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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impeachment = Grounds for Firing

You’d think we were all in Newfoundland buried beneath multiple feet of snow given the blizzard of bullshit Trump and his reality TV cast have been spewing.

Like this idiocy on Twitter:

Many have speculated that Trump can’t read; the above tweet is one more piece of evidence in their favor, because he’s clearly not read the rather simple Articles of Impeachment.

He can read because in addition to typing stupid tweets he manages to scratch out legible crap on paper using a Sharpie pen, writ large enough that passing cameras can read it.

Like this piece of brilliance snapped on November 20:

[Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Photos]

Sure, we believe you, big guy. You didn’t want a quid pro quo BUT you told Zelensky you want him to “do the right thing,” leaving the possibility of future cooperation hanging in the air and $35 million in U.S. aid allocated by Congress still undelivered the day before this note was Sharpied.

Not bribery. Not extortive at all, with hundreds of Ukraine’s citizens dying due to Russian aggression.

But Trump’s ethically-challenged brain trust has his back, issuing a letter rebutting the House’s impeachment. They claim he can’t be impeached because [—enter bullshit excuse du jour—].

Like Alan Dershowitz’s ridiculous claim that Trump didn’t do anything illegal and therefore can’t be impeached.

I pity every student Dershowitz ever taught; the credibility of their credits earned has been thrown into question now that Dershowitz has decided to backpedal on his positions held back in the 1990s when lying to Congress about a consensual blowjob was an impeachable offense.

One of the arguments consistently made by Trump, his consent-challenged attorneys, and the right-wing monkey horde is that impeachment nullifies the 2016 election.

Putting aside the legitimacy of an election questionably won with foreign interference he solicited right in front of the American public on camera, impeachment isn’t a criminal prosecution. It’s a Constitutional act by which the people through their representatives indict the president for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” — it’s not a nullification.

Can’t believe I’m actually posting anything by Cato Institute, but this fairly brief explainer is straightforward:

Using the power it alone possesses,the House of Representatives impeached Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors consisting of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

In Trump’s abuse of office he acted illegally; these acts may yet be prosecuted once he leaves office if they are still within statue of limitations:

There may be more illegal acts upon further investigation. We still don’t have all the details about the threat to former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, for example.

The illegal acts themselves are not laid out in the Articles of Impeachment, offering instead only the high-level assessment that Trump invited foreign interference in the 2020 election for his own personal gain while damaging U.S. national security interests and in violation of his oath to faithfully execute the law. He obstructed Congress as they investigated his abuse of office.

The House was too kind by half, sparing him a detailed recitation of his illegal behaviors within the Articles.

A conviction by the Senate — unlikely as it is because its GOP majority is hapless and nearly as corrupt as Trump — won’t nullify the 2016 election. It would result in succession by Vice President Mike Pence, acknowledging both the election and the established order of succession.

And it would tell Trump what he truly deserves to hear for failing to do his job, that of faithful execution of this country’s laws, upholding the Constitution.

It’s a pity Trump and his legal minions refuse to accept the House has found ample grounds to tell Trump his work performance is unacceptable.

More than half of the U.S. don’t approve of Trump’s job performance as well. It’d be nice if the Senate GOP found a spine, convicted Trump, and told him in simple, familiar terms he knows all too well that he’s fired.

Trump Flunkies Trading Legal Relief for Campaign Dirt: Julian Assange and Dmitro Firtash

When we discuss Trump’s abuse of pardon authority, we generally talk about how he has used it to persuade close associates to refuse to cooperate or affirmatively obstruct investigations into him. If you believe Michael Cohen, Jay Sekulow floated group pardons early in the Mueller investigation before he realized it would backfire, but he did suggest Trump would take care of Cohen in summer 2017; Rudy Giuliani reportedly repeated those assurances after Cohen got raided in April 2018. Trump has repeatedly assailed the prosecutions of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and suggested they might be rewarded with pardons for their loyalty. Trump has even suggested Mike Flynn might receive a pardon, which is good because his current attorney seems intent on blowing up his plea deal.

Even within the Mueller Report, however, there was a hint of a different kind of abuse of pardons. Trump was asked if he had discussed a pardon for Assange prior to inauguration day.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

Trump gave a typically non-responsive answer, claiming to not recall any such discussions rather than denying them outright, and limiting his answer to the campaign period, and not the transition period.

By the time Mueller asked the question, there was already abundant public evidence of a year-long effort on behalf of Trump’s flunkies to get Assange a pardon in exchange for mainstreaming his alternative version of how he obtained the emails he published in 2016. In the Stone trial, Randy Credico described how Stone reached out to Margaret Kunstler to initiate such discussions; that happened in late 2016.

At the very least, that suggests Trump’s flunkies were trying to reward Julian Assange for providing them dirt during the election. Sure, we don’t know whether those flunkies ran such proposals by Trump; we certainly don’t have the details about how Trump responded. But someone in Trump’s immediate orbit, Stone, moved to reward Assange’s actions by trying to get him immunized from any legal problems he had with the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With that in mind, consider these documents that Lev Parnas provided to HPSCI. Part of a set of notes that Parnas took last June while on a call from Rudy, it lays out what plan Parnas was supposed to present to Dmitro Firtash.

The idea was that Parnas would find a way to get rid of Lanny Davis as Firtash’s US lawyer on extradition, to be replaced by Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing. Meanwhile, Rudy would be in “DC” with a “package” that would allow him to work his “magic” to cut a “deal.” The package, it seems would involve relief from Firtash’s legal woes — an indictment for bribery in Chicago — plus some PR to make it possible for Firtash (whom just three months earlier Rudy was loudly accusing of having ties to the Russian mob) to do business in the US again. In exchange for totally perverting the US justice system so that a corrupt businessman could access the US market again, Rudy would get … bogus dirt about Joe Biden and a claim that somehow Ukraine’s publication of details on Paul Manafort’s corruption that Manafort knew about two months in advance improperly affected the 2016 election. Possibly, given other things Parnas said, it would also include a claim that Andrew Weissmann was asking Firtash for information on Manafort.

Remember: another of the oligarchs whom Manafort had crossed in the past, Oleg Deripaska, spent most of 2016 trying to feed up information to the FBI to get him indicted, even while tightening the screws on Manafort to get information about the Trump campaign. But Rudy Giuliani wants to suggest that asking Manafort’s former business partners for details of their work would be proof that Democrats cheated in 2016.

Regardless, these notes, if authentic, show that Rudy Giuliani believed he could make Firtash’s legal problems go away.

And all he would ask in exchange — besides a million dollars for his friends and another $200,000  for Parnas, chump change for Firtash — would be transparently shoddy propaganda to use to discredit the prosecution of Paul Manafort and hurt the reputation of Joe Biden.

Dirt for legal relief. A quid pro quo of a different sort.

Once again, there’s not yet any evidence that Trump’s flunkie — his ostensible defense attorney this time, not his rat-fucker — had looped Trump into this plot. Here, the legal relief would come via connections with Bill Barr (possibly with a nudge from the President), not Trump’s executive authority alone.

But in both cases, Trump’s closest associates appear to believe that the proper currency with which to obtain shoddy campaign dirt is legal relief.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation.

Lev Parnas Wouldn’t Reveal Whether He Has Receipts on Bill Barr

I suggested in this post that Lev Parnas appears to believe that how and when he was arrested was an attempt to silence him and force him to take the fall for Trump.

With that in mind, I want to reexamine why he might believe that coming forward now might help his defense.

Obviously, one thing he is trying to do — thus far unsuccessfully — is make it clear that in his actions regarding Ukraine, he is a co-conspirator with the President, Victoria Toensing, Joe DiGenova, and, of course, Rudy Giuliani. That doesn’t mean he didn’t insert himself into that role — by all appearances he did; that’s what his existing indictment is about, how he spent big money to insinuate himself into Trump’s immediate circle.

But since that time, Rudy, Toensing, and DiGenova took actions that might be deemed an overt act of a conspiracy. So did Trump, not least on July 25, 2019, on a call with President Zelensky. Implicating powerful Americans in his influence-peddling is particularly important because, if he can’t do that, he may be exposed to further charges. WSJ reports that, late last year, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy tried to convince prosecutors that Parnas did not “push[] for the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the behest of a Ukrainian official—one of the charges in the campaign finance indictment.” If Parnas can claim that anything he did after some point in 2018 — which otherwise might be deemed to be FARA violations, suborning perjury, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, bribery, and more — he did with the approval of the President of the United States, he might be able to claim that those actions were the official foreign policy of the United States, which would basically be the same claim Trump is using to defend against impeachment.

None of that may matter, however, depending on what SDNY plans or is allowed to do.

After all, Barr had been briefed on this investigation since shortly after he was confirmed, probably indicating that SDNY deemed it a significant matter reflecting the sensitivities of an investigation into political figures including Pete Sessions, some Las Vegas politicians, Ron DeSantis, and the President’s SuperPAC. As such, Barr would receive advance notice before SDNY took steps against any of these political figures (and it would have to happen before pre-election blackouts kick in in August). The Criminal Division would need to approve any search or prosecution of an attorney, covering Rudy, Toensing, and DiGenova. Barr would have to approve any legal process targeting media figures like John Solomon or Sean Hannity, as he would have to approve their treatment as subjects of the investigation. And, just on Monday, Barr stated he will require Attorney General approval before DOJ or FBI can open a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign (and Trump started his reelection campaign almost immediately upon inauguration).

In short, for SDNY to go after any of Parnas’ other known potential co-conspirators, aside from Fruman, Bill Barr or Criminal Division head Brian Benczkowski would have to approve.

That gives Barr veto power over including most of Parnas’ potential co-conspirators in an indictment with him. And he has made no secret that he was brought in to protect Trump from facing any legal consequences for his crimes.

For a time, it looked like Barr believed he couldn’t protect Rudy. But then Rudy loudly announced he had insurance.

“I’ve seen things written like he’s going to throw me under the bus,” Giuliani said in an interview with Fox News’ Ed Henry about the characterizations and comments made in the media about him and his relationship with the president. “When they say that, I say he isn’t, but I have insurance.”

And if Rudy’s actions are beyond legal sanction, then Parnas is left holding the bag, just like Michael Cohen appears to have been for hush payments he made on the orders of Trump. Indeed, while Parnas expressed some interest in cooperating with prosecutors, if prosecutors are barred from pursuing anyone more senior than Parnas, then there’s little for Parnas to offer.

Which brings us to Parnas’ expressed fear of Barr.

In the second installment of his Maddow interview, Parnas claimed he was doing all of this because he fears Barr — or deems Trump too powerful when he is protected by Barr.

PARNAS: The only reason – if you’ll take a look, and you know very well because you have been following, the difference between why Trump is so powerful now, and he wasn’t as powerful in ’16 and ’17 –

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: – he became that powerful when he got William Barr.

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: People are scared. Am I scared? Yes, and because I think I`m more scared of our own Justice Department than of these criminals right now, because, you know, the scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong and – or when you’re not, you know, and that’s the tool they’re using.

I mean, just – because they’re trying (ph) to scare me into not talking and with God’s help, and with my lawyer next to me that I know will go bat for me no matter what, with the truth –

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: – and I’m taking a chance.

That comment makes sense whether he believes Barr had him arrested to silence him or even just worries that Barr will protect everyone else. It would even make sense if — as is quite possible — Parnas is working for powerful Russians or Ukrainians who’ve been trying to control Trump by making him vulnerable.

There’s no doubt that abundant evidence can be shown that Barr is not just covering up, but actively obstructing any investigation into Trump’s actions. As I’ve noted repeatedly, Barr or one of his subordinates:

  • Scoped the assessment of the whistleblower complaint to ensure it wasn’t tied to the ongoing investigation of Parnas and Fruman in SDNY
  • Failed to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC, which (if it were functional) could have imposed civil penalties for the illegal solicitation of campaign help
  • Had OLC invent a bullshit reason to withhold the complaint from Congress
  • Had Kerri Kupec exonerate Trump publicly, reportedly in response to a demand from Trump

Mind you, I’m the only one harping on this obstruction, but they’re still details that deserve more attention.

But that’s not how Parnas is focusing on Barr.

In his interview with Maddow, Parnas twice alleged that he had seen Barr receiving calls from Rudy and others on this stuff. First, he said that Rudy and Toensing and DiGenova had told him they were engaging Barr on this project.

MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

He then expanded on that to say, first, that he witnessed conversations between the lawyers and Barr, and then, less convincingly, claimed that “Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible.”

PARNAS:  I personally did not speak to him, but I was involved in lots of conversations that Joe diGenova had with him in front of me, Rudy had with him in front of me, and setting up meetings with Dmytro Firtash’s team. I was involved in that.

MADDOW:  Do you know if Rudy Giuliani was ever in contact with Mr. Barr, specifically about the fact that he was trying to get Ukraine to announce these investigations into Joe Biden?

PARNAS:  Oh, absolutely.

MADDOW:  Mr. Barr knew about it?

PARNAS:  Mr. Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible.

MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr – Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

Claiming “Barr had to have known everything,” while seemingly consistent with the public actions of Barr’s DOJ, is not going to be strong enough to get Barr, personally, in trouble.

Though it is worth noting that (in the same way that Devin Nunes unforgot speaking to Parnas as Parnas started rolling out receipts), CNN reported that Barr had attended a meeting where Rudy pitched the case of the Venezuelan paying for the grift long after he had to have known Rudy was under criminal investigation.

The Giuliani meeting at the Justice Department in September became public months ago in the wake of the arrest of two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were working on Giuliani’s Ukraine mission for the President.

Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, issued a public statement at the time expressing regret for holding the meeting and saying he wouldn’t have met with Trump’s personal lawyer had he known about Giuliani’s role in the ongoing investigation.

But department officials didn’t mention then that Barr was also in the meeting. Barr was at the meeting for about 10 minutes and had dropped in to greet other lawyers who worked alongside Giuliani to represent the Venezuelan businessman, according to a Justice Department official. His presence is also notable because Justice officials have said he was briefed after taking office in February on the investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors into Parnas and Fruman, and the connections with Giuliani.

There’s almost certain to be more, though. When Maddow asked Parnas whether he knew whether Barr ever spoke with any of the Ukrainians that Parnas was grifting (the question I’ve been asking for some time), he claimed not to recall, even though the entire point of his interview was to talk about how he had come forward out of fear of Bill Barr.

MADDOW:  Do you know if Attorney General William Barr every [sic] spoke with any Ukrainian officials?

PARNAS:  I don’t recall at this moment. I’d have to look at my text messages and see.

There is absolutely no way that Parnas did not know, when he gave this answer, whether he has proof that Barr was personally involved with the three Ukrainians who have spoken to John Durham. None.

Which likely means Parnas does have proof that, contrary to every denial DOJ has issued since they started issuing very carefully crafted denials since September 25, Barr did interact with the corrupt Ukrainians Rudy was teeing up.

Parnas kept receipts, for just the moment when his grifting on behalf of Trump and his associates can do damage. Those receipts might, conservatively, make additional charges from SDNY more difficult. They might even make a cooperation deal possible.

But it sure sounds like something even crazier. Parnas apparently believes Barr makes Trump something he hadn’t been before, protecting Trump in a way he hadn’t been. But that’s only true if Parnas can’t produce proof that Barr is part of this conspiracy.

In other words, whatever the reality, Parnas appears to be dribbling out the receipts implicating the people that SDNY prosecutors work for in an attempt to either increase the chances of cooperating out of his indictment or at least raising the costs of any further charges.

Perhaps a more interesting question is why SDNY prosecutors permitted Parnas to launch this media campaign. They didn’t have to: Parnas got permission to modify the protective order on this stuff so he could release it, and they may have had to question Robert Hyde earlier than they otherwise intended to because of the publicity surrounding Parnas’ texts with Hyde. SDNY might be doing it to encourage a criminal target to run his mouth and say something incriminating. They might have done it for counterintelligence reasons, to see who responded to this media campaign. But it’s also possible that SDNY is happy for Parnas to expand the possible scope of their own investigation by making it harder for Barr to protect Rudy and others.

The suspense, though, has to do with that non-committal answer Parnas gave about whether he has any texts directly implicating the Attorney General of the United States. A defendant being prosecuted by the Department of Justice was asked whether he had proof that the top law enforcement officer in the country was personally implicated in his corrupt influence peddling.

And Parnas is not telling. Yet.

As Accused Co-Conpirators, Donald Trump and Lev Parnas Should Be Treated with Same Skepticism

WaPo has a long profile of Lev Parnas that adopts the same approach with the accused influence-peddler that virtually the entire press corps does: raising cautions about his veracity because Parnas is has been indicted in a serious crime, with more charges promised.

Some of his most explosive claims that Trump, Vice President Pence and Attorney General William P. Barr knew of his activities remain unsubstantiated and disputed. The president’s allies say his assertions are not credible, noting the serious criminal charges he faces.

“These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison,” White House press secretary Stephanie ­Grisham said this past week.

[snip]

And some Democrats have counseled caution in the face of his allegations, noting that he is accused of serious felonies.

“Parnas is someone whose evidence, whose testimony should be questioned, challenged, like any other witness,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) told CNN, adding, “but he should be a witness.”

Prosecutors have hinted in court that more of Parnas’s activities have not come to light yet. This past month, they revealed that he received a mysterious $1 million loan in September from a lawyer for Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian gas tycoon facing bribery charges in the United States. In court, Bondy said the loan was made to Parnas’s wife and had been intended to help the couple buy a home. He said that Firtash had cut all ties to Parnas after it started to become clear Parnas intended to assist the impeachment probe. He and Parnas have declined to comment further.

The profile mentions Trump’s impeachment in the third paragraph, and describes the way Parnas’ media blitz undermines Trump’s defenses. But it treats Trump’s defenses, having been accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, as presumptively trustworthy.

The House of Representatives formally voted to send the Senate charges that Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to help his reelection bid.

[snip]

Still, the blizzard of new details in the documents Parnas had turned over raised a host of questions about Trump’s efforts in Ukraine — ratcheting up the pressure on Senate Republicans to allow witnessesto be called during the coming trial.

[snip]

The materials sharply undercut the notion pushed by the president’s supporters that the activities in Ukraine were about U.S. anti-corruption policy — rather than defeating Biden.

The profile doesn’t make two things clear. First, Trump is an accused defendant every bit as much as Lev Parnas is, with the same incentive to lie. More importantly, from the very beginning of this impeachment process, Parnas has been described as a co-conspirator of Trump’s in his crimes.

The whistleblower complaint that first accused Trump of multiple crimes invokes Parnas and Igor Fruman at least four times. After describing Rudy’s trip to Madrid to meet with Andriy Yermak in the wake of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, the complaint notes that Rudy has reached out to other Zelensky advisors through the grifters.

Separately, multiple U.S. officials told me that Mr. Giuliani had reportedly privately reached out to a variety of other Zelenskyy advisers, including Chief of Staff Andriy Bohdan and Acting Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov.4

4 In a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) on 22 July, two associates of Mr. Giuliani reportedly traveled to Kyiv in May 2019 and met with Mr. Bakanov and another close Zelenskyy adviser, Mr. Serhiy Shefir.

Then, when raising Yuriy Lutsenko’s confessed efforts to invent dirt targeting Marie Yovanovitch, the whistleblower raises Rudy’s public claims that John Durham was meeting with Ukrainians for his Bill Barr-led probe.

Mr. Lutsenko also stated that he wished to communicate directly with Attorney General Barr on these matters.9

9 In May, Attorney General Barr announced he was initiating a probe into the “origins” of the Russia investigation. According to the above-referenced OCCRP report (22 July), two associates of Mr. Giuliani claimed to be working with Ukrainian officials to uncover information that would become part of this inquiry. In an interview with Fox News on 8 August, Mr. Giuliani claimed that Mr. John Durham, whom Attorney General Barr designated to lead this probe, was “spending a lot of time in Europe” because he was “investigating Ukraine.” I do not know the extent to which, if at all, Mr. Giuliani is directly coordinating his efforts on Ukraine with Attorney General Barr or Mr. Durham.

The complaint provides further details laying out Rudy’s meetings with Lutsenko.

It was also publicly reported that Mr. Giuliani had met on at least two occasions with Mr. Lutsenko: once in New York in late January and again in Warsaw in mid-February. In addition, it was publicly reported that Mr. Giuliani had spoken in late 2018 to former Prosecutor General Shokin, in a Skype call arranged by two associates of Mr. Giuliani.10

10 See, for example, the above-referenced articles in Bloomberg (16 May) and OCCRP (22 July).

The complaint then moves on to describe Rudy’s outreach to Zelensky after the election, suggesting that Parnas and Fruman may have been the people he heard were leading that effort.

Around the same time, I also learned from a U.S. official that “associates” of Mr. Giuliani were trying to make contact with the incoming Zelenskyy team.11

11 I do not know whether these associates of Mr. Giuliani were the same individuals named in the 22 July report by OCCRP, referenced above.

In other words, Parnas’ efforts to reach out to Lutsenko and other corrupt prosecutors and then his role pressuring Zelensky to announce a Biden investigation has always been part of the necessary context in which to understand Trump’s comments on that phone call as the crime it is.

And while Trump has denied knowing Parnas (in the same way he denied knowing George Papadopoulos), his lawyers have not denied that he was working on Trump’s behalf.

The House Intelligence Committee already has legal proof of that — in John Dowd’s October 3 letter asserting that Parnas and Fruman’s work for Rudy was in connection with Rudy’s representation of Trump.

Be advised  that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek in your September 30, 2019, letter is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.

Parnas has since presented further proof of that, in the email focusing on the import of ensuring Parnas and Fruman could not cooperate with Congress that preceded by hours the release of a Trump-penned letter accusing the entire impeachment proceeding of impropriety. He even provided proof that Trump knew of a perceived conflict involving John Dowd’s representation of Parnas and waived it.

Moreover, Parnas has provided text messages and other evidence more than substantiating the Ukraine outreached raised by the whistleblower, both with those named by him and those alluded to:

  • Yuri Lutsenko
  • Ivan Bakanov
  • Serhiy Shefir
  • Arsen Avakov
  • Andriy Yermak
  • Igor Kolomoisky

Trump and Parnas are both defending themselves against serious allegations of criminal wrong-doing.

But just one of them has released evidence to substantiate their defense. And the press ought to take that into account when deciding who is more credible.

 

Kevin Downing Was “in the Loop” of Silencing Lev Parnas on October 8

Lev Parnas’ lawyer, Joseph Bondy, continues his attack on those who scorned his client.

This afternoon, he posted an email dated October 8, 2019 7:06 AM that John Dowd — then ostensibly representing Parnas and Igor Fruman — sent to update a bunch of lawyers that his clients would send, “a letter to the intel committee to eliminate any doubt that Igor and Lev will appear to answer questions because we are not prepared to do so.”

Dowd, of course, had already first called, on September 30, then sent a letter, on October 3, to convey the same message. But he seemed to feel the need to do so again on October 8 (which may be part of the reason the White House released the intemperate Trump letter signed by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone).

He forwarded the email, with all recipients visible, to his clients a minute later.

The next day, Parnas and Fruman met with Rudy Giuliani at Trump hotel for lunch. That afternoon, Bill Barr visited SDNY. Hours later, Parnas and Fruman tried to board a plane to go to Vienna to tape an interview between Sean Hannity and Dmitro Firtash. They were arrested on charges that had been processing away in SDNY for months, ostensibly because SDNY feared they would flee, even though they had left the country numerous times while that investigation proceeded. Then, probably after Parnas and Fruman were arrested, Barr visited Rupert Murdoch personally. Hannity never went to Vienna. Nor did Rudy, who was supposed to meet Parnas and Fruman the next day.

According to public reports at the time, because they got arrested in EDVA, they needed a local lawyer to deal with their bail, so Paul Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing stepped in. Then, what must be the next day, Parnas fired both Dowd and Downing, because — he believed — they were telling him to take the fall for the President.

MADDOW: Mr. Dowd was your attorney for a time and then you changed attorneys.

PARNAS: I fired him in jail.

MADDOW: You fired him when you were in jail?

PARNAS: Yes.

MADDOW: What happened there?

PARNAS: And Mr. Downing. Basically, when we were arrested, obviously, I had nowhere else to call. I didn`t know – we just retained Dowd and Downing. So I called Downing to come there and I started seeing in the process of the bail stuff the way things were going on that they were more concentrating on – I didn’t feel that they were trying to get me out, and at that point, I had a meeting with John Dowd and Downing inside the jail.

And John Dowd just instead of comforting me and, you know, trying to calm me down, telling me, like, it’s going to be OK, like, don’t worry, basically start talking to me like a drill sergeant and telling me, giving me orders, like, you know, be a good boy, like, you know.

MADDOW: He said “be a good boy”?

PARNAS: No, I don’t – I don’t want to quote him exactly on what the words, what he used in that because it was a while ago. I don’t remember exactly.

But it was – it was his condescending attitude toward basically, like, who do you think you are telling the president or Giuliani or anybody to, like, come out and because I – one of the things I said, I said, I can’t believe nobody is coming out in our defense and saying we didn’t do anything wrong, we’re good citizens, you know, we work.

And basically word for word, and then I said, if you don’t get out of here right now, something bad is going to happen because I don’t want to see the two of you.

And at that point, Downing hit the emergency button and the security took me out and took them out.

MADDOW: This is a very heated confrontation. You told Downing and Dowd to get out.

PARNAS: I threw them out.

MADDOW: Were they telling you to sacrifice yourself in order to protect the president?

PARNAS: That’s what I felt.

Here’s the thing. Downing was not — at least not publicly — representing Parnas and Fruman until and because they were detained in EDVA.

But he — Paul Manafort’s lawyer — was included in that email from Dowd on October 8, a day before they were arrested along with Trump’s lawyers, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, and Rudy’s then lawyer Jon Sale.

Lev Parnas appears to believe he was arrested because it was a better way to keep him silent than telling Congress no.

And the inclusion of Kevin Downing in that October 8 email suggests he may well be right.

It Was All [Fruman’s] Contacts in Ukraine

During his media blitz, Lev Parnas has focused mostly on the people he needs to implicate to better his own outcome: President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, and Joe DiGenova, along with Bill Barr who — Parnas seems to be suggesting — is protecting the others in the SDNY investigation, if not Barr himself.

There’s been virtually no mention of his primary alleged co-conspirator, Igor Fruman. Indeed, in the first of two Maddow broadcasts, Fruman’s name only appears twice, when Maddow raised it.

But Parnas made a single very provocative mention of Fruman in his otherwise unremarkable Anderson Cooper interview that aired last night.

In discussing who he was speaking to in Ukraine, he suggested those people were all Fruman’s contacts.

COOPER: You’ve been described — the position you ended up with Giuliani, you’ve described as a fixer for Giuliani in his efforts to dig up dirt on the Bidens. Is that accurate?

PARNAS: I don’t know what you call a fixer. I mean, I was —

COOPER: Arrange meetings, conduct meetings —

PARNAS: Yes. I mean, that’s exactly what I did. I mean, I was the middleman between two worlds.

Here I was, I had a partner in Igor Fruman that grew up in Ukraine, had extensive business there. And because of his businesses, he knew all kinds of people that were, you know, politicians —

COOPER: He had — he had the contacts.

PARNAS: It was all his contacts. I didn’t have any contacts in Ukraine. I don’t have any contacts in Ukraine. [my emphasis]

Parnas goes immediately from claiming he was relying on Fruman’s comments to telling the story that he otherwise has stuck to: these people took his calls because he would claim he was calling on behalf of the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States, then put the President’s lawyer on speaker phone to verify himself.

COOPER: For a guy who does not have contacts in Ukraine, you were able to get meetings with a lot of very important people in Ukraine. Why was that?

PARNAS: Well, I mean, if the president of the United States tells them to meet with you, I think anybody will meet with you.

Fruman is virtually absent from Parnas’ media blitz narrative except for that moment where Parnas hinted that Fruman’s contacts were a key part of the grift.

This WaPo story from yesterday provides one hint about what kind of contacts Fruman might have. As Fruman tells it (rather dubiously), he “happened to” run into someone in a lobby in Kyiv — who by implication though the story doesn’t make this 100% clear, appears to be Dmytro Firtash’s associate and alleged Moldovan fraudster Dmitry Torner  — which led to a meeting with Rudy in Paris.

Giuliani’s introduction to Firtash’s network began in May. That’s when Fruman told a person familiar with his account that he happened to run into a friend in the lobby of a Kyiv hotel who could get to Firtash.

Torner worked as the head of the analytics department at an electricity and gas distribution company in Ukraine owned by Firtash, according to public records and information he later provided election officials in Ukraine when he launched a bid for the parliament as part of a pro-Russian political party.

Representatives of Firtash declined to comment on Torner’s role.

On the eve of parliamentary elections in July, Ukrainian authorities announced that Torner had been disqualified because officials had discovered that he held multiple fraudulent Ukrainian passports under various names.

According to Ukraine’s Security Service, Torner is a citizen of Moldova named Dmitry Nekrasov who was wanted for escaping incarceration in his home country and changed his name to start a new life in Ukraine.

[snip]

In late May, a few weeks after Fruman told an associate that he encountered Torner in Kyiv, Giuliani met with the Firtash executive in the private cigar bar of the luxury hotel Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris, according to people familiar with the encounter.

That led to the June meeting that Fruman and Parnas had in Vienna with Firtash himself, where they offered a quid pro quo on behalf of the President of the United States, trading some kind of cure for Firtash’s criminal problems in the US in exchange for dirt on Joe Biden and Paul Manafort.

The OCCRP report included in the whistleblower complaint speaks at more length about the kinds of contacts Fruman has in Ukraine.

Fruman, 53, has spent much of his career in Ukraine, and has ties to a powerful local businessman reputed to be in the inner circle of one of the country’s most infamous mafia groups.

[snip]

His network of businesses extends from the United States to the city of Odesa, a Ukrainian Black Sea port notorious for corruption and organized crime.

Reporters found that Fruman has personal ties to a powerful local: Volodymyr “The Lightbulb” Galanternik, a shadowy businessman commonly referred to as the “Grey Cardinal” of Odesa.

Galanternik is described by local media and activists as a close associate of Gennadiy Trukhanov, the mayor of Odesa who was shown in the late 1990s to be a senior member of a feared organized criminal group involved in fuel smuggling and weapons trading.

Galanternik also owns a luxury apartment in the same London building as the daughter of another leader in the gang, Aleksander “The Angel” Angert, OCCRP has previously reported.

Vitaly Ustymenko, a local civic activist, describes Galanternik as an overseer of the clique’s economic domination of the city.

“[Galanternik] is not ‘one of the’ — he is actually the most powerful guy in Odesa, and maybe in the region,” Ustymenko said.

Fruman’s recent ex-wife, Yelyzaveta Naumova, is the self-declared best friend of Galanternik’s wife, Natasha Zinko, according to her Instagram posts. Galanternik and Zinko also celebrated the New Year in 2016 with the Frumans in South Florida, according to a photo posted online by an acquaintance of Fruman.

Galanternik’s name is seldom tied directly to his businesses. Instead he operates via a network of offshore companies and trusted proxy individuals. But there are signs that either Fruman or his long-standing local partner, Serhiy Dyablo, may have a business relationship with Galanternik via two Odesa firms (see box).

This suggests that Parnas’ role in the grift was creating the echo chamber, while Fruman’s — who reportedly is in a joint defense agreement with Rudy — was in connecting Rudy to the network of sketchy characters, including organized crime, who would be willing to lie to reverse efforts to combat corruption in Ukraine.

But the role of Furman’s network of sketchy businessmen may explain a few other details. It may explain, for example, why Parnas was spreading false rumors about Marie Yovanovitch nine months before he created the echo chamber on the frothy right that he now blames for his negative comments about her.

Lev Parnas has a story to tell in which everything he did, he did at the behest of the President of the United States, working through the President’s addled lawyer Rudy Giuliani. In that story, there is no network in Ukraine, and it’s only the heft of the President of the United States that gets him meetings with some very powerful, but very corrupt, characters.

But that story ignores the events — at the center of his existing indictment — by which Parnas and Fruman bought their way into being key players in Trump’s network. It ignores hows they donated $325,000 to Trump’s SuperPAC immediately after first inciting Trump to fire Marie Yovanovitch, long before Joe Biden had announced he was running for President.

And it ignores that network of mobbed up Ukrainian businessmen who would have real incentive to reverse anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.

Parnas’ Three-Way: John Dowd Has Already Confirmed a Key Part of Lev Parnas’ Story

Last night, Lev Parnas provided details to Rachel Maddow about how he came to be represented, briefly, by John Dowd. It was Rudy’s idea, but when Dowd first raised the issue, Jay Sekulow (who appears to have recognized this would all blow up) said he doubted the President would waive any conflict he had. Parnas replied that he believed the President would. Shortly thereafter, Dowd came back and told Parnas, “You are one lucky man,” confirming that Trump had waived the conflict.

Per the email from Dowd reflecting the request to Sekulow that Parnas released, that happened on October 2.

At around the same time, there was a discussion about what to do about the subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee, which requested documents on September 30, to be due on October 7. As Parnas explained it, they met at Dowd’s house with Rudy and Sekulow, with Victoria Toensing on the phone. Because Parnas worked for Rudy and Toensing, Parnas explained, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone would write a letter to Congress asserting “three-way privilege.”

Only, Cipollone didn’t write that letter. John Dowd, who had attorney-client privilege at the time with Parnas, wrote it the day after Trump waived any conflict. This is the letter that I said, back in October, might one day end up in a museum.

If we survive Trump and there are still things called museums around that display artifacts that present things called facts about historic events, I suspect John Dowd’s October 3 letter to the House Intelligence Committee will be displayed there, in all its Comic Sans glory.

In it, Dowd memorializes a conversation he had with HPSCI Investigation Counsel Nicholas Mitchell on September 30, before he was officially the lawyer for Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, now placed in writing because he had since officially become their lawyer. He describes that there is no way he and his clients can comply with an October 7 document request and even if he could — this is the key part — much of it would be covered by some kind of privilege.

Be advised  that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek in your September 30, 2019, letter is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.

Once that letter was sent, under penalty of prosecution for false statements to Congress, it became fact: Parnas and Fruman do work for Rudy Giuliani in the service of the President of the United States covered by privilege, Rudy does work for them covered by privilege, and they also do work for Joseph Di Genova and Victoria Toensing about this matter that is covered by privilege.

I observed at the time that this seemed to be an effort to adopt the same strategy that had worked so well in the Mueller investigation — throw everyone into the same conflict-ridden Joint Defense Agreement, and sink or swim together.

Only, this time, it would entail also admitting one other key player into the Joint Defense Agreement: Dmitro Firtash, whom months earlier Rudy had affirmatively claimed was part of the Russian mob.

[W]hen Dowd wrote Congress, explaining that Rudy worked for both Trump and the Ukrainian grifters, and the Ukrainian grifters worked for DiGenova and Toensing, he was asserting that the President is a participant in an ethical thicket of legal representation with a mob-linked Ukrainian oligarch fighting extradition (for bribery) to the United States. And all of that, Dowd helpfully made clear, related to this Ukraine scandal (otherwise he could not have invoked privilege for it).

In other words, the President’s former lawyer asserted to Congress that the President and his current lawyer are in some kind of JDA from hell with the Russian mob, almost certainly along with the President’s former campaign manager, who apparently gets consulted (via Kevin Downing) on these matters in prison.

And that’s why the inclusion of Parnas’ hand-written notes from a June 2019 phone call with Rudy are so important. They show that Rudy had a plan to trade Firtash — the guy that Rudy claimed in March 2019 was part of the Russian mob — “magic” to “cut deal” or “get dismissed” his legal troubles in return for dirt on Burisma and claims that the “Ukrain ledger” was bogus.

Parnas even wrote notes showing they were going to hire Brian Ballard or Robert Stryk to do a PR campaign of the sort that Paul Manafort used to do.

Rudy might contest that’s what these notes — indeed, he denied any tie to Firtash, including through a Firtash associate Dmitry Torner, in an important story yesterday (though he did admit speaking to two of Firtash’s lawyers).

In a statement, Giuliani said he did not remember meeting Torner or details of his meetings in Paris and London and had limited interest in Firtash. “I never met him. I never did business with him,” he said of Firtash. He did not respond to follow-up questions after The Post obtained photos of the Paris gathering.

[snip]

In a statement this week, Giuliani said he spoke with a Chicago-based attorney who is handling Firtash’s federal case to see if he had “evidence of corruption in Ukraine in 2016” to bolster his defense of Trump.

“I asked some questions about him because I thought he might have some relevant information,” Giuliani told The Post. “I determined that he didn’t.”

He said that Parnas urged him to keep reaching out to Firtash associates, but that he rejected the idea because he did not believe the tycoon had any pertinent information.

But Bondy, who has been urging Congress to call his client as a witness, said Parnas would be prepared to describe Giuliani’s outreach to Firtash.

“If called upon to testify, Mr. Parnas would say that Mr. Giuliani never rejected efforts to establish a line of communication with Mr. Firtash, and that, to the contrary, he did everything possible to secure that channel,” Bondy said.

But, as I said in October, the president’s former lawyer is already on the record in a statement to Congress under penalty of false statements that Parnas worked for both the president (via his current lawyer) and Toensing and DiGenova.

It has been clear since October that something like those notes Parnas released would be forthcoming. And because the government arrested Parnas, there’ll be a damned good chain of custody on the notes, proving he didn’t make them more recently to get out of legal trouble.

Trump’s legal advisors all entered into an insane joint defense agreement in October to try to keep Parnas (and Fruman) quiet. It seems Parnas quickly realized, when Dowd started giving him orders in jail, that he was going to be the fall guy for all their shady dealings, Rudy’s shady dealings, done on behalf of the President.

 

 

Lev Parnas’ Claims to Be Following the Opinion of His Clique on Yovanovitch Are Demonstrably False

I just watched Lev Parnas’ interview with Anderson Cooper.

On it, he went further in his comments about Marie Yovanovitch than he did last night, when he apologized for being part of the attacks on her. Tonight, he said he came to hate her only because of the opinion of those around him.

Except that’s inconsistent with another detail he offered (one repeated in the part of the Maddow interview aired tonight) — that he knows of at least four attempts to fire Yovanovitch. The first, he explained, was when he was at an American First SuperPAC event and told Trump that Yovanovitch was bad-mouthing him, in response to which Trump turned to his aide John DeStefano and told him to fire her.

That incident was reported on last year.

The April 2018 dinner was designed to be an intimate affair, an opportunity for a handful of big donors to a super PAC allied with President Trump to personally interact with the president and his eldest son.

In an exclusive suite known as the Trump Townhouse at Trump’s Washington hotel, the group — including Jack Nicklaus III, the grandson of the famous golfer, and a New York developer — snapped photos, dined and chatted about their pet issues with the president for about 90 minutes.

Among those in attendance were two Florida business executives who had little history with Republican politics but had snagged a spot at the dinner with the promise of a major contribution to the America First super PAC. They turned the conversation to Ukraine, according to people familiar with the event, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private dinner.

One of the men, Lev Parnas, has described to associates that he and his business partner, Igor Fruman, told Trump at the dinner that they thought the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was unfriendly to the president and his interests.

According to Parnas, the president reacted strongly to the news: Trump immediately suggested that then-Ambassador Marie ­Yovanovitch, who had been in the Foreign Service for 32 years and served under Democratic and Republican presidents, should be fired, people familiar with his account said.

Parnas was inciting Trump to fire Yovanovitch months and months before the effort picked up in earnest. That was before Rudy even started this project. That is, this incident is utterly inconsistent with Parnas’ claims to have adopted his malign opinion of Yovanovitch from those around him.

He was a leader, not a follower, on attacking Yovanovitch.

That said, Parnas’ effort to get Yovanovitch fired a year before she was ultimately fired may have had something to do with Trump. As I’ve noted, it coincides with the time when Paul Manafort’s fate started to go south.

When she asked Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan why she had been withdrawn with almost no notice, he told her Trump had been pressuring State to do so since Summer 2018.

Finally, after being asked by the Department in early March to extend my tour until 2020, I was then abruptly told in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine “on the next plane.” You will understandably want to ask why my posting ended so suddenly. I wanted to learn that too, and I tried to find out. I met with the Deputy Secretary of State, who informed me of the curtailment of my term. He said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.

It is true that these events would have shortly followed the first efforts from Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to cultivate Trump and his “free” lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, whom Trump “hired” (for free) in April.

At almost precisely that time, in April 2018, Ukraine stopped cooperating with Mueller on the Manafort prosecution, possibly in response to the approval of an export license for Javelin missiles, one of the same things Trump used again this summer to extort Ukraine.

Nevertheless, Trump’s efforts to fire Yovanovitch took place even while — in spite of Ukraine’s halt to their cooperation — things started going south for the President’s former campaign manager.

Parnas tried to downplay this last night, the degree to which — in addition to an attempt to attack Biden — this has always been an attempt to undermine Mueller. That’s probably because he can’t dismiss that as peer pressure, like he has with Yovanovitch. His efforts to undermine Mueller won’t endear him to Democrats. It would also raise questions about others who would want to undermine that investigation, particularly since he wasn’t working with Rudy yet.

But Parnas’ claims about Yovanovitch are fairly transparently false. He led. He did not follow. And the reasons why he did so probably conflict with the emphasis of this story — which he has currently placed precisely where it’ll be most enticing to Democrats — which is on Biden, not Mueller.

GAO’s Determination that Trump Broke the Law Raises the Stakes of Senate Exoneration

Since Mick Mulvaney confessed to being in violation of the Impoundment Control Act back on October 17, I’ve been waiting for that fact to take on the constitutional import that it should in the impeachment process. Finally, today, on the day the Senate starts Trump’s trial, it has done so.

That’s because the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan body that works for both the Democratic majority House and the Republican majority Senate, has deemed DOD’s withholding of defense support for Ukraine illegal under the Impoundment Control Act.

GAO’s findings are modest. It does not get into whether Trump’s actual purpose for withholding the funds — which evidence suggests involved extorting Ukraine to produce dirt on Joe Biden — is legal or not. It accepts that Trump had a policy purpose for delaying the funds, without getting into what that policy was. But even on those terms — even if it was done for Trump’s cover story purpose of combatting corruption — GAO finds that withholding the funds was illegal.

As it lays out, Trump cannot simply ignore Congress’ appropriations. If he wants to act contrary to appropriations, he either has to ask Congress to cancel the funds — a rescission — or delay it for one of a narrow set of reasons. Both actions require notice to Congress.

Not only did Trump’s Office of Management and Budget not provide full notice to Congress, but since the funds were ultimately spent, the delay could only be considered a deferral, and the purpose OMB stated in the explanation they did offer does not fall under the acceptable purposes of a deferral.

An appropriations act is a law like any other; therefore, unless Congress has enacted a law providing otherwise, the President must take care to ensure that appropriations are prudently obligated during their period of availability.  See B‑329092, Dec. 12, 2017 (the ICA operates on the premise that the President is required to obligate funds appropriated by Congress, unless otherwise authorized to withhold).  In fact, Congress was concerned about the failure to prudently obligate according to its Congressional prerogatives when it enacted and later amended the ICA.  See generally, H.R. Rep. No. 100-313, at 66–67 (1987); see also  S. Rep. No. 93-688, at 75 (1974) (explaining that the objective was to assure that “the practice of reserving funds does not become a vehicle for furthering Administration policies and priorities at the expense of those decided by Congress”).

The Constitution grants the President no unilateral authority to withhold funds from obligation.  See B‑135564, July 26, 1973.  Instead, Congress has vested the President with strictly circumscribed authority to impound, or withhold, budget authority only in limited circumstances as expressly provided in the ICA.  See 2 U.S.C. §§ 681–688.  The ICA separates impoundments into two exclusive categories—deferrals and rescissions. The President may temporarily withhold funds from obligation—but not beyond the end of the fiscal year in which the President transmits the special message—by proposing a “deferral.”[4]  2 U.S.C. § 684.  The President may also seek the permanent cancellation of funds for fiscal policy or other reasons, including the termination of programs for which Congress has provided budget authority, by proposing a “rescission.”[5]  2 U.S.C. § 683.

In either case, the ICA requires that the President transmit a special message to Congress that includes the amount of budget authority proposed for deferral or rescission and the reason for the proposal.  2 U.S.C. §§ 683–684.  These special messages must provide detailed and specific reasoning to justify the withholding, as set out in the ICA.  See 2 U.S.C. §§ 683–684; B‑237297.4, Feb. 20, 1990 (vague or general assertions are insufficient to justify the withholding of budget authority).  The burden to justify a withholding of budget authority rests with the executive branch.

There is no assertion or other indication here that OMB intended to propose a rescission.  Not only did OMB not submit a special message with such a proposal, the footnotes in the apportionment schedules, by their very terms, established dates for the release of amounts withheld.  The only other authority, then, for withholding amounts would have been a deferral.

The ICA authorizes the deferral of budget authority in a limited range of circumstances:  to provide for contingencies; to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations; or as specifically provided by law.  2 U.S.C. § 684(b).  No officer or employee of the United States may defer budget authority for any other purpose.  Id. 

Here, OMB did not identify—in either the apportionment schedules themselves or in its response to us—any contingencies as recognized by the ICA, savings or efficiencies that would result from a withholding, or any law specifically authorizing the withholding.  Instead, the footnote in the apportionment schedules described the withholding as necessary “to determine the best use of such funds.”  See OMB Response, at 2; Attachment.  In its response to us, OMB described the withholding as necessary to ensure that the funds were not spent “in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy.”  OMB Response, at 9.

The ICA does not permit deferrals for policy reasons.  See B‑237297.3, Mar. 6, 1990; B-224882, Apr. 1, 1987.  OMB’s justification for the withholding falls squarely within the scope of an impermissible policy deferral.  Thus, the deferral of USAI funds was improper under the ICA.

Moreover, the footnotes that OMB used in lieu of notifying Congress that Trump was blowing off Congress weren’t proper, either, GAO found. That’s because DOD continued to do what it needed to do to appropriate the funds (something that the bureaucrats at DOD did in part to execute the will of the President, but partly to cover their own ass). The only reason the funds were withheld was OMB’s order, which amounts to a reportable impoundment.

OMB asserts that its actions are not subject to the ICA because they constitute a programmatic delay.  OMB Response, at 7, 9.  It argues that a “policy development process is a fundamental part of program implementation,” so its impoundment of funds for the sake of a policy process is programmatic.  Id., at 7.  OMB further argues that because reviews for compliance with statutory conditions and congressional mandates are considered programmatic, so too should be reviews undertaken to ensure compliance with presidential policy prerogatives.  Id., at 9.

OMB’s assertions have no basis in law.  We recognize that, even where the President does not transmit a special message pursuant to the procedures established by the ICA, it is possible that a delay in obligation may not constitute a reportable impoundment.  See B‑329092, Dec. 12, 2017; B‑222215, Mar. 28, 1986. However, programmatic delays occur when an agency is taking necessary steps to implement a program, but because of factors external to the program, funds temporarily go unobligated.  B‑329739, Dec. 19, 2018; B‑291241, Oct. 8, 2002; B‑241514.5, May 7, 1991.  This presumes, of course, that the agency is making reasonable efforts to obligate.  B‑241514.5, May 7, 1991.  Here, there was no external factor causing an unavoidable delay.  Rather, OMB on its own volition explicitly barred DOD from obligating amounts.

GAO notes that the communications it got from DOD and OMB were insufficient. It also notes that State gave it nothing, as it tried to figure out whether that delay, too, broke the law.

As I noted back in October, first Trump refused to tell Congress what was going on with the funds, even though members of both parties, together, and both houses, together, asked. But then Trump exacerbated the crime by refusing to explain all this after the fact. It’s not just that Trump is withholding documentation from the impeachment inquiry. It’s also withholding documentation Congress is entitled to under its appropriation function.

In spite of the fact that a core part of the Republican brand is a claim to care about whether the Executive Branch spends money in the way Congress tells it to, this will likely not make a difference in the Senate impeachment process. Trump has flouted the power of the purse that is normally fiercely guarded by both parties in Congress. But the Republicans will still — even with this nonpartisan proof that Trump has screwed them over — vote not to remove him from office.

Which will mean, in doing so, Republican Senators will sanction even more unconstitutional acts from this President.

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