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SDNY Prosecutors Protect Trump’s Privacy to Enter into a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob

Whooboy is there an interesting flurry of motions over in the Ukrainian grifter prosecution. Effectively, SDNY prosecutors and (two of) Lev Parnas’ co-defendants want to slow him from sharing information with HPSCI. The letters include:

  • January 17: Parnas asks to modify the protective order a third time
  • January 22: Igor Fruman lawyer Todd Blanche says he has an attorney-client interest in some of what Parnas wants to and has already shared
  • January 22: Andrey Kukushkin lawyer Gerald Lefcourt says he just wants a privilege review
  • January 23: SDNY says Parnas should not be able to share iCloud information he obtained via discovery without review
  • January 24: Parnas lawyer Joseph Bondy makes a quick argument asserting they should be able to share the information
  • January 24: Bondy responds to Fruman letter at more length
  • January 27: Blanche responds again, invoking Dmitry Firtash to speak on behalf of unnamed others

The dispute started when Parnas asked to share content that the FBI seized from Parnas’ iCloud account and then provided to him in discovery. He listed just 11 Bates stamp numbers in the initial request, but it’s unclear what kind of files these are. In response, the lawyer that Fruman shares with Paul Manafort, Todd Blanche, objected to that request, and also asked to “claw back” any privileged materials that Parnas already produced to HPSCI (remember that Victoria Toensing has already complained that Parnas has violated privilege). Blanche makes a dig at Parnas’ media tour:

My obvious concern is that Mr. Bondy’s hasty efforts to find a forum (beyond MSNBC and CNN) for someone —  anyone — to listen to his client’s version of events caused him to irresponsibly produce privileged materials to the HPSCI.

One of the two other co-defendants, Andrey Kukushkin, weighed in — having been alerted by SDNY that, “its filter team identified materials in Mr. Parnas’ iCloud account that may fall within a common-interest attorney-client privilege held jointly by Mssrs. Kukushkin, Parnas, and aothers” — and stated that he did not object to Parnas sharing information “if all privileged materials can be removed from Mr. Parnas’ iCloud account prior to production to HPSCI.”

Having thus cued Parnas’ co-defendants to submit complaints, SDNY then weighed in, objecting to Parnas’ request. They invoke two reasons for their objection. The first poses interesting Fourth Amendment considerations; effectively SDNY argues that Parnas’ warrant return from Apple includes material that Parnas never possessed (and some material he deleted that only still exists because prosecutors obtained a preservation request).

The materials at issue include records that, as far as the Government knows, were never in Parnas’s possession. For instance, the data produced by Apple includes deleted records (which may only exist because of the Government’s preservation requests), account usage records, and other information to which a subscriber would not necessarily have access. The form of the report, which was created by the FBI, was also never in Parnas’s possession.

[snip]

Additionally, to the extent Parnas seeks to produce his own texts, emails, photographs or other materials, he should have access to the content stored on his iCloud account through other means: he can simply download his own iCloud account and produce it to HPSCI (and in fact, it appears he has already done so).

[snip]

To the extent that Parnas has deleted materials from his iCloud account, the Government is willing to work with counsel to ensure that Parnas can produce his own materials that are responsive to the Congressional request to HPSCI. To that end, the Government respectfully submits that Parnas’s counsel should identify for the Government any specific chats, emails, photographs, or other content Parnas is unable to access from his iCloud currently, but whic exist within the discovery that has been produced to him and in his view are responsive to the Congressional subpoena.

I find that stance interesting enough — basically a reverse Third Party doctrine, saying that subscribers aren’t the owners of the information Apple has collected on them, at least not in the former that FBI reports it out.

It’s the other objection I find most interesting. SDNY prosecutors — including one of the ones who argued against broad claims of privilege in the Michael Cohen — objects because the data from Parnas’ iCloud,

[I]t public disclosure still has the potential to implicate the privacy and privilege interests of third parties and co-defendants.

It then argues that requiring Parnas to specifically request content that he already deleted,

would also permit his co-defendants to raise any concerns with respect to their privilege or privacy interest prior to the materials’ release.

SDNY’s prosecutors are arguing that Parnas can’t release his own iCloud material because of other people’s privacy interests!! As if it is the place for SDNY’s prosecutors to decide what HPSCI considers proper levels of disclosure!!

I’ve been giving SDNY the benefit of the doubt on this prosecution, assuming that as prosecutors they would push back against any Bill Barr attempt to protect Rudy (though not the President). But this alarms me. It seems like SDNY is using Fruman — who is in a Joint Defense Agreement with Rudy — to speak for Rudy’s interests.

After making a cursory response to SDNY, Bondy responded in more detail to Fruman. In it, Bondy makes the kind of argument about the limits of privilege you’ll almost never see a lawyer make.

[T]he burden is on the party asserting the attorney-client privilege to first establish that there was: 1) a communication; 2) made in confidence; 3) to an attorney; 4) by a client; 5) for the purpose of seeking or obtaining legal advice. The part asserting attorney-client privilege has the burden of conclusively proving each element, and courts strongly disfavor blanket assertions of the privilege as “unacceptable.” In addition, the merre fact that an individual communicates with an attorney does not make the communication privileged.

There are also instances in which the attorney-client privilege is waived, including when the substance of otherwise privileged communications are shared with third parties, when the communications reflect a criminal or fraudulent intent between the parties, when the communications are part of a joint–yet conflicted–representation, and in cases where the parties to a joint defense have become adverse in their interests. 

Bondy then goes on to add that HPSCI “does not recognize attorney-client privilege,” which may be why, at about the time these letters were breaking, Jay Sekulow was on the floor of the Senate haranguing Democrats for not respecting that privilege (which Sekulow suggested was in the Bill of Rights). He uses that stance to suggest SDNY is making a claim that violates separation of powers.

From there, Parnas goes on to disavow any privilege shared in his brief Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian mob, in part based on discussions about his initial response to the HPSCI subpoena having been shared more widely.

Mr. Parnas waives all privilege with respect to the communications he had with Mssrs. Dowd and Downing. Furthermore, the substance of his and Mr. Fruman’s legal representation appears to have been shared with third parties, including Jay Sekulow, Rudolf Giuliani, John Sale, Jane Raskin, and others. … As the Court may know, Mssrs. Sekulow, Raskin, and Giuliani are also attorney for President Trump. Mr. Giuliani and the President have interests divergent from Mr. Parnas’s wish to cooperate with Congress and the Government. Mr. Parnas believes that his and Mr. Fruman’s ostensibly joint representation by Attorneys Dowd and Downing was conflicted and intended from its inception to obstruct the production of documents and testimony responsive to lawful congressional subpoena.

[snip]

Here, Attorney Dowd undertaking a joint representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman — with the President’s explicit permission — constituted an actual conflict of interest at the time and appears designed to have obstructed Mr. Parnas’s compliance with HPSCI’s subpoenas and any ensuring efforts to cooperate with congressional investigators or federal prosecutors.

Bondy ends by saying it’s up to those claiming a conflict to invoke it.

Bondy makes it fairly clear: he believes the privilege SDNY has set Fruman up to object to involves Rudy and Trump, neither of whom are in a position to object, particularly given that if they do, Bondy will argue that Parnas believes their grift might be criminal and therefore the privilege doesn’t apply.

So instead of the President and his lawyer claiming that Parnas’ release of this material will violate privilege, Fruman does.

Mr. Fruman has reason to believe that the Production Material contains privileged information belonging to Mr. Fruman and others.

He invokes only the consultation of their shell company, Global Energy Producers, with [Rudy’s former firm] Greenberg Traurig in conjunction to substantiate a common attorney-client interest, then nods to more:

This is but one example, and there are many more, but certainly the privilege issues implicated by the repeated amendments to the Protective Order are far more expansive than the attorney-client relationships identified in Mr. Bondy’s letter.

Fruman then complains that he cannot — as Parnas has said he must do — invoke privilege because he’s not in possession of the materials (just the taint team and Parnas have them).

The best part is where, still faced with the problem that the people whose privilege is at issue (Rudy and Trump) cannot politically invoke it, Fruman finds someone else whose privilege, he says, has been violated: Dmitry Firtash.

Mr. Fruman is not the only person whose privilege information is at risk. For example, Mr. Parnas has represented that he was employed as a translator for Victoria Toensing and Joseph DiGenova in connection with their representation of Dymitry Firtash. Clearly, any materials Mr. Parnas received as a translator assisting attorneys in the representation of Mr. Firtash would be protected by attorney-client privilege. And that privilege would be held by Mr. Firtash, the client, not Mr. Parnas.

It’s increasingly clear what Parnas and Bondy are up to: They’re trying to make it politically (and given the OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of the President) bureaucratically impossible to pursue further charges. If everything recent Parnas did was done for the President, he shouldn’t be the only one facing prosecution for it.

Fruman, meanwhile, seems to be the sole member of the Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob who is a party here, trying to prevent his position from deteriorating by speaking for all the affected parties, only without naming Rudy or Trump (presumably backed by the same old pardon promises Trump always uses to get witnesses against him to take the fall).

What’s not clear is what SDNY is up to. Because it sure seems like they’ve used Fruman to protect Trump’s and even Rudy’s interests.

Judge Oetken scheduled a hearing for Thursday to resolve all this. Which may be too late for Parnas’ play.

The Significance of the Trump-Firing-Masha Recording

Yesterday morning, ABC and then Daily Beast revealed that there was a recording of the April 2018 meeting where Lev Parnas got Trump to say he would fire Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch simply by suggesting she was bad-mouthing Trump. Then, last night, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy appeared on Rachel Maddow’s show again, and provided more details of the recording.

It is about 1:40 hours long, and the firing reference comes after 40 minutes.

Bondy’s interview made two things clear:

  • By April 2018 — when Trump’s administration made Javelin missiles available to Ukraine provided that they not use them against Russia, reportedly in exchange for Ukraine’s halt to any cooperation with the Mueller inquiry — Trump was interested in how vulnerable Ukraine could be made by withdrawing US support. Half an hour, Parnas told Trump Ukraine could resist the Russian incursion without US help, based on what, we don’t know.
  • Lev Parnas probably did not fully comply with the HPSCI subpoena.

I’m as interested in the claimed story about how the recording came about.

Igor Fruman — the guy whose deep connections in Ukraine, including with some mobbed up businessmen, Parnas claims to have networked through — made the recording. That led most people to assume that Fruman released it, and therefore is cooperating, something for which there is no support.

There are at least three other possible sources for the recording.

First, SDNY seem to be suggesting that Parnas and Fruman were working for an as-yet unnamed Ukrainian to get Masha fired. That makes all the smiling pictures that the men posted with Trump and other powerful Republicans feel like a kind of reporting system, perhaps the same one Maria Butina was using. Such social media posting would be a good way to make it clear to whoever is footing the bill for such an operation that the grifters are obtaining the meetings promised. If so, the recording (and other similar ones) might serve a three-fold purpose:

  • It can serve as blackmail against Trump and others, just as it’s being used now
  • It collects intelligence about the security around Trump (Fruman reportedly took a video of the two of them entering the meeting)
  • It assures the paymaster of this operation that he’s getting what he paid for

Remarkably, we don’t yet know what Ukrainian was allegedly paying the grifters. It could be Dmitro Firtash (who last fall gave Parnas’ wife “a loan” that she could use to buy a house that, because it’d be in Florida, could not be seized as forfeiture). Given that Kevin Downing was involved in Parnas and Fruman’s defense, it could be any of Ukrainians who paid Paul Manafort after he entertained a plan to carve up Ukraine on August 2, 2016, which include Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akmetov, the former of whom used a straw donation to attend Trump’s inauguration. Or it could be one of the dodgy businessmen around Fruman. All had and have an incentive to try to reverse Ukraine’s efforts to combat corruption, and so would value the removal of Masha. [Update: I’m missing two other obvious candidates — Yuriy Lutsenko and Viktor Shokin — though much of the reporting on their interest in taking her out focuses on 2019 efforts that are more closely tied to dirt on the Bidens. Update: Fixed where the allegation that a Ukrainian was directing their efforts.]

Any of those people might have reason to release the recording. In the same way that Oleg Deripaska was pushing FBI to investigate Paul Manafort even as he was using Manafort’s desperation to try to coerce him to become his asset again, including to carve up Ukraine, anyone trying to compromise Trump can use his efforts to beat impeachment to make him more reliant on Ukrainian discretion about any deals they’ve made. Plus, by making Trump’s corruption and compromise clear even as Republican Senators vote against doing anything about it, it ensures that every single federally elected Republican has been implicated in this operation. So it’s possible the recording came from the paymaster.

It’s also possible it came from SDNY’s notoriously leaky FBI. The ABC reporters who first released it include DOJ beat journalists, so it would make sense that they’d have FBI sources. But I doubt it, not least because an FBI source would have had reason to leak it before yesterday.

But there is another possibility: that Parnas was the source, but he and Bondy lied about it early in the day (and okayed its release while Bondy was on MSNBC’s set, with a natural alibi he expressly noted), to create a cover story for releasing the recording without admitting that Parnas had not fully complied with the HPSCI subpoena but was belatedly, just yesterday, providing a copy of the recording to HPSCI. Bondy claimed it had been on Parnas’ iCloud all the time, but he had forgotten he had it.

Bondy was more aggressively questioned last night, in part by Chuck Rosenberg and Maya Wiley. But neither confronted Bondy on reports that, in discussions with SDNY last month, he had maintained Parnas’ claim that he was innocent of the existing charges against him: that he was paid and directed by the still-unnamed Ukrainian to get Masha fired. Neither raised that prosecutors have repeatedly said they expect to file more charges against the grifters, likely including (because FBI likely obtained a FISA order against one of them) foreign agent charges, which undercuts Bondy’s claim that Parnas is not seeking a cooperation deal because the existing charges against him don’t have that serious a sentencing range.

Bondy offered some explanation for why Parnas had not searched his iCloud because he had to make sure SDNY had gotten their evidence first. That sounds like a load of baloney. After all, SDNY would have been able to obtain Parnas’ iCloud account with a warrant to Apple (given that Apple decided not to encrypt iCloud after previously considering it, that means some really damning information on Trump is just sitting on a server in Cupertino or somewhere). The recording was over 18 months old when Parnas was arrested. So SDNY had had it, likely, for some time. Moreover, SDNY had told Parnas they had their discovery collected on December 3, which means Bondy could have provided this record — and anything else that was always available to Parnas — even before the phone records. Bondy now is claiming that Parnas was injured with a delay in discovery, because it delayed his ability to cooperate with HPSCI, which is totally undermined by any admission that Parnas had never even searched his iCloud (and still may not have) for information related to the HPSCI subpoena.

All of which suggests Parnas is trying to carefully manage what he’s sharing with HPSCI, presumably focusing on the latter period of his work to get Masha fired, when he could claim to be doing Rudy Giuliani’s bidding, and not the earlier part, when prosecutors claim he was working for some Ukrainian. For better and worse, that likely means that Rudy is at least partly a victim of Parnas, someone who was desperate and weak and easily manipulated into doing really stupid things — just like Trump — who could then be claimed as the real actor behind this operation.

In a sane world, both parties would take a step back and agree that our quisling President and his fawning lackeys were an easy mark. We’d talk about how to unwind whatever damage Trump has done to himself and the country.

But we don’t live in a sane world and Republicans are about to defend Trump’s right to be manipulated by grifters and spies as his Constitutional prerogative.

How Many Other Grifters and Spies Have Incredibly Damning Recordings of Donald Trump?

In Lev Parnas’ interview with Rachel Maddow, he confirmed a previously reported story that in April 2018, he incited President Trump to try to fire Marie Yovanovitch by (falsely) telling Trump that the Ambassador was badmouthing him.

For days, Republicans have been dismissing such claims, in part by emphasizing that Parnas (like Trump) is under indictment.

It turns out that Parnas has receipts, in the form of a recording of the incident someone shared with ABC.

A recording reviewed by ABC News appears to capture President Donald Trump telling associates he wanted the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired – and speaking at a small gathering that included Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — two former business associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who have since been indicted in New York.

The recording appears to contradict statements by President Trump and support the narrative that has been offered by Parnas during broadcast interviews in recent days. Sources familiar with the recording said the recording was made during an intimate April 30, 2018 dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Trump has said repeatedly he does not know Parnas, a Soviet-born American who has emerged as a wild card in Trump’s impeachment trial, especially in the days since Trump was impeached.

“Get rid of her!” is what the voice that appears to be President Trump’s is heard saying. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.”

On the recording, it appears the two Giuliani associates are telling President Trump that the U.S. ambassador has been bad-mouthing him, which leads directly to the apparent remarks by the President. The recording was made by Fruman according to sources familiar with the tape.

[snip]

Parnas appears to say: “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She’s still left over from the Clinton administration,” Parnas can be heard telling Trump. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait,” he said.

According to the Daily Beast, Igor Fruman made the recording.

A recently-indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani taped President Donald Trump calling for the firing of Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, according to the lawyer for a second Giuliani associate.

Joseph Bondy, a lawyer for Florida businessman Lev Parnas, told The Daily Beast that the recording was made by former partner Igor Fruman. Both men were arrested in October and charged with campaign finance violations.

TDB also quotes Fruman’s lawyer refusing to comment about the recording. That may be because he is in a joint defense agreement with Rudy Giuliani (and by association the President). Which means this recording came from someone else, either Congress or Parnas himself (though he has only modified the protection order for stuff on his own phones).

This is utterly damning for the President’s claims — which were transparently false — that he didn’t know Parnas.

But they’re also an indication of how easily Trump can be put into compromising situations. April 2018, when this exchange occurred, was just a month after Parnas and Fruman started buying their way into elite crowds with Donald Trump. It was weeks before they gave $325,000 to Trump’s SuperPAC (which, given that they are accused of buying this access in order to get Yovanovitch fired, sure looks like payoff). And they were reportedly doing this at the behest of a still as yet unnamed Ukrainian.

Yet they had to do little more than lie about Yovanovitch to get Trump to order that she be fired. While Republicans in the Senate may not give a damn, the video will, at a minimum, make it harder for Bill Barr to protect the president.

So on top of everything this does for Trump’s legal woes, this video raises real questions about who else has such damning recordings of Trump. Mar-a-Lago has already been demonstrated to be a nest of spying. And Trump has chosen not to bring handlers with him into key meetings with foreign leaders — including, but not just, Putin.

I promise you, this is not the only utterly damning recording of the President out there.

The question is what those who have such damning recordings are doing with the leverage they give over the President.

Lev Parnas’ Own Delays Ensured His Evidence Couldn’t Be Considered in the House Investigation

In an update on discovery for Judge Paul Oetken, the government fairly predictably debunked Lev Parnas’ claim to have cooperated fully with prosecutors. They describe how Parnas delayed receiving that discovery, both by refusing to turn over the passwords for the devices seized by the government, and by waiting 16 days before providing the government a hard drive on which to obtain the evidence.

In a letter filed on January 20, 2020, counsel for defendant Parnas suggested that the Government has purposefully delayed the production of discovery to Parnas in order to frustrate his ability to comply with a subpoena or document request from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (“HPSCI”). Such a suggestion is baseless and completely belied by the facts. The two largest sources of delay with respect to the Government’s ability to produce the contents of Parnas’s devices to him—including an iPhone 11 that he produced (without objection from the Government) to HPSCI on January 12, 2020—are directly attributable to Parnas himself. First, Parnas declined to provide the password to his devices, which is of course his right, but which required the FBI to spend nearly two months unlocking the iPhone 11. The Government has yet to access many of the other password-protected devices seized from Parnas, although the FBI’s efforts to unlock them are ongoing. Second, when the Government did unlock several of Parnas’s devices in early December 2019, the Government asked Parnas’s counsel on December 3, 2019 to provide a hard drive on which to produce discovery, as the Government does in every case and with every defendant. However, Parnas’s counsel did not produce such a hard drive until December 19, 2019, shortly before the Christmas holiday, and more than two weeks after the Government had requested the drive. The Government produced the iPhone 11 to Parnas on December 31, 2019. However, Parnas’s counsel was unable to figure out how to open the device extraction on his own computer, so the Government made available a paralegal and technical expert—during the holidays—to sit with Parnas’s counsel to troubleshoot his technical issues. The Government has and will continue to work with defense counsel to facilitate each defendant’s access to discovery and to make discovery available as expeditiously as possible.

The type, source, and timing of the delay significantly debunks Parnas’ claims to want to be totally forthcoming in impeachment.

Consider the timing. Parnas was arrested on October 9 of last year. It took him some days to get a lawyer who wasn’t ordering him to take the fall for the President, but he did so by October 18. That was five days before Matt Gaetz — still in Trump’s good graces — stormed the HPSCI SCIF to try to delay ongoing depositions. On October 31, the House authorized an impeachment proceeding. On November 21, HPSCI voted to adopt the Democratic report on its investigation.

In a letter submitted to the court today, Parnas claims he first started asking for his discovery so he could respond to the House subpoena on November 6.

Between November 21 and 23, days after HPSCI wrapped up impeachment, Lev Parnas first started talking about cooperating. But even then, Parnas was offering deliberately erroneous stories about Devin Nunes’ interactions with him, reversing the relationship between himself, John Solomon, and Nunes, thereby hiding (as his most recently press blitz has downplayed) the extent to which he is orchestrating this echo chamber, not responding to it.

Even as Parnas was claiming, publicly and privately, he wanted to cooperate with HPSCI, he was delaying any such cooperation by withholding the passwords to his devices.

And all the while, FBI was working on breaking into his iPhone 11 — a phone that Parnas must have gotten just weeks before he was arrested, as it was only released on September 20 — for which he had refused to provide the password. (Note, nothing we have seen nothing that necessarily came off a phone purchased on September 20 or later, though we have seen a calendar entry for September 26. Though he presumably copied everything over.) Though, significantly, we now know the FBI is taking more time cracking Parnas’ other devices (thus far he has turned over the iPhone, an iPad, and a Samsung phone) than with the latest model iPhone, which the government has confirmed it cracked on December 3, meaning it took about 55 days to open.

That day, December 3, SDNY told Parnas’ lawyer that the content of some of the devices they had seized was available and he should come get it. Parnas provided the government with a thumb drive to get the contents of the phone, but not a hard drive.

The House voted out articles of impeachment on December 18.

It was the very next day when Parnas’ lawyers provided DOJ with a hard drive to obtain the first batch of discovery.

Parnas claims that because of technical problems, they ultimately used a thumb drive to get the phone contents, on December 31. Given other reports, that came after SDNY refused to have Parnas cooperate if he wasn’t willing to plead guilty to the main existing charge against him. Thereafter, his attorney moved quickly to ask to amend the protective order to share with HPSCI. That was on January 3, and they’ve made several deliveries since then.

Given competing complaints about the technical details for obtaining the phone, it seems both sides were to blame. The government may have also refused to provide the phone on a thumb drive to try to push him to cooperate.

Parnas’ delay may have stemmed from defense strategy. For example, a desire to try to plead out the case before going public like this. Parnas’ priority absolutely should be on minimizing his prison time.

There was a real delay that Parnas appears to have chosen, for whatever reason. Notably, Parnas happened to ensure, by taking 16 days to give the government a hard drive on which to obtain evidence, that he could not have received discovery to respond to his House subpoena until literally the day after the House voted out articles of impeachment. Parnas’ evidence may well be very useful — though in November and in his recent press blitz, he downplayed the degree to which he started this whole campaign in 2018, well before Rudy got involved, so it’s clear we’re not getting the full truth, and the delay may well have given him a way to cherry-pick what he provides to Congress.

Whatever he’s up to, Parnas has been stalling for time.

Update: In a new letter, Parnas makes clear that they tried to obtain just the iPhone on a thumb drive, right on December 3. Accordingly, I have updated this post to reflect that both sides blame each other.

  • At 5:39pm, Defense Counsel contacted the Government to confirm that our proposed request for the Court to order the Government to disclose when it had first cracked Mr. Parnas’s iPhone did not breach the protective order between the parties.
  • The Defense had made this request regarding the date of extraction in writing on January 1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 13, 2020, and by phone on a number of other occasions. Notwithstanding these multiple requests, the Government consistently refused to answer.
  • At 5:45, after speaking with AUSAs Donaleski and Roos by phone, per their request, we e-mailed them the parts of our letter that were potentially at issue. • At 6:15pm, AUSAs Zolkind and Roos returned our call, indicating they had no objection to the letter, and would be filing a discovery update letter addressing this issue in part. The call ended at 6:23pm.
  • At 6:19pm, while on the phone with AUSAs Zolkind and Roos, AUSA Donaleski filed the Government’s discovery update letter by ECF, including a self-serving footnote regarding the production of Mr. Parnas’ iPhone 11. In its letter, the Government still failed to identify with specificity when the phone had first been extracted.
  • At 6:41 pm, we filed the letter we had been discussing with the Government.
  • At 8:23pm, AUSA Donaleski filed another letter with the Court, complaining about our filing, and for the first time informing that the iPhone had been extracted on December 3, 2019.

 

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.

When Your Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob Blows Up in Your Face

Last month, I argued that the John Dowd letter mapping out what amounted to a Joint Defense Agreement between the President, Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, and Dmitry Firtash (with Victoria Toensing, Joe DiGenova, and Dowd himself as the glue holding this orgy of corruption together) would one day go in a museum to memorialize how crazy things are. Right alongside that — I think after reading this NYT story — will go Trump’s written waiver of privilege as obtained by Jay Sekulow.

Mr. Parnas initially remained in Mr. Trump’s camp after House Democrats on Sept. 30 requested documents and testimony from him and Mr. Fruman. The men hired John Dowd, a lawyer who had earlier represented the president at one stage of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump signed off on the hiring of Mr. Dowd, according to an Oct. 2 email reviewed by The New York Times.

“I have discussed the issue of representation with the president. The president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman,” Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, wrote to Mr. Dowd, misspelling Mr. Fruman’s surname.

Dowd claims, his batshit letter notwithstanding, there was no tie between his representation of Trump and the magical selection of a bunch of grifters involved in Trump’s efforts to coerce electoral advantage from foreign countries.

Mr. Dowd said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s approval was sought “simply as a courtesy to the president,” because of the lawyer’s previous work for him. Mr. Dowd said he still represents Mr. Fruman.

A person close to Mr. Trump said that the email did not demonstrate that the president knew Mr. Parnas or Mr. Fruman personally but rather knew of them from media reports.

But now Parnas has decided to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry because Trump pretended not to know Parnas.

“We are willing to comply with the subpoena to the extent that it does not violate any appropriate privilege that Mr. Parnas may properly invoke,” said Joseph A. Bondy, who along with Edward B. MacMahon, Jr. now represents Mr. Parnas.

Mr. Bondy said that given the federal criminal charges, his client may invoke his right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself.

The turnabout occurred after Mr. Trump denied knowing Mr. Parnas when he was arrested.

“Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,” said Mr. Bondy, whose client has maintained that he has had extensive dealings with the president.

This move comes after Parnas’ (alleged) partner in crime, Igor Fruman, met spectacular failure at getting his bail conditions changed, after the prosecutor provided compelling evidence he tried to flee the country as soon as Congress subpoenaed him.

“What is clear is he was subpoenaed by Congress on October 7th, on the 8th he booked a one-way flight to Vienna, and on the 9th he was arrested on the jetway,” Roos said. “What was his reason to leave on such short notice? … Why such a rush to leave the country?”

Roos went on to detail Fruman’s many financial and political connections to Europe, attempting to demonstrate that Fruman could live a very pleasant life abroad if he were able to flee.

“He operates a bar called Buddha Bar” abroad, Roos said. He held up a printout of a glossy hotel brochure for the court to see, saying it listed Fruman as the president and CEO of a “luxury group” that owns a hotel, “restaurants, a beach club, and retail stores,” Roos told the court.

So maybe Parnas decided that “cooperating” (and I mean those scare quotes to be enormous) with Congress might be a quicker path to freedom.

Most other times that someone has protected Trump by demanding a pardon, Trump still held the leverage (in part, because they were dealing with DOJ, not an impeachment inquiry).

But at this point, I suspect, Parnas holds the upper hand, in part because SDNY is not that far into its investigation of the larger point of Parnas’ funding of the Republican Party (meaning, he has a pretty good idea of how bad things could get if the investigation is allowed to proceed unimpeded), and in part because the impeachment inquiry makes Parnas’ knowledge a far greater risk to Trump. He may be a grifter, but he put the pieces into place to  ensure he could take others down with him. And his marks were very easy marks. Plus, given he can claim both attorney-client and Fifth Amendment privileges, he may be able to neatly tailor what information he wants to release.