses on in-person meetings and phone calls.

To the best of my recollection, I met Mr. Giuliani in person only once at a reception when I briefly shook his hand in 2016. This was before I became Ambassador to the EU. In contrast, during my time as Ambassador, I do not recall having ever met with Mr. Giuliani in person, and I only spoke with him a few times.

[snip]

My best recollection is that I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for the first time in early August 2019, after the congratulatory phone call from President Trump on July 25, 2019 and after the bilateral meeting with President Zelensky on July 26, 2019 in Kiev. My recollection is that Mr. Giuliani and I actually spoke no more than two or three times by phone, for about a few minutes each time.

[snip]

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose. In these short conversations, Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues.

[snip]

Ten weeks after the President on May 23, 2019 directed the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani, I had my first phone conversation with him in early August 2019. I listened to Mr. Giuliani’s concerns

But he acknowledges that Volker introduced him to Rudy “electronically.”

Ambassador Volker introduced me to Mr. Giuliani electronically.

Nowhere in his statement does he explain what form of electronic communication this introduction took place over, and nowhere does he deny having WhatsApp (or any other kind of texting) communications with Rudy.

That’s all the more curious given that he claims — ridiculously — that his statements to Bill Taylor to avoid talking about a quid pro quo on WhatsApp were not an attempt to avoid leaving a record.

Fifth, certain media outlets have misinterpreted my text messages where I say “stop texting” or “call me.” Any implication that I was trying to avoid making a record of our conversation is completely false. In my view, diplomacy is best handled through back-and-forth conversation. The complexity of international relations cannot be adequately expressed in cryptic text messages. I simply prefer to talk rather than to text. I do this all the time with family, friends, and former business associates. That is how I most effectively get things done. My text message comments were an invitation to talk more, not to conceal the substance of our communications.

Immediately after saying those WhatsApp texts no not really record the truth, he points to some emails that, he says, show that he truthfully did not want a quid pro quo.

I recall that, in late July 2019, Ambassadors Volker and Taylor and I exchanged emails in which we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. Presidential election politics.

Remember: State is withholding all of Sondland’s electronic comms from the impeachment inquiry (even assuming he turned them all over to State). So his games with phone calls and texts should be assumed to be just that, claims made from the temporary security of believing the comms to check his claims will never be turned over.

Which is to say that Sondland says quite a bit in this statement. But the most important things are his silences.

Update: On November 5, Sondland unforgot some stuff laid out in Bill Taylor and Tim Morrison’s testimony. But many of the holes laid out above remain.

Lev Parnas Had A Remarkable Start On His Path To Fraud Guarantee

Jim again here.

See update below.

Over the past few days, several sources of information about Lev Parnas’ history have come out. Perhaps the most complete picture of his early years came from this New Yorker interview shortly before his arrest:

Parnas was born in February, 1972, in the port city of Odessa, in southwestern Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. He was three when his family moved to the United States. “I came here as a legal immigrant, through a legal process,” he said. His family settled in Detroit, where they lived for about a year, before relocating to Brooklyn. When Parnas was sixteen, he worked at Kings Highway Realty, selling Trump Organization co-ops. “That was my first time knowing who Trump was, but, growing up in that area, you knew who Trump was, because his name was all over the place,” he said.

In 1995, when Parnas was twenty-three, he moved from Brooklyn to Florida.

I found the part about Kings Highway Realty and Trump co-ops especially useful, as I had been puzzled about one of the earlier passages from an interview with the Washington Post:

Parnas, 47, was born in Ukraine but moved with his family to the United States as a child and grew up in Brooklyn. He told The Washington Post in an interview conducted before his arrest that he got his start in real estate, selling Trump condos for Donald Trump’s father, Fred, then worked in shipping in the former Soviet Union before becoming a securities trader. He moved to Florida in the mid-1990s.

This passage had bothered me, because when we go back and look at Fred Trump’s career, condos play virtually no role. Fred built large, pedestrian apartment buildings, often with government assistance, in the outer boroughs that he retained ownership of and rented out to the middle class. Donald, as we know, concentrated early on opulent properties in Manhattan.

The one Fred Trump property that bears the Trump name is Trump Village:

The seven towers of Trump Village were designed by the architect Morris Lapidus. The two near Ocean Parkway were rental buildings and were run by the Trump Organization until recent years. The five other buildings were in the state’s Mitchell-Lama program, which allows people with incomes below certain thresholds to enter lotteries for the right to buy co-op apartments at below-market prices.

The snippet above was published in the New York Times in 2010. That begins to resolve some of the apparent discrepancies in the Parnas statements in the different interviews. If he was selling property for Fred Trump, co-ops in Trump Village make the most sense. And by this time, the Trump Organization was managing the properties as Fred’s health was starting to decline.

Remarkably, Kings Highway Realty Corp., which was incorporated in 1977, is still in business. The address listed for it now is around 8 miles from Trump Village. That seems to fit with a first job for a 16-year-old growing up in Brooklyn, although selling real estate at 16 seems pretty advanced.  Further, as we see in Fred Trump’s obituary, he had a history of taking in young men looking for a career in real estate.

By the time Parnas started selling co-ops at Trump Village, Fred Trump was 82. The obituary suggests that Alzheimers set in around 1993, five years after Parnas started, but there appears to have been a single driving force in Fred’s life in this era:

Fred Trump’s real estate empire was not just scores of apartment buildings. It was also a mountain of cash, tens of millions of dollars in profits building up inside his businesses, banking records show. In one six-year span, from 1988 through 1993, Fred Trump reported $109.7 million in total income, now equivalent to $210.7 million. It was not unusual for tens of millions in Treasury bills and certificates of deposit to flow through his personal bank accounts each month.

Fred Trump was relentless and creative in finding ways to channel this wealth to his children. He made Donald not just his salaried employee but also his property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He gave him loan after loan, many never repaid. He provided money for his car, money for his employees, money to buy stocks, money for his first Manhattan offices and money to renovate those offices. He gave him three trust funds. He gave him shares in multiple partnerships. He gave him $10,000 Christmas checks. He gave him laundry revenue from his buildings.

Much of his giving was structured to sidestep gift and inheritance taxes using methods tax experts described to The Times as improper or possibly illegal. Although Fred Trump became wealthy with help from federal housing subsidies, he insisted that it was manifestly unfair for the government to tax his fortune as it passed to his children. When he was in his 80s and beginning to slide into dementia, evading gift and estate taxes became a family affair, with Donald Trump playing a crucial role, interviews and newly obtained documents show.

So at the very time that Parnas came onto the scene, Fred was already slipping into dementia but singularly focused on channeling as much money as he could to Donald while avoiding taxes on the transfers. Did Parnas see these schemes as they developed? Did he even perhaps play a bit role? Recall that in one of the interviews he says he worked for the Trump Organization. The ultimate vehicle for funneling cash to Fred’s offspring came into being in 1992, and likely postdated Parnas’ time with Trump Village, but we have to wonder if Parnas saw the seeds of this one being planted, or was even one of the employees used in the scheme. Continuing in the Times article above:

The most overt fraud was All County Building Supply & Maintenance, a company formed by the Trump family in 1992. All County’s ostensible purpose was to be the purchasing agent for Fred Trump’s buildings, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. It did no such thing, records and interviews show. Instead All County siphoned millions of dollars from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin. Fred Trump then used the padded All County receipts to justify bigger rent increases for thousands of tenants.

Something Parnas almost certainly had to have seen just before going to work with the Trump Organization was the story of David Bogatin, one of the first Russian purchasers of a Donald Trump property:

But Bogatin wasn’t deterred by the limited availability or the sky-high prices. The Russian plunked down $6 million to buy not one or two, but five luxury condos. The big check apparently caught the attention of the owner. According to Wayne Barrett, who investigated the deal for the Village Voice, Trump personally attended the closing, along with Bogatin.

/snip/

In 1987, just three years after he attended the closing with Trump, Bogatin pleaded guilty to taking part in a massive gasoline-bootlegging scheme with Russian mobsters. After he fled the country, the government seized his five condos at Trump Tower, saying that he had purchased them to “launder money, to shelter and hide assets.” A Senate investigation into organized crime later revealed that Bogatin was a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York. His family ties, in fact, led straight to the top: His brother ran a $150 million stock scam with none other than Semion Mogilevich, whom the FBI considers the “boss of bosses” of the Russian mafia. At the time, Mogilevich—feared even by his fellow gangsters as “the most powerful mobster in the world”—was expanding his multibillion-dollar international criminal syndicate into America.

How could that not have made an impression on Parnas, going to work just months after the Bogatin story exploded?

This leads us to a murky intermediary period in Parnas’ story.  Note that the Post interview, but not the New Yorker interview, mentions that he “worked in shipping in the former Soviet Union”. Also, this biography he eventually put on the Fraud Guarantee website mentions something similar:

Notably, in this version Parnas says he shipped “the first containers of freight between the United States and the former Soviet Union”. The Gorbachev government failed in December of 1991, when Parnas would have been 19, going on 20 the next February. And yet, somehow, this teenager, who had a couple of years selling real estate, suddenly jumps into the middle of a brand new opportunity on the world scene. Even more confusing is the fact that the former Soviet Union in those early years had a horrible economy:

The first seven years of Russia’s transition from the Soviet central planned economy (1991-1998) were not easy. This [period, which coincided with most of the regime of President Boris Yeltsin were, by most accounts, a time of economic chaos, if not near collapse and failure.

During the period, Russia lost close to 30% of its real gross domestic product (GDP), a decline reminiscent of the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States.4 Russia also suffered very high rates of inflation– over 2,000% in 1992 and over 800% in 1993– before it declined to more tolerable, but still high, levels of around 20% by the end of the 1990s. The inflation robbed Russian citizens of their savings as the value of the ruble collapsed, eventually forcing the Russian government to sharply devalue the ruble on January 1, 1998, with 1 new ruble equaling 1,000 old rubles. As a hedge against inflation, some residents, who were in a position to do so, invested in hard assets such as art works, foreign currencies, and real estate.

So what would a teenager ship? Oh, I don’t know, maybe he figured something out at a time when the rich in the former Soviet Union were looking for hard assets.

The next phase in Parnas’ career becomes really fascinating. Note that all of these narratives say he moved from shipping (or directly from real estate) to securities. Again, he seems to have had remarkable luck in jumping into a senior position at an incredibly early age. I’ve been digging into the network of Parnas’ various corporate entities (and hope to write about them soon) and the earliest entry under his name in the Florida database is for Program Trading Corp., which was incorporated on September 25, 1992 in Boca Raton. That would have made Parnas just 20 years old when he suddenly became, at least on paper, a director and President (a partner I’ll address in later posts was CEO) of a stock trading firm. The timeline here seems a bit out of order. Parnas claims not to have moved to Florida until 1995, and yet his first company there was incorporated, with him involved, in 1992. Further, when we look into Parnas’ registration as a stock broker, we see that he is listed as passing the licensing exam on December 10, 1993 and he’s first registered with a brokerage firm a few days before that on December 6. This is over a year after Program Trading Corp. was founded.

I confess to not being familiar with the detailed workings of licensing and registration of stock brokers, but the rapid succession of firms at which Parnas was registered strikes me as strange and perhaps suggestive that his early days as a broker didn’t go well. From the early firms, it appears at least possible that Parnas was indeed still in New York as he passed the first exam and sold his first securities, but it still stands out as strange that his firm in Florida was already incorporated and waiting for him when he moved there in 1995.

It’s almost as if Lev Parnas was a “made man” at 23 with experience in real estate, shipping and securities, all enterprises known to be favored by those laundering cash coming out of the former Soviet Union.

Update October 17

It appears that Parnas didn’t actually become involved in Program Trading Corp. until late 1998. I’ve put strikethrough on the parts of this post that relied on a mistaken interpretation of the forms on file with the State of Florida. See the new post for an updated timeline of Parnas and Program Trading Corp. So Parnas may not have been “made man” until 1998 instead of 1995.

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