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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.

 

Trump Team’s Extortion Demands To Ukraine Started Before The April 21 Call To Zelensky

Jim here.

As we prepare for the release of the “transcript” of Donald Trump’s first phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, it is important to put the call into perspective with events surrounding it in the overall timeline of the Ukraine events at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Pressure on Poroshenko Administration: January-February 2019

First, it is extremely important to note that Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman began their campaign to force Ukraine to re-open their investigation into Burisma and to expand it into an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden, along with an “investigation” of Ukraine meddling in the 2016 US election, before Zelensky was elected. On Friday, the Washington Post filled us in on more details of that effort:

Two associates of Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed the then-president of Ukraine in February to announce investigations into former vice president Joe Biden’s son and purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election in exchange for a state visit, and a lawyer for one of the associates said Friday that they were doing so because Giuliani — acting on President Trump’s behalf — asked them to.

The Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, met with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv, said Edward B. MacMahon Jr., a lawyer for Parnas. He said they were working on behalf of Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was operating on orders from Trump.

“There isn’t anything that Parnas did in the Ukraine relative to the Bidens or the 2016 election that he wasn’t asked to do by Giuliani, who was acting on the direction of the president,” MacMahon said.

The article goes on to note that Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko was also at this meeting, and that there had even been a meeting of Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman with Lutsenko in January.

As a result of this pressure, Lutsenko announced in March that he would investigate the Bidens. This opened the door for the infamous Ken Vogel hatchet job on the Bidens, published in the New York Times on May 1. Buried deep into the article, Vogel did at least grudgingly admit the previous investigation by Ukraine found nothing and that re-opening the investigation was in response to “pressure”:

The decision to reopen the investigation into Burisma was made in March by the current Ukrainian prosecutor general, who had cleared Hunter Biden’s employer more than two years ago. The announcement came in the midst of Ukraine’s contentious presidential election, and was seen in some quarters as an effort by the prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, to curry favor from the Trump administration for his boss and ally, the incumbent president, Petro O. Poroshenko.

We now know, as described above, that the pressure was applied primarily through Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman rather that through official channels. Returning to the Post article, here is how those efforts worked out:

At the time of the February meeting, Poroshenko was seeking reelection and wanting an official visit to Washington. He ultimately lost and never announced the investigations that Parnas and Fruman asked about, nor did he get the Washington visit he wanted.

The February meeting was also attended by Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, MacMahon said. Lutsenko said in March he was investigating the Bidens, only to reverse course months later.

So, although Lutsenko announced an investigation, Poroshenko never did. Clearly, to the Trump team, the announcement had to come from the top in order to win the prize of the state visit that, at least in the opinion of the Trump team, would have tipped the election to Poroshenko. However, the Lutsenko announcement apparently was sufficient for Vogel and the Times.

Zelensky Elected April 21, 2019

The election in Ukraine took place on April 21 (although there was a preliminary round with no clear winner on March 31), with Zelensky winning in a landslide, 74% to 24% for Poroshenko. Trump’s call to Zelensky took place on April 21, shortly after Zelensky was declared the winner. Kurt Volker noted the call:


So, on the surface, one would expect a transcript of the call only to reflect congratulations on being elected. Volker didn’t specifically state anything else was covered in the call, but did note the US supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and “counter [Russian] aggression”, sentiments Trump certainly would not have put into the call or Volker’s statement about it.

Of course, since it’s Donald Trump we’re talking about here, all bets are off on what will be in whatever Trump releases, if he does release something. Recall that Trump has called for Republicans to release their own “transcripts” of committee depositions in a very thinly veiled request for doctored transcripts:


Since Trump often operates via projection, we can’t help wondering whether he plans to do some editing on this “transcript” if it is released.

Pressure on Zelensky Administration Begins in May 2019, Before Inauguration

We must also keep in mind that the pressure on Zelensky’s Administration to investigate the Bidens began well before the July 25 phone call and that the first enticement offered in this extortion was Mike Pence attending the inauguration. From the New York Times:

Not long before the Ukrainian president was inaugurated in May, an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s journeyed to Kiev to deliver a warning to the country’s new leadership, a lawyer for the associate said.

The associate, Lev Parnas, told a representative of the incoming government that it had to announce an investigation into Mr. Trump’s political rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his son, or else Vice President Mike Pence would not attend the swearing-in of the new president, and the United States would freeze aid, the lawyer said.

/snip/

The meeting in Kiev in May occurred after Mr. Giuliani, with Mr. Parnas’s help, had planned a trip there to urge Mr. Zelensky to pursue the investigations. Mr. Giuliani canceled his trip at the last minute, claiming he was being “set up.”

Only three people were present at the meeting: Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and Serhiy Shefir, a member of the inner circle of Mr. Zelensky, then the Ukrainian president-elect. The sit-down took place at an outdoor cafe in the days before Mr. Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration, according to a person familiar with the events. The men sipped coffee and spoke in Russian, which is widely spoken in Ukraine, the person said.

Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, said the message to the Ukrainians was given at the direction of Mr. Giuliani, whom Mr. Parnas believed was acting under Mr. Trump’s instruction. Mr. Giuliani said he “never authorized such a conversation.”

Note Rudy’s non-denial: he says he never authorized such a conversation, but doesn’t dispute that it took place. Also note that Zelensky did not announce an investigation and Pence did not attend the inauguration.

Although it isn’t mentioned in this article, Rudy’s sudden decision not to attend the May meeting most likely was because he suddenly feared Igor Kolomoisky. From Buzzfeed:

The 56-year-old billionaire was not just a major supporter of Zelensky’s. He owned the television channel that had broadcast the comedy shows in which the newcomer had once played the part of the president of Ukraine, which had made him a household name.

Parnas and Fruman jetted to Israel in late April to meet Kolomoisky, who was living in self-exile after the previous administration took over a bank he founded amid accusations of fraudulent loans and money laundering. (Kolomoisky has vehemently denied the allegations.)

The meeting went badly.

In an interview, Kolomoisky said he was led to believe Parnas and Fruman wanted to talk about their new export business. Instead, he said, they pushed to meet with Zelensky. “I told them I am not going to be a middleman in anybody’s meetings with Zelensky,” he said to reporters for BuzzFeed News and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. “I am not going to organize any meetings. Not for them, not for anybody else. They tried to say something like, ‘Hey, we are serious people here. Giuliani. Trump.’ They started throwing names at me.”

Kolomoisky called Parnas and Fruman “fraudsters” in an interview shortly after the meeting. Soon after, a lawyer for the two men filed a claim for damages and told police in Kiev that the oligarch had threatened their lives.

“It was a threat that we took seriously,” said Parnas.

Giuliani jumped into the dispute, denouncing Kolomoisky in tweets as a “notorious oligarch” who “must be held accountable for threats.”

So Rudy stayed behind on the May trip, sending Parnas and Fruman on their own.

Bottom Line

Even if a “transcript” from the April 21 call from Trump to Zelensky is released and contains no extortion demand from Trump for Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, such a demand was indeed delivered to a Zelensky associate less that a month later by Parnas and Fruman. The threat was then carried out when Pence did not attend Zelensky’s inauguration since no investigation was announced.