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The Evolving Media Strategy of Lev Parnas

In advance of revisiting my work on the many ways Bill Barr intervened to protect — and participated in — Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine capers, I want to first examine Lev Parnas’ recent media efforts, to include his House testimony and his recent book. After years of insinuating Barr had a role in Rudy’s capers, Parnas’ expanded story situates Barr more centrally in events, so I want to point out some gaps in his story and questions the fuller story raises.

Make of them what you will.

The limits of firsthand experience

First, note that Parnas’ book is not all based on firsthand experience. He has a co-author, Hells Angels chronicler Jerry Langton. That, plus sourcing choices about the book, make it difficult, at times, to understand where Parnas’ first-hand witness ends and where research begins.

One notable example is where Parnas and Langton tell an incomplete story about the Russian investigation. The purpose of the explanation is, at least in part, to explain why Parnas adopted Trump’s claims about the Russian investigation but no longer does; it is one of many attempts to disavow past beliefs.

Here’s one example of the uneven treatment that results.

Once the allegations of Russian interference became part of the national consciousness, Trump began to repeatedly and falsely claim that he had never done business in Russia, despite his many tweets to the contrary and the fact that his 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia had been broadcast worldwide by NBC, Telemundo and Channel One, showing Trump sitting right beside Azerbaijani oligarch Aras Agalarov in the front row of the audience. Trump even told CBS News: “I have nothing to do with Russia. Nothing to do. I never met Putin. I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.” His lawyer, Michael Cohen, said that Trump called him right after that claim to check up on the status of Trump Tower Moscow.

Days later, the FBI would begin its own investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump addressed the accusations again the same day at a news conference, saying: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Not only did that indicate that he was indeed looking for dirt on Hillary, but he was widely accused of “urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage” on another American, which is a serious crime.

The passage puts Trump’s Russia “are you listening” quip at the beginning of the Russian investigation, albeit with a focus on Michael Cohen’s comments, with no acknowledgment of whether it relies on Cohen’s public comments, court records, or on personal comments from Cohen, with whom Parnas has developed a personal relationship.

But the construction suggests a temporal tie between the presser and the investigation.

There’s no mention of George Papadopoulos here, and therefore of a Coffee Boy who ran his mouth to a stranger. It hides the genesis of the investigation. One effect of that is that Parnas absolves himself of addressing a lot of the bullshit about the origin of the investigation offered by Republicans, bullshit that he was party to. Parnas focuses more on Barr’s bullshit about the Russian investigation than that of his one-time allies.

This lack of clarity on sourcing leaves the provenance of more interesting descriptions about events to which Parnas was not a witness, but of which he might have inside information, uncertain. For example, is this an obscure public reference, or something Parnas learned from his right wing buddies?

Meanwhile, [Jeff] Sessions had been asking staffers for disparaging information against Comey and told them that he expected to see at least one anti-Comey article in major media every day.

Similarly, in critically describing John Solomon’s false claims about Yuriy Lutsenko, Parnas provides a claim that Lutsenko had grown close to Paul Manafort.

Solomon then portrays Lutsenko as an anti-corruption hero, as he had been instructed. Although along with letting Kilimnik sneak away, Lutsenko had been fired, dismissed, suspended, jailed (he was pardoned, officially for health reasons) and gotten chummy with Manafort.

This is a really important detail I had not known: but where does it come from? Parnas does not say. And it matters.

Everyone’s mob past

One thing Parnas does attribute to firsthand knowledge, however, is familiarity with the mob (in both senses of the word). Indeed, he offers himself up as a native of the same Brooklyn (and Queens) world that Michael Cohen, Felix Sater, Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump all arose from and unashamedly suggests growing up in such a place means you have mob ties.

Parnas lays all this out in matter-of-fact terms.

Parnas describes the mob ties of his ex-wife.

The girl that I was dating (who I would later marry and have a daughter, Zarina, with) had an uncle named Arkady Seifer. He was a very important man in our community. Seifer had been in prison four times and was connected to the Franchese, the Colombo and the Genovese families — among others. And everybody knew exactly how he made his money — the gas tax.

Seifer and I became quite close very quickly and I found myself referring to the old gangster as my uncle. After I gained his confidence and trust, Seifer let me in on his gas scam.

He describes how he came to call neighborhood boss Butch Montevecchi his uncle.

I translated what he said into English for a neighborhood boss, Ernest “Butch” Montevecchi. At the time, everybody knew Butch. He was strikingly handsome with dark hair and green eyes. He ran Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay, and Little Odessa, for the Italians. Later, he’d become so close to me and my family that he served as something of a surrogate father for me, and I started to call him my uncle.

He describes how, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Parnas used his legally sound US citizenship as a means to ferry stuff into the collapsing Russian empire.

All of the clients were over-the-top excited that I could actually go back to whichever old Soviet republic they had come from. Not only could I import products and perhaps make them rich, but I could also get in touch with friends and relatives they hadn’t heard from in decades.

All of them had gifts for me to give to their loved ones overseas. I limited the haul to two suitcases, not only because I couldn’t carry any more, I didn’t want to arouse too much suspicion. They rapidly filled up with things like jeans, watches and other Western items that would be status symbols over there.

[snip]

Some of the people ultimately became my partners because we saw that it was obvious that our individual skills and contacts could benefit all of us. The people who had entrusted me to visit their contacts came from a variety of places, and an itinerary for me was quickly put together. First, I’d go to Moscow and St. Petersburg (officially Petrograd, but nobody ever called it that). Then it was on to Ukraine, where I’d stop at Odessa (now Odesa) and Kiev (now Kyiv). Finally, I would go to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. I was fluent in Russian, so I was confident that I’d be understood in all of those places.

Parnas described how this business venture put him in the service of a number of mobsters and oligarchs, including some he helped enter the US. Buy the book!

That story continues seamlessly to Parnas’ gradual insinuation in Trump world, in which the owner of Lique had a role.

Later on that week, I was talking with my friend, Alex Podolnyy, on his boat. It was moored behind his restaurant, Lique. It was nighttime and I was smoking a joint on deck. Before long, I was approached by two excited-looking, well-dressed men who were Alex’s friends. They introduced themselves as Ted and Robert and joined me on the boat. They seemed friendly and they knew Alex, so I didn’t mind sharing a joint with them.

As I’ve noted, SDNY’s affidavit for Parnas’ Instagram inexplicably excluded a picture of Parnas and Ivana Trump at Lique from the scope of their review.

And from there, Parnas got access through Brian Ballard. Over a long passage, he tells the story of how he pitched former head of Ukrainian’s Fiscal Service, Roman Nasirov (who awaits trial on corruption charges), to Brian Ballard and then got Nasirov and another foreigner into the Inauguration.

Later that day, I set up a meeting for Ballard and Nasirov. The Ukrainians were eager. When Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko found out that Nasirov had an opening into Trump’s future administration with Ballard through me, he pressed Nasirov to make it happen. At the time, Ukraine had almost no relationship with the U.S. and even that was in danger of being erased as the Ukrainians were seen as being pro-Hillary. I explained the situation to Ballard. I told him that it wasn’t the president who was in favor of Hillary, just some loud members of his administration. Besides, Ukraine was a sovereign nation and they needed to have some relationship with the U.S. If they hire you, I told Ballard, they could get it done.

[snip]

The first person in the new power structure I sought out was prominent lobbyist Brian Ballard. Right after the win, I set up a meeting with Ballard — and his right-hand-man, Lukis. Although we talked on the phone, I preferred face-to-face meetings and would always see Ballard when he was in Florida.

Ballard was no dummy, he wanted to talk with me about what I knew and where I had contacts. Ballard wanted what I had, so it didn’t take much to make a deal. I would put Ballard in touch with the right people for 20 percent of any deals he made with them.

Although there was some thrill associated with making such high-level deals, I was really in it for the money. I had just had my big fallout with Hudson Holdings and had filed the lawsuit, so I needed to get paid. I knew just where to go.

Nasirov was a major player in the Ukrainian government and eager to talk with Ballard in order to improve Ukraine’s relationship with Washington. Because Ukraine’s support of Obama and Clinton had greatly offended the new crop of Republicans, he was almost desperate to get on Trump’s good side.

So I arranged to meet Nasirov at one of Igor’s Kyiv nightclubs, Buddha Bar. I flew there on December 1, 2016 to spend a week in Ukraine. When I arrived at Buddha Bar, Igor told me that the first floor was closed for a private party, so I’d have to meet Nasirov upstairs.

These descriptions make for great color. And I don’t doubt Parnas’ claims that everyone else he was dealing with was wowed if not working with the mob.

But the descriptions are notable for two other reasons. They address some — but not all — of details publicly released from his investigation.

But then the descriptions stop.

For example, Nasirov is mentioned just five more times in the book after this long introduction. Parnas explains how, just after Trump encouraged his efforts to dig up dirt with Rudy, Nasirov gave him the introduction to Viktor Shokin.

It was in that kind of weather that I landed in Kyiv to find Shokin. It wouldn’t take long for him to turn up. Everybody who was anybody in Kyiv knew me or at least knew of me. If I put the word out that I wanted to see Shokin, it would get to him.

It didn’t take long, I got a call from Nasirov. Of course he knew Shokin, he told me, they were old friends. He’d be more than happy to take me to see him. Shokin had a place just outside Kyiv.

Then there’s acknowledgment that Nasirov ran against Zelenskyy (and Poroshenko) in 2019. And that’s it. He’s the guy who hooked Parnas — and through him, Rudy — up with Shokin, but Parnas never returns to that relationship. That’s important because, as a letter that Parnas’ attorney failed to properly redact revealed, Nasirov was identified as a subject of the investigation into Parnas.

One person who is never mentioned is Alexander Levin who, like Nasirov, shows up in the warrants targeting Parnas, whose name was exposed in that same Joseph Bondy letter after Rudy phones were seized. As Savage Librarian first noted, a person of the same name and roughly the same vintage was charged in 2021 and will soon stand trial for money laundering in association with a series of safe deposit thefts across Europe; this motion in limine provides a glimpse into his background.

And the mobsters? Most of them are replaced in the story by Rudy Giuliani, as if never the twain shall meet.

Parnas never describes when his association with a bunch of sketchy types ended, if they did. That’s especially notable given Parnas’ description of the men he met at Otisville (the same prison at which Michael Cohen did time).

Once I was introduced into the camp’s general population, I was surprised at how many of the guys I already knew. There were friends of friends, old acquaintances and guys I did business with. There were even some people from the old neighborhood — Jews, Italians and Russians. In fact, they had been watching the news and knew I was coming, so they put together a welcome-to-prison gift package to make my life a little easier. They bought me the things that they had found essential behind bars — toothpaste, slippers, a comfortable sweat suit and other useful items they had bought from the commissary.

Suffice it to say Parnas never makes it clear if — and if so when — he broke from the mobbed up old neighborhood or whether they had a role in his work for Donald Trump’s lawyer.

Igor

Which brings us to Parnas’ treatment of his co-defendant Igor Fruman, who is not from Brooklyn, but instead from South Florida, where all this went down.

As Parnas describes it, they were mutual acquaintances through Jewish charities until Igor reached out because of Parnas’ access to Trump.

I knew Igor Fruman through common friends. Born in Belarus, his family emigrated to Detroit when the USSR was shedding even more Jews, Igor was six years older than me and had moved to South Florida, where the Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian communities were tight. Still, he spent most of his time in Ukraine where he made his money.

I knew about Igor from various Jewish charities we were both involved in and mutual friends, but we weren’t really friends at the time. Igor became interested in me because of the pictures I was posting of myself with Trump on social media and because I was hosting events for Russians for Trump. Igor wanted to get deals done in the petroleum industry and thought I could help.

He owned two popular nightclubs in Kyiv, Mafia Rave and the more upscale Buddha Bar. Both places were very popular with well-heeled men from both the West and East. They mingled at Buddha Bar, got to know each other and made deals, often huge deals.

Parnas claims that Igor’s famous recordings of a few meetings with Trump — including a later one where Parnas offered up, in 2018, that Marie Yovanovitch was disloyal to Trump — were a surprise to him as well.

When I first started going to these events, I was all eyes and ears. All I wanted to do was learn. And to make contacts. My brain was recording everything so that I could sift through it all for what was valuable. I remember it all vividly, but I don’t have to — it was all recorded.

Although we weren’t officially allowed to take pictures or video, Igor surreptitiously caught it all on his phone without anyone realizing it. Even me.

All he had to do was keep the phone out of sight. Because of that, all his videos contain long shots of things like the backs of chairs, ceilings and water glasses. It was far more important to him to record what was said and who was there rather than it was to make it look any good. Back in Ukraine, he’d play the videos to important people in his bars. To the people there, Igor was just a nightclub owner. So, when he said that he was spending time with Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, nobody believed him. But with the videos, he could prove that he had access to the very top. It made for good business.

[snip]

So, I was very excited to head to dinner at the Trump International.

Again, Igor managed to catch it all for posterity despite the usual warnings about using cameras or recording devices.

Playing to the audience, I mention that a lot of European countries are back-stabbing us. I knew he’d love that. The crowd falls silent and seems to be very interested in what I have to say. I discreetly mumble something about the U.S. taking over, then tell Trump that the biggest problem I saw for Ukrainian-American relations is the ambassador.

As Parnas describes it, the tie to Nasirov went through Igor’s mobbed up Ukrainian clubs.

I knew someone who might want to become an investor. It was Ukrainian politician Roman Nasirov, who I knew from Igor’s nightclubs. He was then Chairman of the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine (something like Secretary of the Treasury), and was considered the third-most powerful man in the Ukrainian government.

The tie Yuriy Lutsenko, who just happened to show up in New York after they reached out to Shokin for dirt on the Bidens, went through Igor.

And that’s when a gift dropped right into our laps. At the end of January 2019, about a week or so after we spoke with Shokin, I learned from Igor that one of his friends — Gyunduz Mamedov, the Prosecutor General of Crimea — was in New York on personal business with the current top prosecutor in Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, and Glib Zagoriy, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and a pharmaceutical tycoon.

Igor was also friends with Andrii Artemenko, who in turn set them up with Andrii Derkach and Andrii Telizhenko.

In September, I got a call from Andrii Artemenko, who was a friend of Igor’s. He told me that he had some guys with real, hard evidence that would prove all of our theories once and for all. Naturally, I was intrigued. But once he told me that the guys were Derkach and Telizhenko, I told him that we were cool, I’d pass. Not long after, Giuliani text me and asked: “Who’s this Artemenko?” He had, of course, known Artemenko, but had a habit of forgetting names, especially Eastern European ones.

I told him not to deal with Artemenko, he was peddling Russian disinformation. In fact, I gave him other names of guys who were doing the same thing. Of course, I later learned that he was enthusiastically dealing with Artemenko, as well as Derkach and Telizhenko.

Parnas tells two stories about how they got set up with Dmitry Firtash, one in Paris, seemingly arranged by Firtash because of his legal plight.

He probably first called Manafort, but he was already out of the picture. By the time Firtash needed him, he was already serving time. So Firtash had instead retained American lawyers Lanny Davis and Dan Webb.

On a trip to Paris, Rudy and I had a meeting with a Ukrainian we knew from one of the bars my business partner Igor Fruman owned in Kyiv. Igor considered him a close friend, but he hadn’t seen him in a long time. Unbeknownst to us, he was Firtash’s right-hand man.

He introduced us to Firtash. We wanted to talk to Firtash because we knew that he was connected to Mykola Zlochevsky, owner of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s biggest oil and gas company. He told us that he had heard things about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, bad things. Things we might be interested in. He recommended that we talk to Firtash about it. He wasn’t the first person we talked to, but we believed that he had a great deal of pull with the Ukrainian government. We believed that he could get us what we wanted — a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens.

He describes the second one to have taken place in Madrid (this may be wrong; it may be the same meeting), where they went after Paris (though they met Kholodnytskyi in Paris first).

After our meeting with Kholodnytskyi, we happened to run into another friend of Igor’s at our hotel in Madrid. Everyone knew him as Little Dimitri because he worked for Firtash and we didn’t want to confuse the two. We spoke about why we were there and how important it was for us to get any compromising information on Joe Biden. He told us that the guy we wanted to talk to was Firtash and that he could introduce us. He didn’t need to explain to us who Firtash was.

Parnas was definitely the one trying to network his way through Trump’s world, but at least as Parnas depicts it, the key Ukrainian relationships — first Nasirov, then Shokin, then Lutsenko, then Firtash, and through Artemenko, Derkach and Telizhenko — all went through Igor. Parnas’ explanation of the foreign donations from Andrey Muraviev also blames Igor for intermixing those funds with other funds.

If SDNY learned that (there’s no hint they did, or if they did, that they believed Parnas), you’d think they would have focused more closely on Fruman than on Parnas.

Instead, the investigation treated Parnas as the brainchild of all the crime.

A continued unpersuasive explanation for his Marie Yovanovitch attacks

Against this backdrop, Parnas’ explanations for taking out Yovanovitch are wildly unpersuasive.

In his congressional testimony, Parnas claimed that he was “smeared” by a plot to get rid of Marie Yovanovitch.

When I was arrested, I was initially accused of being involved in a plot to remove Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump had fired in April 2019. I was smeared by this false information, and also untrue claims that I was fleeing the country.

As my case continued, the Department of Justice decided they had no interest in Ukraine, sanitizing their marquee claims about Ambassador Yovanovich from my indictment. Instead, I was prosecuted for federal campaign finance and unrelated fraud charges.

In his book, Parnas would call what were primarily FARA charges “espionage” charges and vastly exaggerate the sentencing exposure either FARA or 18 USC 951 would bring.

By my read, this is a misstatement of what happened (one potentially necessitated by Parnas’ claim that SDNY was part of Bill Barr’s attempt to silence him and Igor or at least neutralize the threat the posed to Trump and Barr personally). By my read, the inclusion and then exclusion of the FARA charges had everything to do with the attempts to include Rudy in those charges and Barr’s tampering in that effort. There are probably a number of reasons why SDNY ultimately couldn’t pursue those charges: the corruption of Rudy’s phones, the provable role Trump had in this process, lasting damage Barr did, and Victoria Toensing’s attorney-client privilege with Dmitry Firtash.

But SDNY’s declination in no way debunks the claim that Parnas was involved in a plot to oust Yovanovitch. In his book he explicitly calls his attacks on Yovanovitch “slander.”

Nobody at the embassy knew what the game was. Yovanovitch was too professional to have said disrespectful things about the President, certainly not that he was going to be impeached. But I had been the source of a constant flow of slander against her. It was a big playground game. We’d go visit important people in Ukraine and tell them how bad Yovanovitch was. That would be followed by a visit by someone from the State Department who would tell the same people that we were lying. I would then double back and talk to the same people again, assuring them that Yovanovitch was anti-Trump and could be dangerous for Ukraine. Then the embassy staff would visit those same people again, telling them that we were nobodies who didn’t know what we were talking about. I had more time, so I usually got in the last word.

Parnas’ attempts to deny that there was a plot are important because, in Parnas’ telling, why he came to oppose Yovanovitch is inconsistent. As he describes telling Anderson Cooper in 2020, as he tried to avenge his arrest by cooperating in impeachment, he was reflecting the views of Republicans.

We discussed the Yovanovitch situation. He asked me if I had a problem with her. I told him I didn’t know her personally, but since the Trump people hated her so virulently, I came to the opinion that she had to go.

That’s, of course, nonsense. When Parnas targeted her in 2018, almost no Republicans would have heard of her.

He attributes the animus he expressed in 2018, which likely led Republicans to start examining Yovanovitch more closely,  to the opinion of “Ukraine’s wealthy and those who planned to be,” people Parnas implicitly describes to be aiming to cozy up to “power brokers in Russia.”

She was unpopular with Ukraine’s wealthy and those who planned to be.

They were well aware that any serious investigations would easily expose them and their alignment, if not outright fealty, to the power brokers in Russia, not their own country (including more than a few elected politicians). With my many connections in various fields, there was a consensus about Yovanovitch — she had to go. And, when they found out I was American, they couldn’t wait to tell me about how bad Yovanovitch was for Ukraine, without giving too many specifics, of course.

She was unpopular with Ukraine’s wealthy and those who planned to be. They were well aware that any serious investigations would easily expose them and their alignment, if not outright fealty, to the power brokers in Russia, not their own country (including more than a few elected politicians). With my many connections in various fields, there was a consensus about Yovanovitch — she had to go. And, when they found out I was American, they couldn’t wait to tell me about how bad Yovanovitch was for Ukraine, without giving too many specifics, of course.

The rest of the book describes a progression: Shokin blamed Yovanovitch for denying him a US visa whence he could plot against the Bidens, which led Rudy to blame Yovanovitch, which led Trump and his failson and John Solomon and everyone else to pile on.

But the actual people behind that original animus are never named, possibly because tying that animus to the mobsters and oligarchs with whom Parnas networked would substantiate a plot, just a different plot, than the one SDNY laid out.

Relatedly, Parnas suggests that Pete Sessions was already working on replacing Yovanovitch when Parnas repeated this story to him and donated that money that, Parnas claims, Igor had mixed in with their other funds. Parnas was just the mule for a letter to Trump.

In short, the campaign against Yovanovitch is presented as always-already in progress, even though there’s no evidence that it started in the US before that Parnas comment in 2018.

A different approach to Dmitry Firtash’s equities

This post is meant to set up one on Barr. We get there via Dmitry Firtash.

Parnas manages to focus more closely on Bill Barr’s role in all of this by expanding, from earlier instances, on how he describes the Firtash relationship.

When he wrote James Comer last year, he probed for a subpoena that would provide a way to breach any privilege claim.

Thereafter, as I became an interpreter between Firtash’s new legal team and Firtash, most of the conversations in which I participated were potentially privileged; however, I believe this information may be made available to the House Oversight Committee through a Congressional subpoena.

He didn’t get that subpoena.

When invited to testify without subpoena, Parnas made no mention of Firtash in his prepared congressional testimony. But in the hearing, Ro Khanna cued Parnas to describe his second-hand understanding that Barr was willing to trade campaign help for lenience from DOJ.

Ro Khanna: Did Bill Barr know that you were involved in getting this dirt?

Parnas: Absolutely. Bill, Bill Barr was informed of our investigation from the day he took office.

Khanna: Did you ever have a conversation with Bill Barr being lenient towards Dmitry, in Bill Barr’s role as Attorney General?

Parnas: I personally did not but I was witness to Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, having a conversation with Bill Barr about Dmitry Firtash.

Khanna: What did they say to Bill Barr?

Parnas: Basically, they were telling him that the charges were false, and that he needs to drop the charges and, basically, end the case.

Khanna: And why did they tell him to drop the charges on this Russian [sic] oligarch?

Parnas: Because Dmitry Firtash was going to help us getting dirt on the Bidens, or whatever else the Trump campaign needed.

Khanna: So my understanding is you have the Trump campaign telling you to talk to a Russian [sic] oligarch to get dirt, on the President of the United States for political reasons, and then someone from the Trump campaign is talking to the Attorney General to drop the charges because this foreign national is helping get dirt on a political candidate?

Parnas: Absolutely.

Khanna: Did Bill Barr indicate any willingness to drop the charges?

Parnas: After the meeting that Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova had with DOJ, they came back and informed me that “we’re going to Vienna” because, to tell Dmitry Firtash everything is going to be okay.

While Parnas’ focus on Firtash at the hearing had the appearance of accident, Firtash is a central focus of Parnas’ book. The first pages of Parnas’ book describe meeting — alone, apparently — with Firtash, in what would be the penultimate visit to finalize a quid pro quo.

As my car approached its destination, I watched as a black — no doubt armored — Mercedes SUV with opaque black windows blocked the one-way street behind me. Closer to the massive iron gates in front of the property, another big black SUV blocked the road ahead.

It didn’t unsettle me at all, I’d been through the same routine on the previous trips I had made to this house and others like it. I also knew that the guys protecting Dmytro Firtash seriously outgunned anyone who might want to hurt him. And he was on our side.

As we turned down the only open lane toward the main building, we drove past a legion of security guards in black with dark sunglasses and AK-47s. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The chapter then maps out how, at a hush hush meeting at John Dowd’s in Chatham, MA, as news of the Perfect Phone Call started to break, Trump’s team promised to protect Parnas.

A black SUV with security took me to Chatham, Massachusetts, on the “elbow” of Cape Cod. Firtash paid for all of it. There was a conference call set up by Trump’s legal team at Dowd’s beach house. Dowd told me that the reason we met on Cape Cod was to keep the media away from me.

[snip]

In Dowd’s home office, he set up a conference call with Giuliani, Jay Sekulow (another of Trump’s attorneys), Toensing and diGenova. There might have been other lawyers, but I didn’t hear any. Dowd laid out the plan, and it was simple: stonewall. He instructed us all not to say anything to Congress and not to worry about subpoenas because we’d only get letters requesting our appearance, which we could ignore. Trump, he said, would tell them to go fuck themselves and everybody else was to follow suit. [my emphasis]

So, even as Congress was investigating, Parnas continued to pursue the quid pro quo with Firtash. Parnas went from this meeting back to DC to tie up loose ends for the big Fox News reveal.

On October 6 (two days before the beginning of Yom Kippur), I flew to Washington to discuss the trip to Vienna with Giuliani and Toensing.

Giuliani told me that he wanted to meet Shokin and that it might also be a great idea to bring Fox News personality and ardent Trump supporter Sean Hannity to interview him.

That was a key part of the plan. Team Trump had not been very successful at getting our message into what Trump called “fake news” and the “lame stream media,” so we depended on Fox News and like-minded outlets for any publicity. Not only would millions of Americans see the interview, but it being on Fox News would lend us an air of credibility among many people.

Just before we left for Vienna, I received a phone call from Firtash warning me that Shokin had become anxious about the interview, and was threatening to back out.

I called Shokin. He answered, but he was tense, even panicky. He told me that he was sure “they” were going to kill him. He was absolutely convinced that he would be poisoned, just like Viktor Yushchenko, who had angered Putin while running for the Ukrainian presidency. There was no way, he said, that he would get on a plane no matter what.

Firtash told me not to worry. He’d see to it personally that Shokin was flown to Vienna safely and would be present for a live interview with Fox’s Hannity.

Part of the deal was that we’d also get Shokin’s sealed testimony to the Viennese court and the hard drive from the laptop Hunter Biden used when he was working in Ukraine. It was supposed to have come from Alexander Gorbunenko, who was CFO of Burisma when Hunter worked there. If there was any evidence of him doing anything illegal in Ukraine, we were sure we’d find it there.

This is the Lev Parnas post, not the Bill Barr post. We can discuss the potential significance of this — the inconsistency between John Paul Mac Isaac’s timeline and the FBI’s, Will Levi writing Barr that a laptop was on its way to him immediately after IRS got a warrant for the laptop ascribed to Hunter, the reported closure of the Mykola Zlochevsky investigation and the use of it to elicit Alexander Smirnov’s false bribery allegation, the limitations imposed on SDNY’s ongoing investigation into Rudy’s influence campaign, the Brady side channel, including Brady’s inquiries into investigations in Chicago, where the Firtash investigation was — in the Bill Barr post.

I’ve got cautions about Parnas’ credibility, and SDNY repeatedly said he was lying about all this (and Parnas sustains some of what SDNY surely treated as lies — for example about Yovanovitch — in this book). But Barr’s a liar too, he affirmatively prevented SDNY from learning some of this, and his own actions are consistent with what Parnas claims.

It’s about motive.

Parnas’ motive has always been transparent. For all his claims to be cured of membership in the Trump cult, that would never have happened if Rudy and Trump and John Dowd hadn’t reneged on their promise to protect him.

I was led into a room where Dowd was sitting behind a table and Downing was standing beside him. Immediately, I started asking questions. I wanted to know why I was still behind bars while Igor was free. I wanted to know what Trump was going to do for me.

Suddenly, Dowd slammed his fist down on the table and shouted at me: “Who do you think you fucking are? Trump is President and he will do whatever he damn well wants to do!”

But in a book that engages in a lot of casual mob-talk, I want to know about the evolving treatment of Firtash.

Firtash had a real attorney-client relationship with Victoria Toensing, however corrupt (Lanny Davis is no better). And for years, Parnas respected that (in part, presumably, because it kept SDNY away from this material, though the statute of limitations on these activities have not quite expired).

I’m all in favor of hearing this story. But what does Firtash feel about it?

 

Alexander Smirnov Shared an Already-Debunked Fox News Hoax with His FBI Handler

There’s a mistake that many people covering the Alexander Smirnov case make. This is one example, but similar examples appear everywhere (including in claims made by Democrats in Congress yesterday).

Parnas noted the recent indictment of former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, who is accused of providing false intelligence about the president and his son during the 2020 presidential campaign. Prosecutors said the information Smirnov shared about the Bidens came from “officials associated with Russian intelligence” and that he was peddling “new lies that impact U.S. elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November.”

The error is in claiming that prosecutors have said that the false claims Smirnov made in 2020 came from Russian intelligence.

Prosecutors have said that Smirnov attributed claims made last September in his FBI interview to Russian spies. That’s the claim that the Russians recorded calls that Hunter Biden made from a hotel in Kyiv.

51. The Defendant also shared a new story with investigators. He wanted them to look into whether Businessperson 1 was recorded in a hotel in Kiev called the Premier Palace. The Defendant told investigators that the entire Premier Palace Hotel is “wired” and under the control of the Russians. The Defendant claimed that Businessperson 1 went to the hotel many times and that he had seen video footage of Businessperson 1 entering the Premier Palace Hotel.

52. The Defendant suggested that investigators check to see if Businessperson 1 made telephone calls from the Premier Palace Hotel since those calls would have been recorded by the Russians. The Defendant claimed to have obtained this information a month earlier by calling a high-level official in a foreign country. The Defendant also claimed to have learned this information from four different Russian officials. [my emphasis]

The reference in the detention memo to Russian spooks, relied on by NBC to substantiate the claim, appears to be a reference to this story, one Smirnov told in 2023. David Weiss appears to be sure that Russian spooks really did tell Smirnov this; he used it to justify detention.

Thus, Smirnov’s efforts to spread misinformation about a candidate of one of the two
major parties in the United States continues. The Court should consider this conduct as well
when evaluating his personal history and characteristics. What this shows is that the
misinformation he is spreading is not confined to 2020. He is actively peddling new lies that
could impact U.S. elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November.

I’m not entirely convinced Smirnov’s Russian spook buddies did tell him this.

After all, prosecutors laid out why it cannot be true that Russia really got recordings of Hunter in the hotel. Hunter has never been to Kyiv, much less this hotel.

If Russian spies actually told Smirnov this, it would either be false, intended to deceive Smirnov, or based on a deep fake.

But I also think it’s possible that, during the September interview, Smirnov started to realize that the FBI had caught him lying, and so invented the story — based on what I understand to be a widely-understood assumption about the Premier Palace — to appear to be useful to the FBI. When you’re a snitch, you’re generally safe doing whatever so long as you remain useful. So Smirnov may have just tried to protect himself by inventing something useful.

As I tried to show here, there’s actually some reason to believe he subsequently created a reporting trail retroactively on this, as if he hadn’t ever made this claim to his handler before his FBI interview and so had to report it prospectively to the handler to cover the claim he made to the FBI. The timeline shows that Smirnov attributed something to four Russian spies in September 2023, but then told his handler he learned it as if it were new in December 2023.

I don’t believe any court filings have yet attributed Smirnov’s false claim in 2020 to Russian spooks.

Indeed, he didn’t have the ties to Russian spies in 2020 he claims to have now. While Smirnov appears to have had ties to Russian Official 5 in 2020 — the guy he flipped for a different, probably Israeli, intelligence service in 2002 but didn’t tell his handler about until 2019 — and through him, Russian Official 6, many of his more senior ties to Russian spooks appear to post-date 2020.

A far more relevant tie in 2020 is his professed tie to Viktor Shokin, going back to 2016.

50. The Defendant told investigators that he had asked the then-Ukrainian President to arrange a meeting between himself and the then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General to talk about Burisma. The Defendant told investigators that this meeting occurred before the then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General resigned, which was early 2016. The Defendant also told investigators this meeting occurred before his meeting with Burisma Official 1 in the coffee shop in a German speaking country. The Defendant told investigators that after he met with the thenUkrainian Prosecutor General, he met with the then-Ukrainian President. The Defendant did not provide any of this information to the Handler in 2020.

Still, one way or another, I don’t believe any court filing tells us who got Smirnov to lie in 2020. It’s one reason I keep insisting that learning how Scott Brady came to look for him may be the most important investigative question, not least because David Weiss has an enormous disincentive to chase that down.

All the more so given the backstory to this photo, which appears in the indictment. After Smirnov promised his handler that he would prove Joe Biden had received a bribe, Smirnov told his handler this picture showed Joe and Hunter Biden with Mykola Zlochevsky.

 

Nancy Mace used the same photo in yesterday’s hearing in an attempt to corroborate serial fraudster Jason Galanis‘ story.

It’s actually not, at all, clear where the picture came from — I’m not even aware that it came from “the laptop.”

But it was first published by Tucker Carlson, then adopted by Fox News, as part of Rudy’s propaganda campaign in 2019, as impeachment began to roll out.

Don Jr posted it.

Then Trump referenced it on Xitter.

The claim was debunked repeatedly: by PolitiFact on October 8, by CNN, and then by USAT after it went even more viral after the release of “the laptop” in 2020 (and therefore after Smirnov’s claims).

And yet, even though this photo had gone viral in 2019, in conjunction with Trump’s impeachment rebuttal, Smirnov made the same claim again in May 2020.

And his handler either didn’t realize or didn’t care that Smirnov was recycling a widely debunked lie, nor is there any evidence the handler pointed out to Scott Brady that it discredited Smirnov’s other claims.

Sedition Hunters will tell you that the FBI is nowhere near as good at using facial recognition as they are (which may not be a bad thing). But the notion that an informant would share such a widely disseminated photo and no one at the FBI would figure out it had been used by Trump and his backers as part of a false propaganda campaign the year before?!?!

Really???

I’ll repeat again: the investigation into this attempt to frame Joe Biden needs to be removed from David Weiss’ purview and put in the hands of someone who’ll review how the FBI let itself get fooled by a widely disseminated piece of propaganda, and why the Attorney General ensured that such embarrassing propaganda got funneled to an ongoing investigation into Joe Biden’s kid.

Because this is just embarrassing.

Alexander Smirnov may have gotten the false claim he made in 2020 from Russian spies. He may have gotten it from Viktor Shokin.

Or maybe he just got it by watching Fox News.

Update: Noted that the USAT rebuttal came after Smirnov’s claims; the others came before.

A Third Tie between Trump World and Alexander Smirnov

Before I point to a report on third known link between Alexander Smirnov — the FBI informant whose allegedly false claims about Joe Biden were laundered through a process Bill Barr set up for Rudy Giuliani in 2020 — and Donald Trump, let me lay out several details that are important to assessing the import of such ties.

  • Smirnov was admonished on the limits of permission to engage in Otherwise Illegal Activities on at least five occasions, including on August 7, 2020. That’s what the FBI does before they pre-approve you committing a crime because they want to learn about the other people committing crimes involved. For any given sketchy business someone reports Smirnov to have engaged in, there’s a distinct possibility he was engaging in it because the FBI was interested in the other people engaged in the business.
  • Smirnov’s ties to Russian spies go through at least one other intelligence service — probably Israel. But, at least for the last six months, he has been hanging out on the megayachts of Russian Oligarchs, almost certainly in Dubai, where, according to him, he was part of a plan to end the Ukraine war and elect Donald Trump.
  • One unanswered question that will be key to understanding how Smirnov attempted to frame Joe Biden is to identify how MAGAt US Attorney for Pittsburgh Scott Brady came to chase an otherwise unremarkable earlier Smirnov informant report mentioning Hunter Biden in passing. Given that Brady’s project catered to Rudy, any link involving Rudy as well would be significant.
  • But we may not discover that unless something dramatic happens, because David Weiss has no business overseeing this investigation, as he’s a direct witness to the involvement of Brady and Bill Barr. Indeed, as Hunter Biden attorney Abbe Lowell recently pointed out, Weiss has misrepresented his involvement in the Smirnov lead, going back to 2020, and by chasing this lead and extending the prosecution of Hunter Biden, he is effectively doing Russia’s bidding.

We already know of two ties between Trump world and Smirnov. His cousin, Linor Shefer, has ties to Trump through a Miami Real Estate developer.

Shefer, a 38-year-old Israeli-American, was a former contestant on the Israeli version of reality show Big Brother, and in 2014 won the Moscow beauty pageant ‘Miss Jewish Star’.

According to her LinkedIn page, she has been an ‘Inhouse Consultant’ for Dezer Development in Miami, Florida since 2022.

Dezer partnered with Trump’s organization to develop the $600 million Trump Grande Ocean Resort and Residences and $900 million Trump Towers. The company is run by Gil Dezer, and founded by his Israeli-American billionaire father Michael, who is a Trump donor.

And Smirnov has ties to Sam Kislin, who not only has long-standing ties to Rudy and Trump, but who came under some scrutiny during the 2019 impeachment.

Around 2021, on the beach at a private club in Boca Raton, Smirnov pitched Kislin on founding a company together that would market electric-car batteries and capture federal subsidies, Kislin said.

Smirnov told him he also could use his FBI ties to help him unfreeze more than $21 million in infrastructure bonds that belonged to Kislin but which Ukrainian authorities deemed had been issued illegally, embroiling Kislin in a corruption probe, Kislin said.

Kislin had for years been seeking to unfreeze the funds, traveling to Ukraine and meeting with officials there. His travel there coincided with efforts by Giuliani and his associates to push the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden, and in 2019, Kislin was subpoenaed by House impeachment investigators who were looking into those efforts. Kislin’s lawyer said he didn’t have relevant information, and he didn’t ultimately testify.

Smirnov set his fee for recovering Kislin’s $21 million at $1 million, according to Kislin, who said he paid Smirnov $224,000—partially as an advance and partially as an investment in the car-battery company, incorporated in Nevada in May 2021 as Quantum Force.

After a little over a year, Quantum Force dissolved and registered by the same name in a different state—this time without Smirnov listed in the corporate records.

When a solution to Kislin’s problem in Ukraine failed to materialize, Kislin said he deduced that Smirnov had taken him for a ride.

The Guardian points to a third — one through another of the sketchy businesses with which Smirnov worked, which includes a Middle East real estate tie:

Back in 2020, Smirnov was paid $600,000 by a company called Economic Transformation Technologies (ETT), prosecutors said. That same year, Smirnov began lying to the FBI about the Bidens, according to the indictment.

ETT’s CEO is the American Christopher Condon, who is also one of three shareholders in ETT Investment Holding Limited in London. Other shareholders in the UK include Pakistani American investor Shahal Khan and Farooq Arjomand, a former chairman and current board member of Damac Properties in Dubai who is also listed as an adviser on ETT’s American website.

[snip]

The exact business model of Texas-based ETT is murky. Its mission statement reads in part: “ETT set up the chess board to bring in top notch executives from those sectors to help implement its vision of love and social impact to improve the quality of human existence through the application of ‘new age’ technologies.”

The current CEO, Condon, is a California man who has been involved in several civil lawsuits, including a civil Rico case in 2010 that he won on appeal. Condon’s official biography says he is “a former professional tennis player, financial advisor, and currently is an entrepreneur focused on social-impact projects, public-private partnerships, and creating smart communities that benefit both individuals and governments”.

Condon, Arjomand and Khan registered ETT Investment Holding Limited in the UK on 6 March 2020. Khan, an investor who purchased the Plaza Hotel in 2018, and Arjomand have ties to Donald Trump through Trump associates and Damac, a major Middle East developer that has partnered with Trump for a decade. Arjomand, Khan and Condon owned 34%, 33% and 33% of ETT Investment Holding Limited respectively, according to UK business filings. No other information on the UK company is readily available.

The WSJ story — the same one that focused on Kislin — already laid out some sketchy aspects of Smirnov’s ties to ETT, and states that the relationship began in 2019.

Smirnov helped another company—Texas-based Economic Transformation Technologies, a software platform focused on “sovereign economic performance”—solicit investors starting around 2019, former associates said.

Smirnov was aware of concerns among investors and employees about some of the company’s practices, one of the associates said. The company was failing to pay some of its bills and several of its employees despite spending lavishly on travel and maintaining its exorbitant rent in the Dallas Cowboys headquarters, former associates and investors said.

Still, Smirnov brought in investors to meet with the company’s chairman, Christopher Condon, and other company executives—among them Kislin, who didn’t ultimately invest. Condon described Smirnov to associates as a “Russian friend of ours” who was skilled at fundraising, a former associate said.

It described that Condon knew of Smirnov’s FBI ties.

Smirnov’s FBI connections often came up in conversation as he hawked his services. Condon, the ETT chairman, also told people that Smirnov had “friends” in the FBI and described him as his protector who could help shield him from investigations, former associates said. Condon’s lawyer said Condon didn’t know the extent of Smirnov’s FBI involvement, and Condon denied describing Smirnov as a protector.

There are a lot more details of the Trump ties of Khan and Arjomand in the Guardian piece. What’s not included in there is the date in 2020 that ETT paid Smirnov. Particularly given Condon’s other sketchy ties, if that payment was anywhere close to August 2020, when we know Smirnov was given permission to engage in otherwise illegal activity, it may be his business ties were done with the knowledge and permission of the FBI.

Of course, the people with whom he engaged in OIA could well have a link to Scott Brady’s discovery of Smirnov. That’s why it is so problematic that Weiss, a witness, is leading this investigation.

In a status hearing for Hunter Biden yesterday (at which his gun trial was tentatively scheduled for the first two weeks of June), prosecutor Derek Hines suggested the Smirnov trial is still set to go starting on April 23, in spite of a recent CIPA filing. Also yesterday, Judge Otis Wright denied Smirnov’s bid to be released to San Francisco to receive glaucoma care.

Update: Fixed spelling of Shefer’s first name.

Update: CBS has a story describing a past complaint that Smirnov is a fraudster and a liar. Again, it’s hard to distinguish, without knowing more, whether for the FBI, that was the point.

Smirnov surfaced as a key secret witness in a sweeping racketeering case in California in 2015. In that case, the Justice Department brought charges against 33 defendants with ties to Armenian organized crime groups. Among the charges were money laundering, health care fraud and even a murder-for-hire.

Smirnov’s information contributed to the case against a married couple, Tigran Sarkisyan and his wife Hripsime Khachatryan, charged with conspiring with others to use fake identities to collect tax reimbursements from the federal government. The couple eventually pleaded guilty to a single count of racketeering in May 2017. In a 2018 sentencing memorandum, the couple’s lawyers flatly accused Smirnov of deceit.

“The [Confidential Human Source] was known to the United States as a liar and fraudster,” the sentencing brief states.

A footnote in the document states that the government was provided with the notes of their private investigator’s interview with a close associate of Smirnov who repeatedly called him a “liar.”

[snip]

Benincasa believes federal prosecutors realized they had a problem. According to Benincasa, the prosecutors had originally indicated they would be seeking a 10-year sentence as part of any plea deal. But after the lawsuit was filed, the government softened its position. Benincasa said he believes prosecutors wanted to avoid seeing Smirnov deposed in the civil case and possibly have his identity as an informant exposed. In the end prosecutors asked for 21 months, an unusually sharp reduction from the original 10 years that Benincasa says they were seeking. The judge ultimately sentenced the couple to 15 months.

The Still Unidentified “Big Guy[s]” in the Alexander Smirnov Saga

With a few weeks to work with, several outlets have done profiles of the shady financial life of Alexander Smirnov, the former FBI informant accused of framing Joe and Hunter Biden.

The AP examines a series of what it calls “duplicitous business schemes,” including a pump and dump scheme.

Even as Smirnov was being paid as a government informant, he participated in duplicitous business schemes, according to court records and interviews.

One example is his investment in an obscure penny-stock company called Eco-Trade Corp.

Such companies can yield a handsome return on a minimal investment. They are lightly regulated and often subject to financial scams and market manipulation.

In 2010, Smirnov purchased a stake in Eco-Trade valued at roughly $3 million as the company was on the verge of launching an advertising blitz that dramatically inflated its value. A crash three years later saddled investors with losses.

WSJ focuses on schemes with closer proximity to Donald Trump — or more importantly, Rudy Giuliani. Of note, WSJ describes several occasions that Smirnov pitched Sam Kislin, a fellow Ukrainian, who has long-standing ties to Rudy and Trump.

Around 2021, on the beach at a private club in Boca Raton, Smirnov pitched Kislin on founding a company together that would market electric-car batteries and capture federal subsidies, Kislin said.

Smirnov told him he also could use his FBI ties to help him unfreeze more than $21 million in infrastructure bonds that belonged to Kislin but which Ukrainian authorities deemed had been issued illegally, embroiling Kislin in a corruption probe, Kislin said.

Kislin had for years been seeking to unfreeze the funds, traveling to Ukraine and meeting with officials there. His travel there coincided with efforts by Giuliani and his associates to push the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden, and in 2019, Kislin was subpoenaed by House impeachment investigators who were looking into those efforts. Kislin’s lawyer said he didn’t have relevant information, and he didn’t ultimately testify.

Smirnov set his fee for recovering Kislin’s $21 million at $1 million, according to Kislin, who said he paid Smirnov $224,000—partially as an advance and partially as an investment in the car-battery company, incorporated in Nevada in May 2021 as Quantum Force.

After a little over a year, Quantum Force dissolved and registered by the same name in a different state—this time without Smirnov listed in the corporate records.

When a solution to Kislin’s problem in Ukraine failed to materialize, Kislin said he deduced that Smirnov had taken him for a ride.

And while WSJ notes that Smirnov was repeatedly admonished that he might have to testify at trial, neither story notes he was admonished at least five times that the “Otherwise Illegal Activity” that he engaged in to stay close to subjects of interest to the FBI could not include obstruction.

In addition, when the Defendant was authorized to engage in illegal activity for investigative purposes, he was further admonished that: “Under no circumstances may the CHS … Participate in an act that constitutes obstruction of justice (e.g., perjury, witness tampering, witness intimidation, entrapment, or fabrication, alteration, or destruction of evidence, unless such illegal activity has been authorized).” When the Defendant was given this admonishment, he signed an FBI form that contained this statement, including on 10/8/2014, 1/18/2017, 10/8/2018, 1/10/2019, and 8/7/2020.

These sketchy business schemes were presumably the point — they were the reason Smirnov was useful to the FBI, because they provided the FBI access to learn about suspected crooks of more interest.

But his larger network is of interest for two other reasons.

First, because Scott Brady’s explanation for how he came upon Smirnov’s 2017 FD-1023 mentioning Hunter Biden — first telling Republicans he simply searched on Hunter Biden and Burisma, then telling Democrats something much more squishy — is garbage. There is nothing about the mention of Hunter in a 2017 FD-1023 claimed as that link that should have led Brady to look further.

During this call, there was a brief, non-relevant discussion about [Public Official 1]’s son, [Businessperson 1], who is currently on the Board of Directors for Burisma Holdings [No Further Information].

One possible link is that the process of (per Chuck Grassley) shutting down an investigation into Mykola Zlochevsky created the possibility of a derogatory conversation in 2019, which Smirnov claimed in 2020 but disclaimed in an FBI interview last September.

But another is that someone knew that, if asked, Smirnov would be willing to fabricate bribery allegations on demand. That someone would presumably need to know both that Smirnov was an FBI informant and that he had met with Zlochevsky in the past, even if not in a period that was convenient for a story about Joe Biden’s imagined corruption.

In Jerry Nadler’s referral of Scott Brady to DOJ Inspector General for misleading the Committee, he included an email from someone — he describes it as one of the investigators — telling the lead AUSA on the project that, two days after his interview with Brady, Rudy was in Florida, speaking “to the original source [redacted].”

There are plenty of Ukrainians in Florida from whom Rudy might have been digging dirt (Smirnov’s cousin, for example, lives there and has ties to Trump world). If such sources also had reason to know about Smirnov’s work with the FBI, they might provide guidance to look for the innocuous 2017 informant report as a pretext to set up an interview with Smirnov.

But by description, Smirnov was trading on his ties to the FBI, so plenty of people might have been able to offer his name as a worthwhile source.

There’s one other reason Smirnov’s network is of some interest.

In the allegedly fraudulent FD-1023, Smirnov used a line that would become famous months later when Tony Bobulinski would pitch it: Big Guy.

CHS mentioned Zlochevsky might have difficulty explaining suspicious wire transfers that may evidence any (Illicit) payments to the Bidens. Zlochevsky responded he did not send any funds directly to the “Big Guy” (which CHS understood was a reference to Joe Biden). CHS asked Zloehevsky how many companies/bank accounts Zlochevsky controls; Zlochevsky responded it would take them (Investigators) 10 years to find the records (i.e. illicit payments to Joe Biden). CHS told Zlochevsky if he ever needed help in the future and wanted to speak to somebody in the US government about that matter, that CHS could Introduce him to someone. [my emphasis]

While it’s true that some of Hunter Biden’s associates would recognize (and dispute) the use of the term by others, Hunter told Congress he doesn’t use the term.

Q One final question, because our round is up, I know everyone’s disappointed by that.

But the reference to the big guy, you would agree, is a reference to your father?

A I truly don’t know what the hell that James was talking about. All I know is that what actually happened.

[snip]

Mr. Raskin. Just, on the question of nicknames, I have not seen your father referred to as the big guy anywhere else in this record. Was that his nickname in your family, the big guy?

The Witness. No.

Mr. Raskin. Did you ever call him the big guy?

The Witness. No, I never called him that.

Hunter occasionally used “my guy” to refer to his father. Not The Big Guy.

When Smirnov’s FD-1023 was released last summer, the frothy right took this reference to the “Big Guy” not just that this allegation of corruption was true, but that Tony Bobulinski’s was too.

So it remains a fairly important question why — months before Tony Bobulinski went public with the “Big Guy” email, but months after he (described that he) started considering doing so, at a time Bobulinski was trying to navigate how to come forward, as he was being referred to a former Trump lawyer by someone whose identity he has protected jealously — why Smirnov would use the line that would become famous after Bobulinski made it public.

Smirnov’s shady financial ties are to be expected: that’s why he was useful to the FBI and some of those shady deals likely were negotiated with the FBI’s permission. What’s more interesting is whether any of those shady financial ties would explain why Smirnov told the specific story he did.

Update: I forgot, when I did this post, that I had already put the dates of Smirnov’s admonishments into a table.

Ken Vogel Covers Up Rudy Giuliani and His Alleged Russian Spies

Amid rising criticism that it is burying the Alexander Smirnov scandal while continuing to flood the market with yet more transphobia and complaints that Biden’s age might be worse than Trump’s promise to let Russia attack NATO states, NYT has added Ken Vogel to the Hunter Biden beat.

Congratulations, Devlin Barrett. You are no longer the most inappropriate mouthpiece to work the dick pic sniffing beat.

Vogel wrote a story with Glenn Thrush that really struggled with basic details about the Hunter Biden investigation. For example, like Devlin in his own story, the men claimed to be unable to understand how David Weiss’ renewed focus on Smirnov’s FD-1023 might explain why Leo Wise said that FARA charges were still on the table on July 26, 2023 when Weiss’ First AUSA had told Chris Clark a month earlier on June 19, “there was not another open or pending investigation.”

In a court filing, they contended that Mr. Smirnov’s false claims “infected” the cases, and suggested, without providing evidence, that prosecutors reneged on a plea deal last summer because they had followed “Mr. Smirnov down his rabbit hole of lies.”

There was no ongoing investigation on June 19. And then, facing pressure from Congress and Bill Barr, David Weiss twice said (the second time in his House Judiciary Committee testimony) that the FD-1023 was part of the newly ongoing investigation. The September 27 interview of Smirnov could not, yet, have been an investigation of Smirnov, because Weiss treats his indictment as a “matter[] that arose” in his investigation of Hunter Biden. Weiss had to have been chasing Smirnov’s manufactured bribery claim, not Smirnov himself, yet.

It’s not the struggle with basic facts about the Hunter Biden investigation that I find so remarkable, though. That’s pretty typical from people on the dick pic sniffing beat.

It’s the shamelessness by longtime Rudy Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel of his cover-up of Rudy’s role in all this.

The men claim, for example, that it was the sheer volume of tips about Hunter Biden that led Bill Barr to set up a secret special intake process starting on January 3, 2020, at a time when there was already an investigation into Hunter Biden that could have … just taken those tips.

For instance, he appears to have told the F.B.I. that a business associate who introduced him to Burisma executives had ties to Russian organized crime, according to notes of this conversation, which do not indicate whether there is proof of the claim.

It is the sort of raw intelligence that law enforcement routinely collects and vets behind closed doors before determining whether to act on it, the investigation into Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings attracted so much of it that the Justice Department created a special intake process.

They make that claim while linking to this NYT story (still one of the best on the Scott Brady side channel), which mentions Rudy Giuliani two dozen times, including in the headline.

They claim Smirnov’s tip was simply shared with Scott Brady’s side channel, when the testimony they link describes Brady asking the FBI to search for Hunter Biden and Burisma (still an unconvincing claim, particularly given Chuck Grassley’s claim that the tip came from an investigation into Mykola Zlochevsky that had been shut down days earlier).

A federal prosecutor involved in screening claims about Mr. Biden’s foreign work testified last year that Mr. Smirnov was an “important confidential human source” who “had been used in other investigations.”

They don’t mention that the Brady transcript they link mentions Rudy 126 times, including descriptions of the interview Brady conducted with Rudy, an interview with someone under active criminal investigation that was not shared with the people conducting that criminal investigation, an interview in which Seth DuCharme had requested Brady participate personally, “so we get a sense of what’s coming out of it,” an interview in which Rudy was less than forthcoming about Rudy’s indirect interview of Zlochevsky the previous year.

But the most astonishing aspect of Ken Vogel’s claim that “the investigation into Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings attracted so much [raw intelligence] that the Justice Department created a special intake process” — again, NYT is making this claim about a side channel to an existing investigation that even Brady says is where such intelligence could actually be vetted, with subpoena power — is that Ken Vogel broke the story of Rudy’s December 2019 trip to meet with, among others, a bunch of people who have since been sanctioned as participants in Russian influence operations.

Vogel described, in real time, Rudy meeting with Kostiantyn Kulyk and Andrii Telizhenko, who both would be sanctioned by Steve Mnuchen’s Treasury on January 11, 2021. Vogel’s story about Andrii Derkach’s sanctioning on September 10, 2020 — again, by Mnuchen’s Treasury — describes that Giuliani met with Derkach on that same trip.

Vogel knows that the leads that Bill Barr set up a special side channel to claim to vet (Brady’s transcript reveals how shoddy his vetting was, including his claim that Smirnov’s travel records were consistent with Smirnov’s bribery allegation when the indictment alleges that the travel records prove his claims to be false) didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It wasn’t the volume of the leads that required some intake process before the leads got shared with the preexisting investigation of Hunter Biden.

It was the fact that the President’s lawyer had solicited help from people US spooks were pretty sure were Russian agents, and rather than warning Rudy off that effort, DOJ instead set up a special accommodation via which DOJ might share information from Russian spies with those investigating Trump’s rival’s son, a special accommodation that could, and did, protect Rudy from any legal consequences for soliciting campaign help from Russian spies.

And then by some remarkable coincidence, while purportedly vetting all this dirt solicited by Rudy Giuliani, Scott Brady went out and through still unexplained means found the guy who happened to be willing to fabricate a claim about Burisma bribing Joe Biden.

Only, it probably wasn’t a wild coincidence. The Smirnov indictment ties Smirnov’s dangles of claims against Biden to this article about Rudy soliciting help from Andrii Derkach.

Ken Vogel knows Rudy’s role in the side channel that led to the Smirnov claim as well as anybody. But his story about the side channel covered up Rudy’s role — two dozen mentions at one of his links and over a hundred at the other — and in the process covered up the Russian spies that necessitated the side channel.

Update: In a really good timeline of the back history of the FD-1023, Glenn Kessler describes that Bill Barr doesn’t want to talk about it.

Barr spoke briefly to The Fact Checker, off the record, before hanging up the phone.

Update: Jerry Nadler has asked Michael Horowitz to investigate Scott Brady for, among other things, his misleading testimony.

Update: Fixed year on Rudy’s trip to visit the Russian spies.

How One New Hampshire Voter and One Politico Journalist Refused to Hold “a Pig … a Womanizer … [an] Arrogant Asshole” Accountable

Politico has an interesting profile of a two-time Obama voter, who will today become a three-time Trump voter, New Hampshire voter Ted Johnson.

It demonstrates that Johnson is driven by the very same false beliefs that Scott Perry is, which I laid out here.

Johnson admits that Trump is a pig. He even admits some concern about Trump’s stolen documents — before he parrots the false claims he learned on Fox News about that investigation.

And the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case in Florida? It’s the one that gives Johnson a modicum of pause. “You don’t f— around with classified material. Whoever advised him he could have that — he should have gave that s— up,” he said. “But he was being the stubborn, arrogant person that he is.” And he added, “I didn’t like the way the FBI did it. The raid was ridiculous. And that just emboldened me.”

But nevertheless Johnson will vote for the pig … womanizer … arrogant asshole today because he believes that Trump will bring accountability.

“And trust me, the guy’s a pig, he’s a womanizer — arrogant a—–e,” Johnson said of Trump. “But I need somebody that’s going to go in and lead, and I need somebody that’s going to take care of the average guy.”

“But is taking care of the average guy and breaking the system the same thing?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Because they’re all in it for themselves.”

“And if you break the system, what does that look like?”

“Accountability,” he said.

Go read it. It’s precisely the dynamic that I’m preparing to write about: how Trump trained people like Scott Perry and Ted Johnson to hate rule of law while calling that disdain for rule of law “accountability.”

But while you’re reading it, watch journalist Michael Kruse’s own blindspot. For much of the article, Kruse lets Johnson babble on, voicing his false beliefs about Trump’s legal woes.

Kruse largely lets Johnson spout those false beliefs unchallenged. But he pushes back when Johnson raises Hunter Biden.

Sort of.

Johnson started talking about “Russia-gate” and “Biden’s scandals” and Hunter Biden. What, I wondered, did Hunter Biden have to do with Nikki Haley? “She’s not going to hold anybody accountable for what they’ve done,” Johnson told me. “People need to be held accountable. That’s why you’ve got to break the system to fix the system,” he said. “Because it’s a zero-sum game right now. And to be honest with you, the Democrats are genius. They did anything they could do to win and gain power, even if they lie, cheat, steal. … What they’re doing is they’re destroying the country. Who could bring it back?” He answered his own question: “Trump’s the only one.” [my emphasis]

Rather than contest Johnson’s premise that Joe Biden has scandals, Kruse instead challenges Johnson as to what Hunter has to do with Nikki Haley.

Then later in the story, Kruse himself raises Hunter Biden as the counterpart of accountability to Trump.

“Accountability is accountability. But they’re throwing so much stuff at this guy, and it’s almost like I’m rooting for him,” he told me. “This is a whole system of government going after one man who, probably, I bet, right now, 85 million people want to be president.”

“But accountability is accountability,” I said.

“Accountability is accountability,” he said.

“Whether it’s Hunter Biden or Donald Trump,” I said.

“But do I trust the system?” he said. “I don’t.”

Kruse himself, who has actually been pretty sympathetic to Joe Biden in the past, likens the President’s son’s alleged crimes to Trump’s coup attempt.

Now, perhaps Kruse allowed Johnson to make all these false claims uncontested simply to let him talk. It’s a useful interview. I shouldn’t gripe.

But adopting Hunter Biden as the counterpart of accountability for Trump is itself a false claim. It’s why I spend so much time calling out shoddy dick pic sniffing stenography.

The record shows that even if everything Republicans allege about Hunter Biden were true (and at this point, DOJ has let statutes of limitation on FARA crimes expire without charges, so it seems that in going-on-six-years of looking, DOJ never substantiated FARA crimes), his actions still wouldn’t come close to those of Paul Manafort, whom Trump pardoned with nary a whisper.

Perhaps a better response to Johnson’s complaints about Hunter Biden would be a question about Trump’s decision to pardon Manafort for doing far worse? How is that accountability? Manafort is the quintessential sleazy insider and he gets a pass.

Plus, the record shows that Trump’s crimes are not a mirror of Hunter’s; rather, Trump’s crimes cannot be dissociated from the charges against Hunter.

The record shows that Trump started pushing Rudy Giuliani and Lev Parnas to gin up an investigation into Hunter Biden no later than December 2018, at such time as Joseph Ziegler was struggling to come up with some excuse to turn non-payment of taxes into a criminal case.

The record according to Johnathan Buma shows that before DOJ opened a grand jury investigation into Hunter Biden, FBI agents on the investigation enthusiastically accepted dirt on Hunter Biden from two Ukrainians that Buma would acknowledge were part of an influence operation.

The record shows that four days after Joe Biden announced he was running for President, DOJ decided the grand jury investigation into Hunter Biden would be in Delaware, where Joe might one day become a target, rather than Washington DC or Los Angeles, where any tax crimes would have happened. Ziegler first claimed, then backed off a claim, that Bill Barr made this decision personally.

The record shows that the first IRS supervisor on this case documented what he viewed to be problems with the predication of it and ongoing political influence into it.

The record shows that Donald Trump extorted Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an attempt to get an investigation into Hunter  Biden and his father. In that same conversation, he asked Zelenskyy to work with both his personal attorney and with Bill Barr to gin up such an investigation.

The record according to Chuck Grassley shows that even while Trump was claiming to care about Burisma corruption, his DOJ shut down an investigation into Mykola Zlochevsky, one that had been opened while Joe Biden was Vice President and Hunter was on the board of Burisma. Grassley says DOJ shut that investigation down in December 2019.

The record shows that the day after DOJ obtained a warrant to access a laptop obtained from John Paul Mac Isaac, Barr’s chief of staff texted him to say, “laptop on way to you.”

The record shows that days later, Bill Barr set up a dedicated channel by which Rudy Giuliani could share dirt he had obtained, including from a known Russian spy and almost certainly from Burisma, such that it could be laundered into the investigation into Hunter Biden.

The record shows that that process resulted in DOJ obtaining an informant report describing a conversation with Zlochevsky. Remarkably, the FBI neglected to write down what date that conversation happened even though that’s how they validated that it did occur, but it almost certainly dates to the period when DOJ was shutting down an investigation into Zlochevsky. The informant report recorded a claim of bribery of Joe Biden that conflicted with claims Zlochevsky had made just months earlier, when DOJ was (per Chuck Grassley) still investigating him.

The record shows that FBI made Steve Bannon associate Peter Schweizer an informant so he could pitch Hunter Biden dirt leading up to the 2020 election.

The record shows that Trump bitched Bill Barr out about the Hunter Biden investigation shortly after the October 14, 2020 NYPost story on the hard drive from Hunter Biden. Days later, Richard Donoghue ordered the Hunter Biden investigators to accept a briefing about that bribery allegation.

The record shows that, shortly before David Weiss used the FD-1023 obtained during the course of Scott Brady’s effort to launder dirt into the Hunter Biden investigation to justify reneging on the plea deal he had agreed to, Bill Barr described being personally involved in the handling of it.

The record shows that, the day after Trump hosted Tony Bobulinski at a Presidential debate, Bobulinski told the FBI things that conflict with his own communications.

The record according to Cassidy Hutchinson shows that shortly after that Bobulinski interview with the FBI, he had a secret meeting with Mark Meadows at which Trump’s Chief of Staff handed Bobulinski something that might be an envelope.

The record shows that, in the same call where Trump threatened to replace Jeffrey Rosen if he didn’t start endorsing Trump’s claims of voter fraud, he also criticized the handling of the Hunter Biden case.

The record shows that Trump repeatedly, publicly, demanded criminal charges against Hunter Biden, including in the January 6 speech that set off an insurrection.

The record shows that when Trump first learned he’d be indicted, he raised pressure on the Hunter Biden investigation.

The record shows that on the day Hunter’s plea deal was released, Trump complained three times, twice suggesting Joe Biden was implicated in this plea deal.

“Wow! The corrupt Biden DOJ just cleared up hundreds of years of criminal liability by giving Hunter Biden a mere ‘traffic ticket.’ Our system is BROKEN!

“A ‘SWEETHEART’ DEAL FOR HUNTER (AND JOE), AS THEY CONTINUE THEIR QUEST TO ‘GET’ TRUMP, JOE’S POLITICAL OPPONENT. WE ARE NOW A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY!”

“The Hunter/Joe Biden settlement is a massive COVERUP & FULL SCALE ELECTION INTERFERENCE ‘SCAM’ THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN IN OUR COUNTRY BEFORE. A ‘TRAFFIC TICKET,’ & JOE IS ALL CLEANED UP & READY TO GO INTO THE 2024 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. . . .”

The record shows that, among the other complaints and false claims Trump made about Hunter’s prosecution, one targeted David Weiss and demanded a death sentence.

Weiss is a COWARD, a smaller version of Bill Barr, who never had the courage to do what everyone knows should have been done. He gave out a traffic ticket instead of a death sentence. . . .

The record shows that when Trump attacks people on social media, they get threats, often so bad as to uproot their entire lives.

The record also shows that former President Trump’s words have real-world consequences. Many of those on the receiving end of his attacks pertaining to the 2020 election have been subjected to a torrent of threats and intimidation from his supporters. A day after Mr. Trump’s “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” post, someone called the district court and said: “Hey you stupid slave n[****]r[.] * * * If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly b[***]h. * * * You will be targeted personally, publicly, your family, all of it.” Special Counsel Br. 5; see United States v. Shry, No. 4:23-cr-413, ECF 1 at 3 (Criminal Complaint) (S.D. Tex. Aug. 11, 2023). The Special Counsel also has advised that he has received threats, and that a prosecutor in the Special Counsel’s office whom Mr. Trump has singled out for criticism has been “subject to intimidating communications.” Special Counsel Mot. 12.

The record shows that investigators in the Hunter Biden case were, just like prosecutors on Trump’s own cases, threatened in response to manufactured political outrage. That includes David Weiss himself. Here’s how former AUSA Lesley Wolf described those threats.

My desire to serve my community and my country, such a great source of pride, has recently come at significant cost. As a private person, the once routine and mundane details of my life have become the subject of public interest in an invasive and disturbing manner. Far worse, I’ve been threatened and harassed, causing me to fear for my own and my family’s safety.

I mentioned earlier that I recently left the U.S. Attorney’s Office. My decision to do so long predated and was unconnected to the baseless allegations made against me. In fact, I agreed to stay with the office months longer than planned because of my belief that my family and I were safer while I remained an AUSA.

I have no doubt that after today the threats of harassment and my own fear stemming from them will heighten. This not only scares me, but as someone who loves this country, it also breaks my heart.

We are living in a day and age where politics and winning seem to be paramount, and the truth has become collateral damage.

In short, the record shows that Trump was always a part of the Hunter Biden investigation.

I think the record is pretty clear that Hunter Biden owned a gun for 11 days during the worst days of his addiction. The record is pretty clear that as he tried to rebuild his life, it took several years to straighten out his taxes — but less time than it took Roger Stone to straighten out his taxes, even while the rat-fucker was using a shell company to shield his funds from the IRS.

But the story of Hunter Biden’s alleged crimes — the things that Michael Kruse seems to think mirror Trump’s 91 felony charges — is a story that cannot be told (or should not, were journalism engaged in a responsible pursuit), without also telling the story of Trump’s extortion, Rudy’s consorting with Russian spies, Bill Barr’s hijacking of DOJ for partisan purpose, Bobulinski’s seemingly inconsistent story and whatever role the secret meeting with Meadows had in that story, and Trump eliciting dangerous threats against every participant in the legal system who does not bow to his will, including on this case.

I get that journalists believe that the story of Hunter Biden is a story of DOJ holding Biden’s family member accountable for what they gleefully report are real crimes.

But it is, no less than that, a story of Trump crimes, including, possibly, under two statutes that prohibit this kind of pressure explicitly, 26 USC 7217 and 26 USC 7212. The story of Hunter Biden’s prosecution is the story of Trump’s successful going-on-six-year effort to hijack rule of law to target Joe Biden, an effort that builds on years of similar conduct targeting Hillary Clinton.

I’m grateful that Kruse has depicted Johnson’s nonsensical beliefs in all their absurdity. It’s an absolutely critical step in underestanding how Trump taught Republicans to hate rule of law.

But another step is in unpacking how journalists have come to reflexively equate Hunter Biden with Donald Trump, how journalists have come to simply ignore the five years of corruption that Trump and his lawyers engaged in to get us here, how journalists are not remotely curious about details in the public record about this case.

The reflexive equation of Hunter Biden with the President who targeted him for over five years is an equation every bit as manufactured by Donald Trump as Ted Johnson’s pathetic belief that Trump brings accountability rather than the opposite.

Scott Brady Admitted He “Was in the Room” for One Partisan Errand; Was There for a Second?

It should surprise no one that in Scott Brady’s deposition before House Judiciary Committee last October, he refused to say whether he believes that voter fraud undermined the 2020 election.

Q Okay. All right. I think we’re almost done. You were U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh through, I think, you said the end of February 2021, correct?

A Correct.

Q So you were there during the 2020 election, correct?

A Yes.

Q Are you aware of allegations that there was widespread voter fraud in 2020?

Mr. [Andrew] Lelling. You’re a little outside the scope.

Q All right. So he’s declining. It’s fine. I’m just making a record. You’re declining to answer?

Mr. Lelling. He’s declining to answer.

Q Are you aware of allegations that President Biden was not fairly elected in 2020?

Mr. Lelling. Same. He’s not going to answer questions on that subject. [] Okay.

Q And do you believe that President Biden was fairly elected in 2020?

Mr. Lelling. He’s not going to answer that question.

This shouldn’t be a surprise because, in 2022, DOJ IG rebuked Brady for impugning a career prosecutor whose spouse signed a letter (also signed by Hunter Biden prosecutor Leo Wise, by the way) calling on Bill Barr to adhere to past practice regarding interference in voter fraud investigations.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) initiated an investigation after receiving a complaint regarding a then U.S. Attorney’s response, during a press conference on an unrelated case, to a reporter’s question about a letter signed by a number of Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSA) that was critical of a voting fraud investigations memorandum issued by then Attorney General William Barr. The complaint alleged that the U.S. Attorney responded to the reporter’s question about whether the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) had signed the letter by personally attacking the AUSA from that USAO who signed the letter.

The OIG investigation substantiated the allegation. The investigation determined that the U.S. Attorney, in response to the reporter’s question, sought to undermine the AUSA’s professional reputation by referencing that the spouse of the AUSA who signed the letter had previously worked for two U.S. Attorneys General of the previous administration, thereby inappropriately suggesting that partisan political considerations motivated the AUSA to sign the letter.

As with much of his testimony before House Judiciary, the Brady comment in question spun the adherence to norms as political interference.

“I can’t comment on any existing investigations,” Brady said. “To the second [question], one of our two district election officers, who was married to the former chief of staff of [Attorneys General] Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, did sign onto that unbeknownst to anyone in leadership before he signed onto that and did not talk about that with his fellow district election officer, who’s also our ethics advisor.”

Nadler’s staffers elicited Brady’s predictable non-answer about whether Joe Biden was fairly elected just as the deposition ended. Perhaps they asked the question to demonstrate Brady’s partisanship if he were ever to testify in impeachment.

But it’s worthwhile background to something Brady said that did shock me — more than his refusal to affirm that Joe Biden was fairly elected President, more than his blasé description of ingesting information from at least one Russian spy to be used in an investigation of Donald Trump’s rival.

Brady, the one-time US Attorney for Pittsburgh, similarly dodged when asked whether he believed that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

Q Okay. And were you aware of Mr. Giuliani’s claim that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 Presidential election?

A I don’t believe I was aware of that.

Q Okay. And just were you aware of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia actually interfered in the 2016 Presidential election?

A Wait. Let’s unpack that. So could you ask that again, please?

Q Are you aware of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 Presidential election?

A I am aware of allegations of Russian interference. Conclusive determinations by the entire intelligence community of the United States, I’m not certain, especially in light of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

Q Have you read the Mueller report?

A The whole Mueller report? Parts of it. I have read parts of it.

Because of that answer, Nadler’s staffers asked Brady if he was familiar with the Intelligence Community Assessment that Russia had interfered in 2016. After first suggesting that Barr’s stunts to undermine the Mueller investigation had raised doubts for him, Brady then admitted that the office he oversaw had investigated GRU both before and after Mueller did.

Q Okay. And so you don’t have any opinion of whether the findings, the conclusions of this report are true and accurate or not?

A Well, I don’t know what the findings are. I am generally aware of allegations of Russian interference in U.S. elections. My office has investigated Russian investigations I’m sorry. My office has investigated Russian interference in French elections, Georgian elections.

Q Uhhuh.

A So I have no doubt that Russia and other adversaries attempt to interfere in our elections on a regular basis.

Q And you have no evidence to dispute the findings of the Director of National Intelligence in this report?

A Other than what is publicly available given Mr. Mueller’s report and then his appearance before Congress and then General Barr’s disposition of that matter.

Q But you have no personal knowledge. In other words, you have not personally investigated the matter.

A Could I have a moment, please?

[Discussion off the record.]

Mr. Brady. I am aware of this.

Q Uhhuh.

Mr. Brady. The Pittsburgh office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Pennsylvania, had an investigation into the hacking of the DNC.

Q Uhhuh.

Mr. Brady. We were investigating that until it was transmitted to Director Mueller’s office for part of his investigation. So, yes, I am I am aware.

Andrew Weissmann has described that after Mueller’s team started, first Jeanie Rhee and then he asked for a briefing on the investigation into the hack-and-leak, only to discover no one was investigating the dissemination of the stolen documents.

As soon as the Special Counsel’s Office opened up shop, Team R inherited work produced by other government investigations that had been launched before ours: These included the Papadopoulos lead, the National Security Division’s investigation into Russian hacking, and the Intelligence Community’s written assessment on Russian interference.

Ingesting this information was the domain of Team R, and Jeannie had quickly gotten to work untangling and synthesizing the facts. A few weeks after I arrived, I asked attorneys in the National Security Division of the Department of Justice to give me the same briefing they had given Jeannie, so I could familiarize myself with the investigation they’d been conducting into Russian hacking.

The meeting was in a SCIF at Justice’s imposing art deco headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue.

[snip]

Because my debriefing with the National Security Division involved classified information, I cannot discuss its content substantively here. It took a couple of hours, as a team of NSD lawyers graciously walked me through what they had been up to and answered all my questions. As soon as I got back to our offices, however, I made a beeline to Jeannie’s office and immediately asked her: “What the fuck?”

“I know,” she said. She didn’t need me to finish my thought.

We had both been shocked by something we’d heard in our briefings—but it was less the substance of the Justice Department’s investigation than its approach. Jeannie knew that she was going to inherit some evidence that Russia had hacked the DNC and DCCC emails, but she was astonished that the National Security Division was not examining what the Russians had done with the emails and other documents they’d stolen from those servers—how the release of that information was weaponized by targeted release, and whether the Russians had any American accomplices. More alarmingly, the Department was not apparently looking beyond the hacking at all, to examine whether there had been other Russian efforts to disrupt the election. It was staggering to us that the Justice Department’s investigation was so narrowly circumscribed. Election interference by a foreign power was, inarguably, a national security issue; we expected the National Security Division to undertake a comprehensive investigation. Once again, Jeannie and I were left to speculate as to whether this lapse was the result of incompetence, political interference, fear of turning up answers that the Department’s political leaders would not like, or all of the above. The Intelligence Community’s investigation had assessed that Russia was behind the hacking, but remained seemingly incurious as to everything else. “The rest is going to be up to us,” Jeannie explained. [my emphasis]

The failures to investigate before Mueller got involved couldn’t have been Brady’s doing. He wasn’t nominated (in the same batch as the Jones Day attorney who represented him here, Andrew Lelling, in his deposition) until after this happened, on September 8, 2017; he wasn’t confirmed until December 14, 2017.

But his answer seems to reflect exposure to the investigation after the fact.

That makes sense, for two reasons. First, in October 2018, his office indicted some of the GRU hackers for their hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency. As I’ve noted in a post comparing the two indictments, that hack used some of the same infrastructure as the DNC hack did, though the WADA indictment adopted a different approach to describing the dissemination of the hacked materials.

Then, weeks before the 2020 election, his office indicted GRU hackers again, focused largely on NotPetya and the hack of the Pyeongchang Olympics, but also including the French and Georgian hacks that Brady mentioned. The primary hacker involved in the French and Georgia hacks, Anatoliy Kovalev was also charged in the DNC indictment.

The 2020 indictment adopted a different approach, a third one, to discussing the dissemination of the stolen files as I describe below.

But those later two indictments are one reason it’s so surprising that Brady would suggest any doubt on the DNC attribution. If you believe what was in the 2018 and 2020 indictments, if you signed your name to them, it’s hard to see how you could doubt the 2018 DNC indictment. They involved some of the same people and infrastructure.

The other reason I was alarmed by Brady’s comment is that he described these GRU indictments, along with the Rudy laundering project and the response to the Tree of Life synagogue attack, as the three events where Brady was in the room for the prosecutorial decisions.

Q Is it unusual for a United States attorney to participate in witness interviews directly, personally?

A No. It depends on the scope and sensitivity of the matter.

Q Okay. And have you, as a U.S. attorney, ever participated in a witness interview in an investigation or matter under your direction?

A As U.S. attorney, I have been involved in many meetings with the line AUSAs and agents, including our Tree of Life prosecution for the synagogue shooting. We had a number of highlevel investigations and indictments of the Russian intelligence directorate of the GRU, and I was in the room and a part of those meetings. I can’t remember if we had a witness interview that I was involved in, but I may have been.

This is where I took notice.

Particularly given my observation that one way in which the Macron hack-and-leak, the French hack Brady mentioned, differed from the DNC indictment released by Mueller is in the claimed failure to discover how the stolen Macron files got disseminated.

The Olympic Destroyer indictment obtained weeks before the election held Kovalev (and the GRU) accountable for the spearphish and communications with some French participants.

27. From on or about April 3, 2017, through on or about May 3, 2017 (during the days leading up to the May 7, 201 7, presidential election in France), the Conspirators conducted seven spearphishing campaigns targeting more than 100 individuals who were members of now-President Macron’s “La Republique En Marche!” (“En Marche!”) political party, other French politicians and high-profile individuals, and several email addresses associated with local French governments. The topics of these campaigns included public security announcements regarding terrorist attacks, email account lockouts, software updates for voting machines, journalist scoops on political scandals, En Marche! press relationships, and En Marchel internal cybersecurity recommendations.

28. KOVALEV participated in some of these campaigns. For example, on or about April 21, 2017, KOVALEV developed and tested a technique for sending spearphishing emails themed around file sharing through Google Docs. KOVALEV then crafted a malware-laced document entitled “Qui_peut_parler_ aux journalists.docx” (which translates to “Who can talk to journalists”) that purported to list nine En Marche! staff members who could talk to journalists about the previous day’s terrorist attack on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Later that day, the Conspirators used an email account that mimicked the name of then-candidate Macron’s press secretary to send a Google Docs-themed spearphishing email to approximately 30 En Marche! staff members or advisors, which purported to share this document.

29. From on or about April 12, 2017, until on or about April 26, 2017, a GRU-controlled social media account communicated with various French individuals offering to provide them with internal documents from En Marche! that the user(s) of the account claimed to possess.

But it professed utter and complete ignorance about how the stolen documents started to get leaked.

30. On or about May 3 and May 5, 2017, unidentified individuals began to leak documents purporting to be from the En Marche! campaign’s email accounts.

But they weren’t unidentified, at least not all of them! As a DFIR report released 15-months before this indictment laid out, while there was a Latvian IP address that hadn’t been publicly identified at that point (one the FBI surely had some ability to unpack), the American alt-right, including Stone associate Jack Posobiec, made the campaign go viral, all in conjunction with WikiLeaks.

[snip]

MacronLeaks was, openly and proudly, a joint venture between the GRU, far right influencers in Stone’s immediate orbit, and WikiLeaks. It was an attempt to repeat the 2016 miracle that elected Donald Trump, by supporting the Russian-supporting Marine Le Pen by damaging Macron.

That is, one of the three investigations in which Brady said he had a more involved role is the one where an indictment happened not to name the far right figures known to have “colluded” with Russian spook hackers.

On October 19, Scott Brady’s office released an indictment that pulled its punches regarding the Trump boosters who were involved in a Russian hack-and-leak operation. On October 23, his team laundered an uncorroborated accusation of bribery into the Hunter Biden investigation. Then less than a month after that, on November 18, Brady ignored a warning about protected speech and made a baseless accusation of politicization.

Scott Brady thought to raise questions regarding things to which others signed their name. But his HJC testimony raises far more questions about things to which he signed his name.

This post is part of a Ball of Thread I’m putting together before I attempt to explain how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law. See this post for an explanation of my Ball of Thread.

The Tommy Tuberville Gap in the Trump Indictment

The release of details about Dan Scavino’s testimony in Trump’s January 6 case made me realize something: Trump’s call to Tommy Tuberville around 2:26PM on January 6 isn’t in the indictment.

As you’ll recall, Trump attempted to call Tommy Tuberville, but instead got Mike Lee’s phone. Back before he became Based Mike Lee, the Utah Senator told the local UT press what happened next.

With a mob of election protesters laying siege to the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Mike Lee had just ended a prayer with some of his colleagues in the Senate chamber when his cellphone rang.

Caller ID showed the call originated from the White House. Lee thought it might be national security adviser Robert O’Brien, with whom he’d been playing phone tag on an unrelated issue. It wasn’t O’Brien. It was President Donald Trump.

“How’s it going, Tommy?” the president asked.

Taken a little aback, Lee said this isn’t Tommy.

“Well, who is this? Trump asked. “It’s Mike Lee,” the senator replied. “Oh, hi Mike. I called Tommy.”

Lee told the Deseret News he realized Trump was trying to call Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the newly elected Republican from Alabama and former Auburn University football coach. Lee walked his phone over to Tuberville who was talking to some colleagues.

“Hey, Tommy, I hate to interrupt but the president wants to speak with you,” Lee said.

Tuberville and Trump talked for about five to 10 minutes, Lee said, adding that he stood nearby because he didn’t want to lose his cellphone in the commotion. The two were still talking when panicked police ordered the Capitol to be evacuated because people had breached security.

As police were getting anxious for senators to leave, Lee walked over to retrieve his phone.

“I don’t want to interrupt your call with the president, but we’re being evacuated and I need my phone,” he said.

Tuberville said, “OK, Mr. President. I gotta go.”

Tuberville, in real time with impeachment, confirmed the substance of the call.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville revealed late Wednesday that he spoke to Donald Trump on Jan. 6, just as a violent mob closed in on the the Senate, and informed the then-president directly that Vice President Mike Pence had just been evacuated from the chamber.

“I said ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,’” Tuberville (R-Ala.) told POLITICO on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night, saying he cut the phone call short amid the chaos.

During impeachment, Lee released call records that (at the time) undercut something Democrats were suggesting about the call: that Trump may have been told by Tuberville about the mob before he sent the Tweet targeting Pence. Lee also tried to get any mention of the call — the call he had revealed — stricken from the Congressional Record.

Back on February 14, 2021 — a good ten months before Liz Cheney and through her the TV lawyers discovered Trump’s exposure on this count — I argued that was compelling evidence that Trump had obstructed the vote certification.

Trump’s indictment does describe efforts he and Rudy Giuliani and Co-Conspirator 6 (who is most likely Boris Epshteyn) made to get Congress to further delay the vote count, later in the day (perhaps hoping the Coffee County caper would provide cause to create more delay). But it places those efforts later, during the evening.

119. On the evening of January 6, the Defendant and Co-Conspirator 1 attempted to exploit the violence and chaos at the Capitol by calling lawmakers to convince them, based on knowingly false claims of election fraud, to delay the certification, including:

[Per ABC report, Trump showed Nick Luna a draft Tweet here]

a. The Defendant, through White House aides, attempted to reach two United States Senators at 6:00 p.m.

[Tweet released, an hour later Trump cut off Twitter]

b. From 6:59 p.m. until 7:18 p.m., Co-Conspirator 1 placed calls to five United States Senators and one United States Representative.

c. Co-Conspirator 6 attempted to confirm phone numbers for six United States Senators whom the Defendant had directed Co-Conspirator 1 to call and attempt to enlist in further delaying the certification.

d. In one of the calls, Co-Conspirator 1 left a voicemail intended for a United States Senator that said, “We need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you. And I know they’re reconvening at eight tonight but the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow-ideally until the end of tomorrow.”

e. In another message intended for another United States Senator, CoConspirator 1 repeated knowingly false allegations of election fraud, including that the vote counts certified by the states to Congress were incorrect and that the governors who had certified knew they were incorrect; that “illegal immigrants” had voted in substantial numbers in Arizona; and that “Georgia gave you a number in which 65,000 people who were underage voted.” Co-Conspirator 1 also claimed that the Vice President’s actions had been surprising and asked the Senator to “object to every state and kind of spread this out a little bit like a filibuster[.]”

There’s no mention of the call that Trump made at around 2:26.

111. At 2:24 p.m., after advisors had left the Defendant alone in his dining room, the Defendant issued a Tweet intended to further delay and obstruct the certification: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

112. One minute later, at 2:25 p.m., the United States Secret Service was forced to evacuate the Vice President to a secure location.

[Tommy Tuberville call took place here]

113. At the Capitol, throughout the afternoon, members of the crowd chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!”; “Where is Pence? Bring him out!”; and “Traitor Pence!”

114. The Defendant repeatedly refused to approve a message directing rioters to leave the Capitol, as urged by his most senior advisors-including the White House Counsel, a Deputy White House Counsel, the Chief of Staff, a Deputy Chief of Staff, and a Senior Advisor. [my emphasis]

Two people who might be interested in the Scavino testimony released the other day, then, are Senators Lee and Tuberville. They’ve now been told that Scavino testified that he was not in the room when that call was placed (consistent with the indictment’s claim that Trump had been left alone in the dining room), meaning there’s no witness to the call besides Trump and the two Senators, both of whom would be protected from compelled testimony under Speech and Debate.

If Scavino’s testimony ever were to change, if Scavino ever were to recall witnessing that call, it would be among the most damaging evidence available: proof that in the wake of Pence’s evacuation, Trump turned immediately to stalling doubling down on the advantage he had won.

Instead, prosecutors are left with the later calls, which can be introduced under a co-conspirator hearsay exception.

Still, it’s telling: While Trump’s advisors were someplace else squabbling about whether Scavino was responsible for that Tweet that might get Mike Pence killed, Trump was (presumably still alone) seeking more delay.

In Rudy Giuliani Affidavit, SDNY Hung Up the Perfect Phone Call

Consider this: The April 21, 2021 warrant affidavit showing probable cause for the search of Rudy Giuliani’s home, office, and devices did not mention the Perfect Phone Call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

It could have done so. Earlier warrant affidavits targeting Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, starting with a bunch obtained on October 21, 2019, included it.

On July 25, 2019, President Trump spoke to Ukrainian President [Zelenskyy]. According to a memorandum of the call, which the White House released publicly, President Trump noted that “[t]he former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news.” He also praised a “very good prosecutor,” which appears to be a reference to [Lutsenko,] who was still in place at that time following [Zelenskyy’s] election but subsequently removed from office, or possibly [Shokin,] the former prosecutor.

While SDNY did not release the affidavit for a December 10, 2019 warrant focused exclusively on the Foreign Agent charges, this same reference did appear in an affidavit to obtain the contents of Lev Parnas’ Instagram account the same day.

In context of the potential FARA charges tied exclusively to the firing of Marie Yovanovitch, the paragraph showed that Trump had been persuaded by Rudy Giuliani’s lobbying not just that Yovanovitch “was bad news,” but that the prosecutors behind the effort to oust her, Yuriy Lutsenko and/or Viktor Shokin, were “very good.”

Moreover, the paragraph is particularly relevant evidence in the affidavit targeting Rudy. Far more specifically than the (much earlier) affidavits targeting Lev Parnas, the Rudy affidavit describes that Rudy lobbied Trump to fire Yovanovitch at least three times (the affidavit clearly identifies two instances: once on February 16, 2019, and again on March 22) and lobbied Mike Pompeo at least twice (once on February 8 and again when the White House forwarded his packet of disinformation in March) before he and Parnas turned to a press campaign involving John Solomon to get her ousted.

Yet the only public affidavit targeting Rudy, unlike several targeting Lev Parnas, excluded the paragraph showing the extent of Rudy’s influence.

There may be a perfectly banal explanation, such as an attempt, relatively early in Merrick Garland’s tenure, to minimize the extent to which this was about Trump personally. Or, the Perfect Phone Call might embody some of the uncertainty, noted explicitly in the affidavit, about whether Rudy was targeting Yovanovitch to get contracts with Lutsenko, or whether he was doing it only to get disinformation, to benefit Trump, on Hunter Biden. Given the high likelihood that data seized in this search was also used in other, undisclosed investigations into Rudy — DOJ may not yet have had a January 6 warrant targeting Rudy, but in June 2021, DOJ took overt steps in the investigation into an anti-Hunter Biden film that Rudy plotted — the silence about the Perfect Phone Call may simply reflect the boundary line between investigative prongs. That is, maybe the Perfect Phone Call appears in another affidavit.

The anti-Hunter film was, reportedly, an investigation into possible foreign support. As this table, which compares the scope of investigation in three warrants for substantially the same Foreign Agent investigation, shows, the funding of Rudy’s shenanigans shifted focus over the course of the investigation.

The warrants include:

  • October 21, 2019, 19 MJ 9832, obtained days after Parnas’ arrest, as SDNY obtained warrants to expand the scope of the investigation to incorporate its expanding Foreign Agent focus
  • December 10, 2019, 19 MJ 11500, obtained days after Rudy met with Andrii Derkach, which would have been a natural follow-on investigation to the Parnas investigation, but which Barr moved to EDNY to protect Rudy’s ability to solicit dirt from Russian agents to help Trump’s 2020 campaign
  • April 21, 2021, 21 MJ 4335, obtained on Lisa Monaco’s first day as Deputy Attorney General, when SDNY finally obtained approval for warrants targeting Rudy’s home and devices

In October 2019, DOJ wasn’t looking closely at how the Ukraine caper was funded. In December 2019, it made up two bullets of the warrants, permitting the seizure of:

  • Evidence of any funds sent into any account controlled by or associated with [redacted] or Giuliani, or any instructions to send such funds. (c)
  • Evidence of money, actions, or information requested by, or offered or provided to Parnas, Fruman, Giuliani, or [Toensing] by any Ukrainian national in connection with efforts to remove [Yovanovitch], including but not limited to any Ukrainian investigation of [Burisma Holdings] Ltd., [Hunter Biden], or potential interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (e)

That December 2019 focus on funding may have reflected details about Lev Parnas that SDNY had only just discovered. In an unsuccessful bid to have Parnas detained pretrial submitted the day after DOJ obtained that December 10 warrant targeting Lev Parnas, SDNY laid out what it had learned about the funding of the Ukraine caper.

Parnas poses a significant risk of flight for several reasons, the chief among which are his considerable ties abroad and access to seemingly limitless sources of foreign funding. Parnas has extensive and significant international ties, particularly in Ukraine, the country of his birth. Over the past two years, Parnas traveled repeatedly to Ukraine, and met with numerous Ukrainian government officials, including officials at the very highest level of government. More broadly, Parnas has traveled abroad more than twenty times over the past four years, including on a nearly monthly basis in 2019. Parnas took circuitous travel routes that obscured his final destination, such as by departing the U.S. for one country, but returning from a different country on a different airline. Parnas traveled internationally by private jet as recently as this year; bank account records from Account-1 show that Parnas spent more than $70,000 on private air travel in September 2019 alone.

[snip]

In addition, Parnas’s close ties abroad include connections to Russian and Ukrainian nationals of nearly limitless means, including [Andrey Muraviev] and a Ukrainian oligarch [Dmitry Firtash] living in Vienna who is currently fighting extradition to this country. Parnas has proven adept at gaining access to foreign funding: in the last three years, Parnas received in excess of $1.5 million from Ukrainian and Russian sources. In sum, given Parnas’s significant, high-level connections to powerful and wealthy Ukrainians and at least one Russian national, he could quickly and easily flee the United States for Ukraine or another foreign country, and recoup the security posted to his bond. It is difficult to overstate the extreme flight risk that Parnas poses.

[snip]

  • Between August and October 2019, Parnas received $200,000—not $50,000, as he told Pretrial Services—from the Law Firm into Account-1, which was held in Svetlana Parnas’s name, in what appears to be an attempt to ensure that any assets were held in Svetlana’s, rather than Lev’s, name.5 A portion of this money existed in Account-1 at the time that Parnas submitted his financial affidavit, and, to the Government’s knowledge, does so today, underscoring that Parnas continues to mislead the Government and the Court about his financial condition.
  • Parnas failed to disclose, in describing his income to the Government and Pretrial Services, the fact that in September 2019, he received $1 million from a bank account in Russia into Account-1. While the majority of that money appears to have been used on personal expenses and to purchase a home, as discussed below, some portion of that money existed in Account-1 at the time Parnas submitted his financial affidavit.
  • At the time of his arrest, Parnas had at least $200,000 in an escrow account, in connection with his intended purchase of a property located in Boca Raton, Florida, which was listed for sale at approximately $4.5 million. The escrow account was funded with $200,000 from Account-1 in September 2019. Parnas did not disclose this asset (either the property or the funds in the escrow account) to either Pretrial Services or the Government. It is unclear whether Parnas proceeded with this real estate purchase or received the funds back from the escrow account.

In an appearance on Michael Cohen’s podcast last month, Parnas addressed how various Ukrainian, Russian, and American oligarchs were funding his and Rudy’s efforts; he says it’ll also appear in his forthcoming book.

The warrant targeting Rudy 17 months later doesn’t reveal what SDNY had learned about the funding in the interim, nor does it sustain the focus on how this was all funded. It states with some certainty that in spite of two rounds of discussions of retainer agreements with Lutsenko and others, Rudy never got any money from them.

Based on my involvement in this investigation and my review of text messages, it appears that Giuliani was referring to the execution of [redaction] retainer agreement and the wiring of funds. However, based on my review of bank records, it does not appear that [redacted] wired funds to Giuliani at that time, or any subsequent time.

As NYT emphasized in their report on these warrants, the later warrant does describe that Rudy needed the money.

6 Based on my review of a financial analysis prepared based on bank records and public reports, it appears that around this time, Giuliani had a financial interest in receiving a retainer agreement from [redacted] Specifically, in May 2018, Giuliani left his former law firm and its substantial compensation package. Based on my review of a financial analysis of bank records that have been collected to date (which may not include all of Giuliani’s checking and credit card accounts), on or around January 25, 2018, Giuliani had approximately $1.2 million cash on hand, and approximately $40,000 in credit card debt. By contrast, on or around January 25, 2019, right before he met with [redacted] Giuliani had approximately $400,000 cash on hand in those same accounts and approximately $110,000 in credit card debt. By on or around February 16, 2019, his account balances had dropped to approximately $288,000 and his credit card debt remained over $110,000.

Perhaps because of what SDNY claimed were Parnas’ efforts to obscure his travel, the December 2019 warrant (for which, remember, it did not release the affidavit) added a bullet point, seemingly an afterthought unmarked by a letter, authorizing seizure of evidence that the men were hiding meetings with Ukrainians.

Evidence of efforts or attempts to conceal meetings with individuals acting on behalf of or associated with any Ukrainian national or government official. (no letter)

By contrast, the April 2021 affidavit targeting Rudy was interested in one single trip: His February 2019 trip, with Parnas, to Warsaw.

Evidence relating to a trip by Rudolph Giuliani to Poland in February 2019.(5)

As the affidavit describes, there was good reason to believe Rudy’s public claims about the trip — made in the days after the Perfect Phone Call was released — were lies, because immediately after the meeting, Rudy drafted a retainer shortly after the meeting and started lobbying Trump and Pompeo.

7 Based on my review of public reporting, I have learned that according to an article published on September 29, 2019 in Reuters, Giuliani admitted that he met [Lutsenko] in Warsaw in February 2019 after first meeting him in New York in January, but that the meeting with [redacted] in Warsaw was “really social . . . I think it was either dinner or cigars after dinner. Not opportune for substantive discussion.” However, this does not appear to be accurate, as described herein, Giuliani circulated a draft retainer agreement between [2 words redacted] and [redacted] (a firm owned by [Toensing] and her husband, [Joe DiGenova]) only five days after meeting with [redacted] and communicated with Parnas and [redacted] about lobbying [Pompeo] and Trump to remove [Yovanovitch] on the same day, and in the days following, his meeting with [redacted].

The reference to Lutsenko in that Reuters story is minor; far more of the story focuses on who paid for Rudy’s galivanting — again, a topic dropped in the later known warrant.

One of the key questions is who financed Giuliani’s globe-trotting as he pursued unsubstantiated allegations that Biden had tried to fire Ukraine’s then chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to stop him investigating an energy company on which his son Hunter served as a director.

“Nobody pays my expenses,” Giuliani said in an interview with Reuters on Friday. “What does it matter if I’m getting paid for it. Isn’t the real story whether he (Biden) sold out the vice presidency of the United States, not whether I got paid for it?”

The singular focus on that Warsaw meeting — a meeting that took place at an event designed to undermine Obama’s Iran Deal, which Rudy attended in conjunction with MEK (former NJ Senator, Robert Torricelli, with whom John Solomon has a past, also attended with MEK) — is all the more interesting given the temporal scope of the warrant.

The other two warrants I adress here were dictated by dates of collection. Because the October 21 warrant authorized an expanded search of materials obtained months earlier, its temporal scope necessarily ended at the collection date, May 16, 2019. Because the December 10 warrant authorized an expanded search of materials seized from the search of Parnas and Fruman’s residences (primarily Parnas’ — by this point, SDNY seemed to be scrutinizing Parnas far more closely than it did Fruman), its temporal scope necessarily ended on that collection date, October 9, 2019.

But the Rudy warrant extended long past the last overt act, the firing of Yovanovitch, described in the warrant, to December 31, 2019. Here’s how the FBI justified that:

To the extent materials are dated, this warrant is limited to materials created, modified, sent, or received between August 1, 2018, and December 31, 2019. Materials going back to approximately August 2018 are relevant to understand Giuliani’s relationship with Parnas and information he was provided in the fall of 2018 relating to, among other things, Ambassador [Yovanovitch] and Ukraine. Materials created, modified, sent, or received after approximately May 2019, when the Ambassador was removed from her post, through the end of December 2019, during which time Giuliani traveled to Europe to meet [Lutsenko] with are relevant because based on my review of the Prior Search Warrant Returns, it appears that Giuliani continued to make public statements about Ukraine and the Ambassador.

Thus, it rationalized extending the warrant’s temporal scope through December 2019 — a temporal scope that would include the trip for the anti-Hunter Biden documentary, on which Rudy again met Lutsenko, but also met known Russian asset Andrii Derkach and others who would later be deemed Russian assets — based on Rudy’s continued focus, vaguely, on Ukraine (as well as Yovanovitch).

But it’s not clear whether FBI would be able to access details of Rudy’s meeting with Derkach, as opposed to Lutsenko, with this warrant. The long redaction in this bullet point shields who else, in addition to Parnas and Lutsenko, was included in the scope of the known warrant.

In other words, though the temporal scope of the warrant would permit FBI to review information about Rudy’s later meetings with Lutsenko, in association with which trip Rudy also met a series of Russian assets, nothing unredacted in the warrant permitted FBI to seize information about that later meeting (or about the anti-Hunter Biden documentary).

For that matter, nothing unredacted in the April 2021 warrant explicitly permits the FBI to seize information about Rudy’s attempts to dig up disinformation targeting Hunter Biden and his father, even though the warrant affidavit likely mentions such efforts at more than twelve times (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve).

Still, as I’ve noted repeatedly, by the time Judge Oetken approved the Special Master process that Rudy himself had demanded, Special Master Barbara Jones was instructed to review all content post-dating January 1, 2018, a temporal scope significantly broader than the one laid out in the warrant. And according to her reports, while for some devices she focused more nearly on the timeframe of the Ukraine caper, those she reviewed first, she reviewed through the date of seizure.

We still know just a fraction of the story about how Bill Barr obstructed the investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s Ukrainian influence peddling — and the degree to which that let Rudy get rid of phones before the investigation would have otherwise developed (for example, the warrant describes that Rudy replaced a phone used with his main phone number on the date the House started subpoenaing records in advance of impeachment). That is, even though SDNY took aggressive investigative steps on Lisa Monaco’s first day as Deputy Attorney General, it was likely already too late.

Update: Back in real time, I posited that the first time Rudy pitched Mike Pompeo on firing Marie Yovanovitch was done while in Trump’s presence.

Timeline

Below, every bullet is a known warrant. The ones not linked were described in a passage that failed to be fully redacted in a Lev Parnas filing.

  • January 18, 2019, 19 MJ 1729: Yahoo and Google content

May 15, 2019: Marie Yovanovitch firing public

  • May 16, 2019, 19 MJ 4784: iCloud content
  • August 14, 2019, 19 MJ 7593: Yahoo and Google content since January, with expanded focus
  • August 14, 2019, 19 MJ 7594: Unknown warrant
  • August 14, 2019, 19 MJ 7595: Existing Yahoo and Google content, with expanded focus

September 25, 2019: Disclosure of Perfect Phone call

October 9, 2019: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman arrested

  • October 17, 2019, 19 MJ 7595: Actual authorization of the warrant approved in August
  • October 21, 2019, 19 MJ 9829: iCloud content since May
  • October 21, 2019, 19 MJ 9830: Unknown warrant
  • October 21, 2019, 19 MJ 9831: Devices from Dulles
  • October 21, 2019, 19 MJ 9832: Existing iCloud content for expanded focus
  • November 4, 2019: Warrant for Rudy’s iCloud
  • November 4, 2019: Warrant for Rudy’s email
  • November 4, 2019: Warrant for Victoria Toensing’s iCloud
  • November 6, 2019: Warrant for Yuriy Lutsenko’s email

December 5, 2019: Rudy meets with known Russian asset, Andrii Derkach

  • December 10, 2019, 19 MJ 11500: Stuff seized from residences for foreign agent focus
  • December 10, 2019, 19 MJ 11501: Instagram
  • December 10, 2019, Warrant for Roman Nasirov’s email
  • December 13, 2019, Warrant for Victoria Toensing’s email

December 14, 2019: Barr aide texts him: “Laptop on way to you”

January 3, 2020: Barr establishes dedicated channel to ingest Rudy’s dirt

January 17, 2020: Jeffrey Rosen makes Richard Donoghue a gatekeeper for all Ukraine-related investigations

  • February 28, 2020: iPhone of Alexander Levin
  • March 3, 2020: iPad of Alexander Levin
  • March 20, 2020, 20 MJ 3074: Fruman iCloud content obtained with October 21, 2019 warrant to cover earlier periods

June 20, 2020: Barr fires Geoffrey Berman

November 2020: SDNY denied authority to seek devices of Rudy Giuliani

January 2021: SDNY denied authority to seek devices of Rudy Giuliani

  • April 13, 2021: Cell site data for Rudy and Toensing

April 21, 2021: Lisa Monaco sworn in

  • April 21, 2021, 21 MJ 4335: Rudy’s office, residence, and devices
  • April 21, 2021: Victoria Toensing iPhone

Rudy Giuliani’s Scott Brady Interview Doesn’t Appear in His Warrant Affidavit

I’m about to do a larger post on some of the warrants targeting Rudy Giuliani and Lev Parnas, but first I want to make a point about the April 21, 2021 warrant targeting Rudy.

It doesn’t once mention Rudy’s January 29, 2020 interview with the Pittsburgh US Attorney’s office.

It sources Rudy’s own claims about his activities to a series of articles, interviews, and Tweets.

But the affidavit never once mentions that Rudy Giuliani sat for a 4-hour interview with the Pittsburgh US Attorney and nine other people on January 29, 2020.

NYT first disclosed the interview in this December 2020 article.

Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello, asked the Justice Department for a meeting to discuss what he felt was explosive information about Hunter Biden that he had gathered from people in Ukraine and elsewhere, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

In response, Mr. Brady called Mr. Costello and offered to meet. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Costello sent reams of documents to Pittsburgh, then traveled there on Jan. 29. They were picked up by F.B.I. agents and stopped for breakfast before meeting for nearly four hours at the local F.B.I. office with Mr. Brady and his top deputies on the inquiry, Stephen Kaufman and Ira Karoll, the person said.

Rudy described the interview at length in a letter claiming that the government should never have seized his devices (and revealing that SDNY requested, in both November 2020 and January 2021, to do so).

[I]n January 2020, counsel for Giuliani contacted high officials in the Justice Department, to inform them that Giuliani wanted to provide evidence for their consideration about the Ukraine. Within a day, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Scott W. Brady, contacted Giuliani’s counsel and offered to hold a meeting in Pittsburgh with both the United States Attorney’s office personnel and the FBI. Mayor Giuliani immediately accepted, and a meeting was scheduled for January 29, 2020.

On January 29, 2020, Mayor Giuliani and his counsel, flew to Pittsburgh at their own cost, where they were met by agents of the FBI and transported to FBI headquarters in Pittsburgh. Present at that meeting were the United States Attorney, the First Assistant United States Attorney, the Chief of the Criminal Division, and two additional Assistant United States Attorneys (“AUSA’s”) from the Western District of Pennsylvania. The FBI was represented by the Special Agent in Charge (“SAIC”) of the Pittsburgh FBI, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (“ASAIC”), and three other special agents of the FBI.

Prior to the meeting, Giuliani’s counsel had provided the Pittsburgh United States Attorney’s office with documents and an extensive outline of the subject matter to be discussed, so that the Government could be fully informed and prepared to ask probing questions. Giuliani began the meeting by making a presentation with handouts. During his presentation, and at the end of it, the Mayor and his counsel answered every question they were asked, to the apparent satisfaction of all of the Government officials in the room. In addition to the presentation, Giuliani provided the Government with the names and addresses of individual witnesses, both in the United States and in Ukraine, that could corroborate and amplify the information that the Mayor was providing. Subsequent to that meeting, and covering a period of months, counsel for Giuliani received a number of inquiries, discussions and requests from the First Assistant United States Attorney. All requests were granted and all inquiries were answered. [my emphasis]

At Scott Brady’s deposition before House Judiciary Committee, there was an extensive exchange about that interview — including regarding then-Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Seth DuCharme’s request that Brady sit in on the interview personally — which I first wrote about here.

And I’ll get copies for everyone. It’s very short. This is an email from Seth DuCharme to you, subject: “Interview.” The date is Wednesday, January 15, 2020. And, for the record, the text of the email is, quote, “Scott I concur with your proposal to interview the person we talked about would feel more comfortable if you participated so we get a sense of what’s coming out of it. We can talk further when convenient for you. Best, Seth.” And tell me if you recall that email.

A Yes, I do recall it.

Q Okay. And the date, again, is January 15, 2020, correct?

A That’s right.

Q So that was 14 days before the interview that you just described at which you were present, correct?

A Correct.

Q Does that help you recall whether this email between you and Seth DuCharme was referring to the witness that you participated in the interview of on January 29, 2020?

A Yes, it definitely did.

Q Okay. Just for clarity, yes, this email is about that witness?

A Yes, that email is about setting up a meeting and interview of Mr. Giuliani.

Q Okay. So the witness was Mr. Giuliani? That’s who you’re talking about?

A Yes.

Q Okay. And it was, in your judgment, important to get Mr. DuCharme’s opinion or, quote, “concurrence” about interviewing Mr. Giuliani. Is that fair to say?

A As I sit here, I don’t know if it was about interviewing Mr. Giuliani or just the logistics of where the interview would take place Pittsburgh, New York, D.C. It might’ve been about that.

Q So you needed Mr. DuCharme’s opinion about where the interview would be taking place?

A No, I didn’t need his opinion.

Q Oh. I’m just trying to

A Yeah.

Q understand, what was the reason, if you can recall, why you consulted with Mr. DuCharme about that particular decision, about whether or not you should interview Mr. Giuliani and any other aspect of that decision?

A Yeah, I I don’t know. I may have just been circling back to him, saying, “Hey, here’s the plan.” And he said, “Yeah, that sounds fine.”

Q Okay. Well, he also said that he would feel more comfortable if you participated, right?

A In that email, he did, yes.

Q Yeah. Was that consistent with what your experience with Mr. DuCharme was when you discussed interviewing Mr. Giuliani, or is there something unusual about the email?

A I don’t remember that there’s anything unusual. I would’ve sat in on that interview anyways, in all likelihood.

Q Okay. And just I don’t want to take this away from you, because I know you and I

A Oh, sure.

Q just have one copy. But just, again, what this email says is, “I concur with your proposal to interview the person we talked about.” And then he says, “Would feel more comfortable if you participated so we get a sense of what’s coming out of it.” Do you see that?

A Uhhuh.

Q Okay.

A Yes.

Q So what did he mean by “we”? Who was he referring to by “we”? Do you know?

A I don’t know.

Q Okay. Is it fair to infer that he is referring to the Attorney General and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General where he was working?

A I don’t know. Yeah, some group of people at Main Justice, but I don’t know specifically if it was DAG Rosen, Attorney General Barr, or the people that were supporting them in ODAG and OAG.

Brady would go on to concede there were a number of things — such as Rudy’s attempts to reach out to Mykola Zlochevsky and his possession of a hard drive of data from Hunter Biden — that Rudy never told the Pittsburgh US Attorney.

Q Okay. Then the other question I think that I have to ask about this is: This is a prior inconsistent statement of Mr. Zlochevsky that your investigation did not uncover, but it’s a statement that Mr. Giuliani was certainly aware of. Would you agree?

A Yes, if based on your representation, yes, absolutely.

[snip]

Okay. And what I am asking you is, have you ever heard that during the course of your investigation that Mr. Giuliani actually learned of the hard drive material on May 30th, 2019?

A No, not during our 2020 vetting process, no.

Q Mr. Giuliani never shared anything about the hard drives or the laptop or any of that in his material with you?

Mr. [Andrew] Lelling. Don’t answer that.

Q Oh, you are not going to answer?

Mr. Lelling. I instruct him not to answer.

Q. He did answer earlier that the hard drive. That Mr. Giuliani did not provide a hard drive.

Mr. Lelling. Okay.

Mr. Brady. He did not provide it. We were unaware of it.

By his own telling, Rudy spent four hours telling a team of ten people about these matters, and yet this affidavit doesn’t mention that interview at all.

To be sure, in his book, Geoffrey Berman — who was likely fired for conducting this investigation — provides one explanation for why Rudy’s 302s wouldn’t be incorporated in any warrant affidavit targeting Rudy: because the FBI refused to share those 302s with the NY Special Agent in Charge, William Sweeney.

So in January 2020 he came up with a plan. He described this plan he had hatched as “an intake process in the field.” That made it sound almost normal. The Department of Justice, in order to deal with the large influx of evidence, was going to employ this tried-and-true method in order to keep it all straight! But in all my years as a prosecutor and defense attorney, I had never heard of “an intake process in the field,” and neither had my executive staff or Sweeney.

His plan was to run all Ukraine-related matters, including information that Giuliani was peddling about the Bidens, through two other districts. His choices were Rich Donoghue, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who sat in Brooklyn; and Scott Brady, the US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh. Donoghue would oversee all Ukraine-related investigations, and Brady would handle the intake of information from Rudy and his lawyer.

This scheme, notably, did not include me or SDNY, which, as the office running the Lev and Igor case, was well versed in all things Ukraine. Barr’s implication seemed to be that with such a fire hose of material coming in from Rudy and his lawyer, we needed to spread the work out. And we had to have some kind of traffic cop to keep it all organized and flowing in the right direction—which was to be Brady in Pittsburgh.

All of this, of course, was utter nonsense. If somebody has information about an ongoing case, they typically hire a lawyer and approach the office that’s involved. Regardless of the quality or veracity of the material, I wanted to see it. We were the office with the background to determine its value. And we certainly would have had our own questions for Rudy, because he was a close associate of the two guys we just indicted. What’s more, our office was only a taxi ride away for Rudy and his lawyer—Pittsburgh was a 350-mile trip for them.

We could have handled whatever information Rudy had. With more than two hundred fully capable attorneys, I would have found a couple more to throw into the mix if it came to that. But that’s not what was driving the attorney general’s machinations. I believe it was really an effort by Barr to keep tabs on our continuing Lev and Igor investigation and keep us segregated from potentially helpful leads or admissions being provided by Rudy.

This became immediately clear to me and to Sweeney when we tried to access the information Rudy was providing. Rudy and his lawyer met several times with Main Justice and then with Brady’s team in Pittsburgh. There were FBI reports of those meetings, called 302s, which we wanted to review. So did Sweeney. Sweeney’s team asked the agents in Pittsburgh for a copy and was refused. Sweeney called me up, livid.

“Geoff, in all my years with the FBI I have never been refused a 302,” he said. “This is a total violation of protocol.”

Sweeney asked Jacqueline Maguire, his special agent in charge, to reach out to the acting head of the FBI’s office in Pittsburgh, Eugene Kowel, to request the 302s and related information. A few days later Kowel got back to Maguire and repeated what Brady had told him about the 302s: “It’s not my job to help the Southern District of New York make a case against Rudy.” [my emphasis]

Yet SDNY had to wait until Bill Barr was long gone before they got approval to serve this warrant. How is it possible that in the month and a half since Merrick Garland came in, SDNY had never gotten permission to read the 302s from Rudy’s “cooperation” in Pittsburgh?

Related: In related news, in a request for a delay in responding to Hunter Biden’s lawsuit against Rudy and his former attorney now creditor Robert Costello, it appears they are represented by the same firm.