Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PARNAS: I fired him in jail.

MADDOW: You fired him when you were in jail?

PARNAS: Yes.

MADDOW: What happened there?

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

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

MADDOW: He said “be a good boy”?

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

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

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

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

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

PARNAS: I threw them out.

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

PARNAS: That’s what I felt.

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

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

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

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

If the AG Is Involved in a Foreign Influence Operation, Does He Have to Register with Himself?

Way at the end of a CNN story on Rudy Giuliani’s grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, this bombshell appears:

Two weeks ago when they were arrested, Parnas and Fruman were preparing to fly to Vienna, Austria, to meet Giuliani and another key figure in the impeachment investigation, Ukraine’s former prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, according to four sources familiar with their trip. Shokin is the same Ukrainian official who former Vice President Joe Biden — along with other Western leaders — had pushed to have removed over concerns he wasn’t prosecuting corruption.

While questions in Washington swirl around Shokin’s role in this controversy, Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman had specific plans for the former Ukrainian official up until the day of their arrest. According to those four sources, they told others they were headed to Vienna to help with a planned interview the next day: Shokin, they said, was scheduled to do an interview from the Austrian capital with Sean Hannity.

Through a spokesperson, Hannity said that “we never reveal our sources, potential sources, or persons they may or may not request to interview. Sean Hannity takes the first amendment seriously.”

The bullshit about how the First Amendment is why he’s not revealing his “potential source” who the TV star would have interviewed on TV got added overnight.

The news that Hannity was only saved from being a part of this influence operation by the arrest of two of its key players is news enough. But it dramatically changes the import of this news — that the night before this interview was scheduled, and after meeting with SDNY that same day, and probably after the grifters had been arrested as they tried to leave the country, the Attorney General of the United States had a meeting with Rupert Murdoch at the latter’s home.

Attorney General William P. Barr met privately Wednesday evening with Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who is one of President Trump’s frequent confidants but whose Fox News is viewed by the president as more hostile toward him than it used to be.

The meeting was held at Mr. Murdoch’s home in New York, according to someone familiar with it. It was unclear if anyone else attended or what was discussed. Aides to both Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Barr declined requests for comment on the meeting.

So the presumed schedule for the players looks like this:

Lunch: Rudy meets with the grifters across the street from DOJ

Before the arrest: Barr informed they would be arrested (he met with SDNY that day)

Roughly 6:30: SDNY has the grifters as they prepare to fly to Vienna using one way tickets

After the arrest: Barr meets privately with Sean Hannity’s boss

This story from Parnas and Fruman’s arraignment yesterday revealed that SDNY has been monitoring twelve different phone lines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski told Oetken that evidence in the case that will need to be turned over to the defense was “quite voluminous.” She mentioned about 50 bank accounts and more than a dozen cell phones that were monitored in some fashion, as well as search warrants and subpoenas.

Admittedly, this number is across four different defendants (thus far), but twelve is a lot, and that word, “monitor” sure sounds like wiretapping. Which may be why Rudy is finally shopping for a defense attorney.

Wiretaps might be the kind of thing SDNY would brief Barr on if he met with prosecutors the day of the arrest. Prosecutors might also tell Barr what kind of high profile people had been caught up on the grifters’ encrypted texts, as Hannity was with Paul Manafort. In either case, it is virtually certain that Hannity was caught in the surveillance of the grifters, even if contacts between him and Rudy weren’t already obtained.

It looks bad, but given how much Barr has mainlined Fox propaganda over the last two decades, it wouldn’t be surprising if Barr attempted to protect the propaganda channels’ top entertainer.

All of which leads me back to something else: the Attorney General’s very narrow denials that he was pursuing Ukrainian dirt in the wake of the release of the Trump-Zelensky call on September 25.

At the end of August, when two top intelligence officials asked a Justice Department lawyer whether a whistle-blower’s complaint should be forwarded to Congress, they were told no, Attorney General William P. Barr and his department could handle the criminal referral against the president of the United States.

About four weeks later, the department rendered its judgment: President Trump had not violated campaign finance laws when he urged Ukraine’s president to work with Mr. Barr to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

[snip]

The rough transcript showed that Mr. Trump believes he has that man. In a single sentence during the call with Ukraine’s leader, Mr. Trump said that he would have Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and Mr. Barr reach out to help further an investigation of Mr. Biden and his younger son, Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian corporation.

“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call, and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call, and we will get to the bottom of it,” Mr. Trump said.

A Justice Department official said that Mr. Barr had no knowledge of the call until the director of national intelligence and the intelligence community’s inspector general sent the department the whistle-blower’s criminal referral late last month, and that Mr. Trump has not spoken with the attorney general “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son.”

Mr. Trump has not asked Mr. Barr to contact Ukraine for any reason, Mr. Barr has not communicated with Ukraine on any topic, and Mr. Barr has not spoken with Mr. Giuliani about the president’s phone call “or anything relating to Ukraine,” a Justice Department spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said in a statement.

[snip]

But Mr. Barr is also closely overseeing a review of the intelligence community’s decision to start a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, which is being led by John Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut. As part of that review, Mr. Durham is exploring what role, if any, a number of countries including Ukraine played in the investigation of the Trump campaign.

“While the attorney general has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating,” Ms. Kupec said.

According to DOJ, the following is true (or was true, as of September 25):

  • Barr had no knowledge of the call until Joseph Maguire sent the whistleblower complaint “late last month” (subsequent reporting probably moves that date back to when John Demers reviewed the transcript on August 15, and not knowing about the call is not the same thing as not knowing about the extortion attempt)
  • Trump has not spoken to Barr “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son,” which doesn’t exclude Trump asking Barr to investigate 2016, which is what the transcript more directly references
  • Trump has not asked Mr. Barr to contact Ukraine for any reason, nor has Barr communicated with Ukraine (multiple reports have noted that Barr’s wild goose chase has largely bypassed official legal request channels, which would present problems regarding the admissibility of any evidence he receives, but also would be consistent with the public reporting that he is pursuing Ukrainian dirt outside of official channels)
  • Barr has not spoken with Rudy about the call “or anything relating to Ukraine,” which doesn’t address whether he has addressed other sources of disinformation with Rudy, nor does it say whether Barr has communicated to Rudy via other channels or received a dossier of disinformation on Ukraine, sent by Rudy on White House stationary, as Pompeo did
  • Certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating;” this does not exclude Barr speaking to these same Ukrainians, as Barr has been with so many other parts of his wild goose chase, nor does it exclude Barr learning of the Ukrainians when he took a meeting with Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing to discuss the Ukrainian oligarch whose bid to beat a bribery charge involves disinformation created by Viktor Shokin, the guy Hannity was going to interview

Given this narrow denial, it would be more likely than not that Barr knew of Firtash’s effort to use Shokin’s claim that he was unfairly targeted and encouraged John Durham to reach out to Shokin, to say nothing of several other pieces of disinformation Rudy has been floating.

What is absolutely certain, though, is that DOJ’s narrow denial in no way denies that Barr’s wild goose chase has incorporated materials that Rudy obtained as a result of the extortion attempt with Ukraine.

Indeed, back in the halcyon days before the grifters were arrested, frothy right wingers — up to and including close Rudy associate Michael Mukasey — keyed on DOJ’s confirmation that Durham was reviewing materials from Ukraine, as if that validated Rudy’s efforts. Back before Parnas and Fruman were arrested, the frothy right boasted that Durham had received these Ukrainian “leads.”

Which may be why Bill Barr’s DOJ did two things — consider the call transcript, and not the full whistleblower complaint, as the referral, and not forward the complaint to FEC as required under a standing MOU — that prevented others from identifying the ties between Parnas and Fruman (whom DOJ has repeatedly said Barr knew were being investigated) and the President’s July 25 call. To say nothing of the way his OLC treated his implication by the call as Top Secret, even though the White House itself considered it less classified.

Already, we have three solid pieces of evidence that Bill Barr’s DOJ engaged in a cover-up in a failed attempt to prevent anyone from tying the Parnas and Fruman influence campaign, his own wild goose chase, and the President’s extortion of Ukraine together.

But if Barr shared information learned about an ongoing investigation to prevent Hannity from embarrassment or even legal jeopardy, that would be a far more significant step.

Update: In the wake of Mick Mulvaney’s confirmation that Trump withheld duly appropriated funding from Ukraine to coerce it to cooperate in the Durham investigation, three different outlets did articles on what Durham is up to (NYT, NBC, CNN). Although all three provided new details on the investigation generally, none provided details describing from which Ukrainians Durham has received information.

WSJ’s Curious Mueller Editorial

I want to look back at something that has been puzzling me: a Wall Street Journal editorial issued by the end of the day Wednesday arguing that Mueller should not be fired. The next day, Rupert Murdoch paid Mitch McConnell a personal visit on the Hill.

While not as shrill or fact-free as its columnist, Kim Strassel, the WSJ editorial page has been steadily critical of the Mueller investigation, dismissing any possibility it will identify “collusion” and repeating GOP claims that it as sprawled beyond Mueller’s original remit (as well as parroting GOP claims that the FBI framed the Trump campaign). A column on the Paul Manafort plea deal, for example, warned that leaks from the investigation (which have never happened) would undermine public confidence in the investigation.

Leaks or other news about his investigation will undermine public confidence in a probe that has already wandered far from its original Russia remit and has now lasted 16 months without a resolution.

So it’s not like WSJ has been friendly to the Mueller investigation.

That said, their columns on the Mueller investigation as frequently criticize Trump’s incompetence in dealing with it and DOJ. That sentiment shows up in the two most relevant recent editorial columns on the investigation. This column from late August argues that Trump’s attacks on Jeff Sessions put Republican majorities at risk in November, which would lead to impeachment.

We will point out that Mr. Trump’s attacks on his own Attorney General this week are wrong and politically counterproductive.

The President is still furious that Mr. Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, which has since become the sprawling Robert Mueller investigation that threatens his Presidency. But railing against Mr. Sessions can’t change that, and it gives the appearance of trying to politicize the department.

[snip]

The biggest political threat to Mr. Trump is a Democratic election victory in November, which will trigger a drive for impeachment. Mr. Trump isn’t going to persuade anyone to vote for Republicans by railing against a Republican Attorney General he selected.

And this September column about the possibility of firing Rosenstein emphasizes the impact that would have on Republican majorities.

The immediate battle now is over the midterm election and whether Mr. Trump can stay in office as the impeachment assault begins from Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats. Mr. Trump can make personnel changes after the midterms if Republicans still hold the Senate and he can get someone confirmed.

Murdoch’s American flagship paper doesn’t like the Mueller investigation. But that has as much to do with the ways it leads Trump to do stupid things that imperil Republican rule as that it poses a risk for Trump personally.

With that as background, consider the column. It starts by complaining (again) about how badly Trump treated Sessions.

Mr. Sessions deserved better than the public humiliations dealt by President Trump. As a Senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions was the first Washington figure of any stature to embrace Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Mr. Trump wants loyalty up but not down.

It then describes the appointment of Matt Whitaker without comment or judgment.

Sessions’ temporary successor will be the AG’s chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who presumably will hold the job until a successor is nominated.

Most of the column argues for a solid Attorney General replacement. The WSJ seems to be complaining — as they did in some of their other editorials — that the White House should exercise more influence over DOJ. They do want someone respectable as Attorney General, however.

It is important that the White House get this one right.

The Attorney General shouldn’t fire Mr. Mueller, as the President essentially said himself at his Wednesday news conference. Mr. Trump needs an individual of stature and judgment who will have the trust of the department’s lawyers, who is capable of independence, but who also understands that the Justice Department is part of the executive branch and not a law unto itself.

But the WSJ, with as little comment as it makes about Whitaker, also states clearly that any new Attorney General shouldn’t fire Mueller and claims Trump himself has agreed, probably a reference to this answer from Trump at the press conference that day.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Going back to the Russia investigation and the potential investigations from the now- Democratic majority in Congress, some say that you could stop all this by declassifying —

THE PRESIDENT:  I could.  I could fire everybody right now.  But I don’t want to stop it, because politically, I don’t like stopping it.  It’s a disgrace.  It should have never been started because there was no crime.  It is — everybody has conflicts.  They all have conflicts over there that are beyond anything that anybody has ever seen in terms of conflicts — from the fact that people ask for jobs; from the fact that they have very good friends on the other side, like really good friends, like Comey — who, by the way, lied and leaked, and also leaked classified information.  Nothing happened there.  It might, perhaps.  Maybe something is happening that I don’t know about.

I stay away from it.  But do you know what I do?  I let it just go on.  They’re wasting a lot of money, but I let it go on because I don’t want to do that.

The day after the election, Trump took a rash step to end the Mueller investigation by firing Sessions and hiring Whitaker. And WSJ almost immediately responded by warning Trump not to do any further damage to the party with his impulsive efforts to undermine Mueller.

BBC’s Adam Curtis’ Fluck Up

Every once in a while there’s an opinion piece so grossly naive, horribly uninformed, or passively apologetic that it deserves pushback.

BBC’s Adam Curtis’ blog post, WHAT THE FLUCK [sic], is such a piece. Read it for yourself. I’m still scratching my head about this overlong, winding post that ultimately says,

“…Maybe today we are being farmed by the new system of power. But we can’t see quite how it is happening – and we need a new journalism to explain what is really going on. …”

No. We have the right journalism, even if it is not perfect or dispersed evenly, even if we could use more of it. The Guardian’s work on the Snowden story is just one example; if I may say so, Emptywheel sets another fine example as citizen journalism.

What we need is a public willing to invest time and energy in reading the material reported, discuss it openly after careful analysis, willing to demand and support more good journalism by way of subscription, donation, or advertising revenues as a last resort.

What we don’t need are naive or uninformed opinion leaders who tell us we don’t have journalism reporting about the size, scale, and nature of the corruption we face.

What we don’t need are apologias masquerading as demands for more and better journalism.

Curtis’ piece in particular does several things to muddy the public’s perception about journalism today:

• He throws us a narrative about poor little rich girl Tamara Yeardye Mellon and her father that is not unlike reading about poor little Paris Hilton, or poor little Kardashian Annoying-Sister-Of-The-Day. The narrative utterly misses a critical point, derailing its own effort, yet he feels the public need more backstory narrative in order to really understand today’s challenges..

• Rupert Murdoch is treated as if he was handed a bag of flaming dog poo by his editorial predecessor, dealing with the mess in the best manner he could — as if cellphone hacking by Murdoch’s employees was mere fallout inherited immaculately by Murdoch.

• Curtis ignores his own role, using his bully pulpit to complain about an absence of reporting he is capable of providing instead of this meandering whinge.

With regard to Tamara Mellon’s allegedly lost control over of her luxe shoe business Jimmy Choo Limited to Phoenix Private Equity, Curtis failed to note that not even a Mellon family member is safe from predation. Even a Mellon can be made into a corporate vulture’s bitch.

What does this tell us about the nature of the beast? Read more

Company that Engaged in Criminal Wiretapping Hails Obama’s Wiretap Extension

The Wall Street Journal–owned by the same guy whose company and son are in trouble in the UK for criminally wiretapping those they wanted to collect information on–has found something to love in the Obama Administration.

Well, not everything President Obama and the 112th Congress managed to achieve is so terrible. With scarcely any notice, much less controversy, they did at least preserve one of the country’s most important post-9/11 antiterror tools.

That would be wiretapping, which you may recall liberals portrayed during the George W. Bush era as an illegal and unconstitutional license for co-President Dick Cheney and his spymasters to bug the bedrooms of all U.S. citizens. But now Washington has renewed the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that were due to expire at the end of 2012, with no substantive changes and none of the pseudo-apoplexy that prevailed during the Bush Presidency.

In addition to applauding Obama’s “fairly ruthless antiterror prosecut[ions] and unapologetic assert[ions] of Presidential powers,” the WSJ revels in this opportunity to mock those who thought illegal wiretapping was wrong.

This is a turnabout from 2007 and 2008, when letting U.S. spooks read al Qaeda emails or listen in on phone calls that passed through domestic switching networks supposedly spelled doom for the American Republic. Democrats spent years pretending that Mr. Bush’s eavesdropping program was “wrong” and “destructive,” as Attorney General Eric Holder put it at the time, lamenting that “I never thought I would see a President act in direct defiance of federal law.”

Maybe this mutual love of abusive wiretapping is why–as Elliot Spitzer has pointed out–DOJ has thus far failed to pursue News Corp under Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

And finally, where is the inept U.S. Department of Justice in all this?

The DOJ has brought many irrelevant and tiny cases against companies for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal to bribe either individuals or government officials, even in a company’s overseas operations. The DOJ loves to use the statute to show just how tough it is.

Yet now they have the most important case sitting right there in front of them. It’s easy. Even a rookie could field this one.

But what are they doing? It’s not clear.

If they fail to make this case against News Corp., Eric Holder is a failure as attorney general.

After all, Eric Holder’s DOJ successfully fought to give legal sanction to Cheney’s illegal wiretapping. It would look rather silly, after having extended warrantless wiretapping past the end of the Obama Administration, for them to prosecute Rupert Murdoch for doing the same thing Cheney did.