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.

Lev Parnas, Creator of Echo Chambers

Last night, Lev Parnas gave the first half of a very explosive interview to Rachel Maddow.

I’ll go back and dig into it in more detail later. But for now, I’d like to make one observation about what the texts from Parnas released over the last few days show (though a large volume, because they’re in Russian, will escape close crowdsourced analysis).

Over and over, we see Parnas feeding very well placed people links to (usually) frothy media stories, many of those stories based on false claims he is getting Ukrainians and others to tell. Parnas claims — a claim that is only partly true — that these stories are all about the Bidens, though he admits they are partly about 2016. As such, Parnas presents himself as creating, then magnifying, the stories that President Trump wants to tell. He has positioned himself to be a gatekeeper because he serves as translator for Rudy, who is mentally unstable and probably desperate for other reasons but also believes he’s pursuing stories that will help his ostensible client, Donald Trump, though Trump is not the one paying to have these stories told. But he’s also the translator for John Solomon. Parnas is the only one on the American side who can assess what kind of prices Rudy (and Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova) are paying to create these stories. Indeed, a key part of this economy involved removing the people — not just Marie Yovanovitch, but also Fiona Hill and Bill Taylor — who could warn about the costs being incurred along the way.

In short, for the last 18 months, Parnas has played a key part in creating the right wing echo chamber, one that — particularly because the addled Rudy is a trusted advisor — forms a key part of how Trump understands the world. One way Parnas did that was by recruiting Ukrainians who were, for very crass reasons, willing to tell Trump and the rest of the frothy right what they wanted to hear, even though it was assuredly not true.

Remarkably, we really don’t know why Parnas decided to play a key cog in the right wing echo chamber in the first place. He’s a grifter, but even with a recent cash infusion from Dmitro Firtash, he’s not getting rich. He was in a powerful position, the one sober person at Trump’s hotel bar, spinning up the drunk Trump sycophants. But that “power” got him indicted for the influence peddling that first landed him in this position. Before answering why he’s telling his story now, without immunity and while facing down still more charges, we’d want to understand that primary motivation, and we don’t know it yet.

Last night’s interview continued that grift, only he moved to spin an echo chamber for the left this time. He emphasized — and Maddow predictably responded — some of the key allegations Democrats most want to be true. Mike Pence is closely involved, Parnas revealed, and while nothing he revealed would amount to impeachable conduct, Democrats immediately latched onto the possibility it would be. Everyone was involved, Parnas confirmed, including Devin Nunes and Bill Barr. It was all about Biden, Parnas almost certainly lied.

In short, doing what he appears to be very good at, Parnas is telling us what we want to hear, whether true or not.

On key parts of his story, however, he got — with the help of MSNBC’s editors — notably more reserved or deceitful. We didn’t learn the full terms of his relationship with Firtash, even though Firtash is the guy paying for the defense strategy that includes telling us these stories. Parnas describes, “we were tasked” to spin these stories, leaving the subject of the tasking unknown. Parnas dubiously claims he’s sorry about targeting Marie Yovanovitch, even while he shows no remorse at similar shivs in service of the grift. Parnas claims to have been more concerned by the breakdown Robert Hyde had at Doral than he was about Hyde’s claims to have Yovanovitch under surveillance and possible contract.

Parnas is telling us what we want to hear. And we listen, even though we all recognize that the stories he spun for the frothy right were false, but those false stories were all it took to work up half the country. We also recognize, though Parnas didn’t lay this out and it’ll take days before people have an adequate understanding of what he promised in Russian, that he made commitments on Rudy’s and Trump’s behalf but without any way for them to verify what he was promising.

Perhaps he’s doing this to pressure Bill Barr, the one guy who can constrain what SDNY does with his prosecution, and likewise can authorize criminal targets against whom Parnas might be able to cooperate against. Perhaps he believes he’ll get immunity from Adam Schiff, though as a former prosecutor, it’s unlikely Schiff will make that happen. Perhaps Parnas believes Trump will panic and pardon him. Or perhaps the corrupt oligarchs and prosecutors in whose debt Parnas has put Rudy and Trump have decided that — since they didn’t get what they wanted out of the deal — it’s now worth their while to expose those debts.

But until we understand why Parnas is doing what he’s doing — why he inserted himself into the right wing echo chamber in the first place, and why he’s so insistent on telling us what we want to hear now — we would do well to exercise caution about the stories he’s telling.

Update: Made some minor rewrites for clarity.

Update: Fixed location of Hyde’s breakdown.

The Parnas Files Raise the Import of DOJ’s Failure to Connect-the-Dots on the Whistleblower Complaint

Last night, HPSCI released some of Lev Parnas’ files that were seized as part of the investigation into Rudy Giuliani and his grifters.

The most important document, for the legal impeachment case against Donald Trump, is a letter Rudy sent to Volodymyr Zelensky stating clearly that he was contacting the Ukrainian president as Trump’s personal lawyer, not a government lawyer.

Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as President of the United States.

It makes it clear that — contrary to the Republican cover story — Rudy and Zelensky both knew they were negotiating a personal benefit for Trump, not a benefit to the US.

But the most important files showing Trump’s abuse of power are texts between Parnas and a thoroughly American grifter, Robert F. Hyde, who appears to have had people on the ground in Kyiv surveilling Marie Yovanovitch in the days before she was recalled. He not only appears to have known precisely where she was, but he seemed to suggest to Parnas that he could have her assassinated for a price. “Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money,” he quipped.

Viewed in isolation, these comments are (at least) a chilling indication of the lengths to which Trump supporters will go to push his conspiracies.

But viewed in light of Trump’s comment to Zelensky about Yovanovitch — “Well, she’s going to go through some things” — it suggests a direct tie between Trump and the more sordid things that Parnas was doing.

Which makes DOJ’s remarkable failure to connect the dots on the whistleblower complaint all the more damning.

As I have laid out, by August 15, top people at DOJ knew of the complaint and knew that Trump had invoked the Attorney General in his comments to Zelensky. Perhaps ten days later, DOJ got the full complaint from the whistleblower, discussing the call itself but also the larger context. Based on a claim that there was no first hand reporting in the complaint, DOJ evaluated just the MEMCON in their review of whether or not a crime was committed, not the complaint as a whole. (Not only was the claim that the whistleblower offered no first hand information false — he was in the loop on the July 18 call and July 23 and 26 meetings about withholding aid — but the complaint included concerns about withholding funding not mentioned on the call.) They quickly publicly declared that the call did not constitute a campaign finance violation, and then did not share the complaint with the FEC (which could have imposed civil penalties) and tried to prevent Congress from obtaining the complaint.

By reviewing the MEMCON instead of the full complaint, DOJ avoided doing what would be normal connect-the-dots database searches on all the names included in it, which — because the whistleblower included multiple references to and a link to this article, would have included searches on Parnas and Igor Fruman. As this table makes clear, if DOJ had done that basic connect-the-dots work they do when assessing tips, they would have found the investigation at SDNY — which Bill Barr had been briefed on when he was confirmed as AG and Jeffrey Rosen probably knew about as well.

And had DOJ tied the call to Zelensky — with its reference to potential violence targeting Yovanovitch — it would have immediately implicated Trump far more deeply in some really corrupt shit.

As if by magic, DOJ failed to do those searches, and therefore failed to obtain official notice that the President was personally involved with a grift that SDNY was close to indicting.

How Putin Got in Trump’s (and So, All of Our) Head

As of 8AM on December 22, this tweet has over 50,000 likes and almost 11,000 RTs.

The AP story he RTed selectively reported Vladimir Putin’s taunt in response to a Dmitry Simes’ question at his yearly epic press conference (posed well into the process, even after a possibly more interesting exchange about doping and the Olympics).

In context, Putin’s response is not that inflammatory. It uses domestic US politics as a way to pressure Trump to sign START-3. (I’ve italicized the Putin language that AP took out of context and provided their own translation of; also note: Simes was himself a subject of the Mueller investigation for the early advice he gave Jared Kushner on how to manage this relationship and is close to a number of key members of Congress.)

D. Simes:  Channel One, The Big Game.

D. Peskov : Please give a microphone.

D. Simes:  Mr. President, two days ago the US Congress passed bills on sanctions against Russia. Moreover, by such a majority that it would be very difficult for President Trump to maintain his veto.

And, as you probably know, the House of Representatives passed an impeachment act yesterday. This is the context in which he has to make decisions on foreign policy as a whole and more specifically, of course, in relation to Russia.

In this situation, what, do you think, do you and Russia have the opportunity to try to maintain or strengthen dialogue with the United States until the end of Trump’s presidency? What can you do for strategic stability, and more specifically, for the extension of the strategic offensive arms treaty START-3?

Vladimir Putin:  Regarding the extension of our dialogue until the end of Trump’s presidency, it’s as if you are already raising the question that it is ending. I’m just not sure about that. You also need to go through the Senate, where the Republicans, as far as I know, have the majority, and they are unlikely to want to remove the representative of their party from power for some, in my opinion, absolutely far-fetched reasons.

It’s just a continuation of the internal political struggle, and one party that lost the election, the Democratic Party, it is achieving results by other means, by other means, charging Trump with conspiracy with Russia, then it turns out that there was no conspiracy, this cannot lie in the basis of impeachment. Now they have come up with some kind of pressure on Ukraine. I don’t know what it is … But it’s more visible to your congressmen.

As for those decisions that are made in [respect] of Russia. They are accepted by people who practically do not bear responsibility for these decisions. These are not executive authorities, but representative ones, they must pass laws. They make such decisions regarding Russia.

Of course, this will affect the level of our interstate relations. We know the general approach, which is that the United States will work with us where it is interesting and profitable, and at the same time will restrain Russia with the help of solutions of this kind. Knowing this, we, too, will act in a mirror image, and that’s it. There is nothing good about it. These are absolutely unfriendly acts against Russia.

They want to help Ukraine maintain transit. I just told a colleague from Ukraine: we ourselves want to preserve transit, we are interested in this anyway and will do it. If you wanted to help, it would be better if they gave money. Why don’t they give money to Ukraine? Would give them the opportunity to subsidize.

Look, because they almost do not give money, they give only guarantees for possible loans, but this is not real money – there is no real support. And the IMF, at the same time as the United States, is demanding that all privileges for energy resources, including gas, be canceled. And now the population will again have a leap.

Other Westerners, the EU, are demanding that the round timber be exported and allowed to be exported to Europe. There will soon be nothing left of the Carpathians – bare rocks will be there if they take out the round timber. It seems like they support the current Ukrainian regime and leadership, but at the same time, in my opinion, they are doing some serious blows.

Now they demand that land be sold. For Ukrainians, the land has sacred significance, and I can understand it: these are the “golden” lands. Of course, the opposition immediately took advantage of this, now it begins to inflict domestic political blows on Zelensky.

They accuse us of something in relation to Ukraine, they allegedly want to help, but they really want to do something so that Ukraine replenishes its budget at the Russian expense. Give money yourself, help, give good loans at preferential rates for a long period. There is nothing.

Nevertheless, we are interested in developing and maintaining relations with the United States, and we will do this regardless of who is in the White House or who controls both houses of the US Congress.

Are there any prospects here? I think there is. You yourself mentioned one of the foundations on the basis of which we must build our relations – these are global security issues, including START-3. We have given our proposals, I have already said, and I want to repeat once again: until the end of the year we are ready to simply extend, just to take and extend the current START-3 agreement.

If tomorrow they send us by mail, or we are ready to sign and send to Washington, let the relevant leaders, including the President, put their signature there, if they are ready. But so far there is no answer to all our proposals. And if there is no START-3, then there will be nothing at all in the world that holds back the arms race. And this, in my opinion, is bad.

Along the way, though, Putin’s correct observation that Republicans will be loathe to replace their own president led AP to foreground his claimed opinion that the impeachment was like the Mueller investigation and the allegations are far-fetched.

In a world of rigorous journalism, such a report would note that the Ukraine allegations are in some ways the continuation of Trump’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation and incorporate a hoax that Trump believes partly because Putin has convinced him to (claim to) believe.

But the AP didn’t include that. It instead included Putin’s comment with the spin he might prefer, and slapped it into a tweet that emphasized Putin’s predictive powers. And somehow that tweet attracted Trump’s attention (how it did so — after all, the AP is not Trump’s regular media diet — is one of the more interesting questions about this). And Trump tweeted it out, “A total Witch Hunt!,” like he would other tweets parroting precisely what he wants to hear.

Given Trump’s kneejerk narcissism, that he retweeted this Putin comment is not much different than him retweeting Rand Paul or Jim Jordan or Mark Meadows saying something similar. Putin is just one other person Trump has chosen to include in his echo chamber,  and he’s there for the same reason: because he says to Trump what Trump wants to hear.

Of course it is different, not just because Putin has a role in Trump’s crimes, which has made this tweet go viral in part due to outrage retweeting. A slew of stupid news coverage has followed.

But the tweet is also different because by elevating the tweet, Trump will allow Putin to claim to be correct when the Senate fails to remove Trump, not just on his analysis that Republicans won’t want to remove their own President, but also that the allegations are far-fetched, something many but not all Republicans are willing to perform belief of, but which few people who’ve read the facts actually do believe.

Along the way, Putin will co-opt those Republicans (like John Kennedy) willing to spew hoaxes about Ukraine out of partisan loyalty. Loyalty to Trump will appear to be validation of Putin, even on a question premised on the overwhelming bipartisan support for sanctions on Russia. And that, in turn, will be deemed, by Trump opponents, to demonstrate irrationality of his supporters.

It’s all very predictable and — pro Trump, anti Trump, and lazy journalist — we’re all playing our designated parts like trained monkeys. All of this reactive expression only serves to heighten partisanship on terms with real consequences for foreign policy. It doesn’t take genius by Putin to do this either (though he’s very very good at playing Trump and the western press). It just takes our own reactiveness triggered by social media.

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

I’m still working on my multi-post deep dive into the substance of the IG Report on the Carter Page FISA.

But for now, it’s worth pointing out a detail from it that debunks a key conspiracy that Rudy Giuliani is chasing as he tries to hasten his client’s impeachment.

The Report describes that the investigation into Paul Manafort that resulted in conviction in EDVA and a guilty plea in DC started in January 2016, before he joined the Trump campaign.

In addition to Ohr’s interactions with the FBI and Steele in connection with the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, Ohr also participated in discussions about a separate money laundering investigation of Paul Manafort that was then being led by prosecutors from the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), which is located in the Criminal Division at the Department’s headquarters. That criminal investigation was opened by the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division in January 2016, approximately 2 months before Manafort joined the Trump campaign as an advisor, and concerned allegations that Manafort had engaged in money laundering and tax evasion while acting as a political consultant to members of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian politicians.

As expressed by propagandists like John Solomon, the investigation into Manafort’s corruption was actually “resurrected” later that year, in response to the publication of the Black Ledger (which he falsely said was a suspected fake).

The second document, known as the “black cash ledger,” remarkably has escaped the same scrutiny, even though its emergence in Ukraine in the summer of 2016 forced Paul Manafort to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman and eventually face U.S. indictment.

In search warrant affidavits, the FBI portrayed the ledger as one reason it resurrected a criminal case against Manafort that was dropped in 2014 and needed search warrants in 2017 for bank records to prove he worked for the Russian-backed Party of Regions in Ukraine.

Based on this false claim, Solomon and Rudy have claimed that Serhiy Leshchenko’s publication of the ledger (but not the entries pertaining to Manafort) was part of a Ukrainian plot to defeat Trump by falsely (they suggest) portraying Manafort as corrupt.

But the Black Ledger is not what “resurrected” the investigation into Manafort. It had started long before that, even before Manafort knew (two months before it was public) that he was included in the Black Ledger. Indeed, Manafort was under investigation when Trump hired him.

Note, too, that contrary to Trump’s wails, there would be no reason to give him a defensive briefing about Manafort, as this was not a counterintelligence investigation. Indeed, the Manafort investigation remained focused on his corruption well into 2017. If you hire a spy, you might hope that the FBI would warn you. But if you hire an epically corrupt influence peddler, you own the consequences of that.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

Explain It To Me: What Does Impeachment Mean Now?

[NB: check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Trump was impeached Tuesday evening under two Articles of Impeachment — one for abuse of power, and another for obstruction of Congress.

Got it. This is pretty straightforward.

The House has “the sole Power of Impeachment” according to Article I, Section 2, subsection 5 of the Constitution.

Understood, no problem. That’s what the House exercised under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership.

We’re now to Article I, Section 3, subsection 6 after last night:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Nothing between Article I, Section 2, subsection 5 and Article I, Section 3, subsection 6 says that the House MUST or SHALL forward any impeachment to the Senate for a trial.

I think we’re all of us watching to see how this shakes out. Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch “Sits on 400 Bills” McConnell said last week he is coordinating the handling of the senate trial with the White House — a gross conflict of interest undermining Congress’s separate powers — and senators like Majority Whip Lindsey Graham have already decided to vote to acquit Trump, it doesn’t make much sense to forward the impeachment if already moot.

It makes sense to hang on to the impeachment articles until there is clarification about the Senate acting in good faith, “on Oath or Affirmation” as Article I, Section 3, subsection 6 says.

~ ~ ~

Now we arrive at my first question: is Trump still qualified to run for re-election?

See Article I, Section 3, subsection 7:

Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Emphasis mine. Does “judgment” refer solely to conviction by the Senate after a trial once the impeachment has been forwarded to them? Or is the “judgment” when the impeachment has been pronounced by the House since the House has the sole power of impeachment? The Constitution says “Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment” in subsection 7 but the wording, “Judgment in Cases of impeachment” may not mean “Judgment in Cases of conviction” — the latter would clearly limit the outcome of the House’s impeachment to a pre-indictment or indictment determination before the Senate’s trial.

This subsection occurs under Section 3 which defines the Senate’s composition and its most fundamental powers — specifically, trying the subject after impeachment — so we might assume this is the Senate’s “judgment.” But the Constitution’s wording is muddy.

We don’t have the benefit of precedent to rely upon for guidance. Andrew Johnson, impeached by the House in 1868 but not removed by the Senate, did not win his party’s nomination that year and left office in 1869 having never been elected to the presidency. In 1998 Bill Clinton was impeached by the House during his second term, though not removed by the Senate; he was ineligible to run for re-election.

~ ~ ~

My second question relates to a point Robert Reich made about a pardon for the impeached president:

… Regardless of whether a sitting president can be indicted and convicted on such criminal charges, Trump will become liable to them at some point. But could he be pardoned, as Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon 45 years ago?

Article II, section 2 of the Constitution gives a president the power to pardon anyone who has been convicted of offenses against the United States, with one exception: “In Cases of Impeachment.”

If Trump is impeached by the House, he can never be pardoned for these crimes. He cannot pardon himself (it’s dubious that a president has this self-pardoning power in any event), and he cannot be pardoned by a future president.

Even if a subsequent president wanted to pardon Trump in the interest of, say, domestic tranquility, she could not. …

Apart from the specific reference to the House’s sole power to impeach, is this why the two Articles of Impeachment do not use the words “bribery” or “extortion” to describe what Trump did with regard to Ukraine — to limit the described crimes against the U.S. for which Trump could be pardoned by an interim successor or the next elected president?

Or if the crime(s) have not been spelled out in an impeachment, identified as a violation of specific U.S. law, can Trump still be pardoned for them, in essence given carte blanche after the fact?

Is this why the Articles were scoped so narrowly, to prevent an over-broad pardon?

So often it’s said the president’s pardon power is absolute, but impeachment appears to place the single limit. Where and when is that limit placed?

~ ~ ~

These questions have been chewing at me since Pelosi’s second gavel upon completion of the vote on the second article. I imagine the Republican Party will do as it’s done since 2015: roll over and let Trump run an obnoxious and corrupt re-election campaign, looking every bit as repulsive as he did Tuesday evening during his Battle Creek rally.

It’s also been niggling at me that twice in the text of the Articles of Impeachment it was written, “the President ‘shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors’.”

Shall, not may, be removed, on conviction for Bribery.

I noted also the use of the word “betrayed” in the Articles’ text:

… He has also betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections. …

It’s not treason as we’ve discussed in comments, but a traitor shouldn’t get a pass for selling out his country’s national security interests for personal gain.

You can bet McConnell and Graham would already have ensured the conviction and removal of a Democratic president who likewise betrayed the nation. If only they moved with the same alacrity on those 400 bills sitting on McConnell’s desk.

Will Hurd

The Entire Republican Party Owns Trump’s Crimes Going Forward

Both articles of impeachment just passed Congress, with the only non-partisan votes coming from Justin Amash (voting yes on both), Tulsi Gabard (voting present on both), Jeff Van Drew and Collin Peterson (no on both) and Jared Golden (who split his vote). In spite of a pretty damning speech about Republican lack of courage from Steny Hoyer, no Republican had the courage to support the Constitution.

President Trump will be shown to have committed more crimes, even more grievous ones than withholding duly appropriate aid to cheat in an election. It probably won’t be that long from now. And the entire Republican party will own those crimes.

The Republican party favors cheating over the national security of the United States.

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