The cat illustrations and paintings in this post are by Andy Warhol.
Lev Parnas is still dominating the headlines as we move toward the impeachment trial that is scheduled to begin next week; I’m focusing this post on his revelations and reactions to them. Here’s the latest.
House Democrats on Friday released new documents from indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas ahead of the Senate trial that includes new information about the apparent surveillance of former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and additional contacts between Parnas and an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes of California….
The new documents include screenshots of undated text messages that appear to show Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut, messaging with a foreign number from Belgium, which appear to describe efforts to surveil Yovanovitch. Hyde appeared to share the screenshots with Parnas, which is how they wound up on his phone that he turned over to House investigators.
The Belgian country-code number sends Hyde a screenshot of an official photo of Yovanovitch. The Belgium number, whose identity is not known, writes “My contacts are checking,” adding, “I will give you the address next week.”
Hyde replied, “Awesome.”
In another series of texts, the Belgian number tells Hyde at 2:05 p.m., “Nothing has changed she is still not moving they check today again,” shortly adding, “It’s confirmed we have a person inside.”
“She had visitors,” the Belgian number texted in another exchange.
Hyde is claiming it was all a “joke,” but I think we need to know the name of the guy in Belgium.
“I’m a landscaper from Simsbury, Connecticut, that is trying to get into the government relations, public relations world, lobbying world, whatever you want to call it,” Hyde said. “And this guy Adam Schiff is a bad character. … It was just copy and paste b——- from some intel guy — probably that was f—ing with me, trying to set Trump up.”
On Devin Nunes:
The new documents also show communications between Parnas and Nunes aide Derek Harvey, in which they arrange interviews with Ukrainian officials and apparent meetings at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., including with Giuliani.
The new materials draw Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, even further into the efforts undertaken by Giuliani and his associates to push out Yovanovitch in Ukraine and dig up dirt on the President’s political rivals. Last month, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee included in their impeachment inquiry report phone records of calls exchanged between Nunes and Parnas and other allies of President Donald Trump.
Nunes admitted Wednesday to speaking on the phone with Parnas, who has become a key figure in the Ukraine scandal, after previously saying such a conversation would have been “very unlikely.”
Read more at CNN. Also see this piece by Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: New text messages put Devin Nunes on the hot seat.
Betsy Swan at The Daily Beast posted a lengthy article on her interview with Parnas: Lev Parnas Dishes On Kushner, Maduro, and Soros.
A dinner with Jared and Ivanka about cannabis, a phone call from Trump Hotel with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and a whole lot of theorizing about George Soros. Lev Parnas’ interactions with Trumpworld, in his words, went way beyond the Ukraine influence effort.
The former ally of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani spent more than a year embedded with some of the president’s close outside allies. In that time, he said he had an inside view of all sorts of eyebrow-raising interactions and conversations. He described several of them in an interview with The Daily Beast from his lawyer’s office in Midtown Manhattan.
He spoke at length about his former allies Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, and Joe diGenova. A spokesperson for Toensing and diGenova’s law firm indicated that the topics he discussed were covered by attorney-client privilege. “It is unfortunate that some people will violate the attorney-client privilege,” the spokesperson said. “We cannot.”
Giuliani and his lawyers did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the interview.
The interview is much too long to summarize with excerpts so you’ll have to click the link to read all the gossip.
Lucian K. Truscott IV at Salon: The man who knows too much: Lev Parnas is the smoking gun on Ukraine scandal.
Revelations this week by Rudy Giuliani’s henchman Lev Parnas in interviews with MSNBC, CNN and the New York Times blew Iran out of the headlines and landed on Capitol Hill like a bomb. Here was an insider in the Ukraine conspiracy not only willing to talk, but to provide documents to back up allegations he has made about Trump’s shakedown of Volodymyr Zelensky to get dirt on his potential Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Parnas is the reason Republicans are so scared of opening the Senate trial of Trump to witness testimony. According to Parnas, everyone was in on the Ukraine scheme. Trump himself, of course, but also Vice President Mike Pence was in on it. So was Attorney General William Barr, so was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and so were Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and national security adviser John Bolton. At the very center of the scheme, according to Parnas, was the man he worked for, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Parnas has letters, text messages, contemporaneous notes, travel documents and more to back up his recollections of what happened as Trump tried to muscle Ukraine into aiding his re-election campaign by announcing an investigation of Biden. Trump was obviously getting ready to pound Biden with Ukraine conspiracy allegations the same way he pounded Hillary Clinton about her emails in 2016. Hey, it worked once! Why not?
After testimony by 10 witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee last fall, new information has continued to roll in. We have recently learned that the order to withhold the $400 million in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine came the day after Trump’s “perfect” phone call with the Ukrainian president last July 25. More recently, a series of emails and other contacts at the top of the Trump administration questioning the legality of the sequestering of the funds has come to light. And now we’ve got Parnas and his trove of texts, notes, letters and other documents that back up his stories about working for Giuliani to get former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired, and all the machinations surrounding the shakedown of Ukraine’s president and other officials to get them to investigate Biden.
But too little attention has been paid to the oldest question of all: Cui bono? Who benefits? Trump, of course. But how? Was it all about Biden, or was there something else Trump was trying to accomplish? Scratch the surface of the Ukraine scandal, and what you see is Russia, and Trump’s old pal, Vladimir Putin.
Read the rest at Salon. Also worth a read at Slate: New Documents Casually Destroy the Already-Bad Republican Case That Trump’s Ukraine Scheme Was Aboveboard, By Ben Mathis-Lilly.
In case you missed it, Parnas told Rachel Maddow that being in Trump’s orbit is felt like a cult. A new book argues that Trump behaves exactly like a cult leader. Lauren Frias at Business Insider: Lev Parnas and Michael Cohen are right to think working for Trump was like being in a cult, according to a cult expert.
Steve Hassan, a cult expert and author of a book called “The Cult of Trump,” spoke to Insider about the ways in which Trump and his circle behave share characteristics with cults.
“What’s interesting and shocking to me is to hear Lev Parnas describe [Trump] as a cult leader and such, and I’m curious how he arrived to that insight,” Hassan said, referring to an MSNBC interview Parnas gave.
“I knew that Trump fit the stereotypical profile of all cult leaders, which is essentially malignant narcissism, which is the narcissism — plus the psychopathic elements of feeling above the law, the pathological lying, paranoia, the jealousy, the harassment,” he added….
“First of all, cult leaders think they’re above everybody else, above the law, and then everything exists for their adulation,” Hassan said.
“Cult leaders think nothing of using people like pawns to get their way, and it doesn’t matter if there are people on the staff saying this is a bad idea, which apparently Bolton did,” Hassan said. In December The New York Times reported that former national security adviser John Bolton tried to convince Trump to release military aid to Ukraine.
He said cult leaders also have a tendency to cast out anyone who disagrees with them. He says this can be seen in the record high turnover of staff in the Trump White House.
Read more at Business Insider.
One more by Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: The Kremlin Inches Closer to the Biden PlotLev Parnas pointed his finger at Dmytro Firtash.
Somewhere near the heart of the Ukraine scandal is the oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Evidence has long suggested this fact. But over the past week, in a televised interview and in documents he supplied to Congress, Rudy Giuliani’s former business partner Lev Parnas pointed his finger at the Ukrainian oligarch. According to Parnas, Giuliani’s team had a deal with Firtash. Giulani would get the Justice Department to drop its attempt to extradite the oligarch on bribery charges. In return, according to Parnas, the oligarch promised to pass along evidence that would supposedly discredit both Joe Biden and Robert Mueller.
Parnas’s account, of course, is hardly definitive. Throughout his career, he has attempted to inflate his importance to make money. (Firtash apparently paid him $1 million for his services, though it’s still not totally clear what those services were.) And his description of Firtash’s involvement raises as many questions as it settles. Still, the apparent centrality of Firtash should inform any assessment of Giuliani’s escapades and the entire Ukraine story.
When commentators invoke the name Dmytro Firtash, it is usually followed by mention of his alleged connections to Russian organized crime and the fact that he is close to the Kremlin. These descriptions, however, understate his ties to Vladimir Putin. In his book Russia’s Crony Capitalism, the Atlantic Council’s Anders Aslund describes Firtash as a “Kremlin Influence agent.” A Ukrainian parliamentarian who investigated Firtash has called him “a political person representing Russian interests in Ukraine.” That representative of Russian interests is who Giuliani and Parnas apparently enlisted as their partner.
The rapid ascent of Firtash, a fireman from western Ukraine, remains mysterious—although he once disgorged details from his past in a long chat with the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Bill Taylor, a description of which eventually emerged in a WikiLeaks document dump. But it’s been widely reported that Firtash attached himself to the gangster Semion Mogilevich, one of the region’s most important Mafia bosses, a man the FBI placed on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. (His lawyers vociferously deny any connections to gangsters.)
When Putin ascended to power in 2000, he gained control of his country’s natural-gas business. He placed his allies at the helm of the country’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, and he has routinely wielded that company as an instrument of Russian foreign policy. In 2002, Firtash became Gazprom’s most important middleman: He was responsible for selling Russian gas to Ukraine. Thanks to an extraordinary Reuters investigation, which burrowed into Customs documents, contracts, and Cyprus bank accounts, the details of this arrangement are now well known. Gazprom sold Firtash gas at four times below the market price. When Firtash resold the gas to the Ukrainian state, he pocketed a profit of $3 billion. Even as he amassed this fortune, bankers close to Putin extended Firtash an $11 billion line of credit.
Read the rest at The Atlantic. It’s fascinating.
That’s it for me. I hope you all enjoy the long weekend!
The Ukraine scandal is unwinding into a massive conspiracy. Rudy Giuliani is in big trouble and the mob boss in the White House is on the verge of throwing him under the bus. The White House is struggling to deal with the tsunami of bad news–they once again sent out their Ukraine talking points to Democrats, according to The Hill.
Here’s what’s happening.
The New York Times: Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.
The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.
Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.
Trump advisers are pushing him to throw Rudy overboard, according to Politico.
For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.
And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.
Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.
The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.
Trump claims he doesn’t know Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Ukrainian “businessmen” who were arrested on Wednesday night as they tried to flee to Vienna on one way tickets. Unfortunately for Trump, he has been photographed with the two thugs; and Parnas actually attended Trump’s private party celebrating his 2016 election.
Lev Parnas described himself to a foreign correspondent at the cash-bar event in midtown Manhattan as a friend of the president-elect who didn’t live far from his South Florida winter home.
Parnas arrived at Trump’s November 2016 election night party, which was held in a ballroom at the Midtown Hilton, with two other men in suits and their heavily made-up wives, according to a forgotten but newly relevant dispatch from the event published at the time in Le Figaro, France’s oldest daily newspaper.
The Ukrainian-born businessman told the paper that a friend from his hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., had hosted several fundraising events for Trump and that his daughter had traveled around the state singing on the candidate’s behalf. It is not clear what friend Parnas was referring to.
“We are confident,” Parnas, told the newspaper, “America wants a change.” The newspaper described Parnas as an insurer. (Parnas co-founded a company, Fraud Guarantee, that at some point retained Giuliani as a lawyer.)
I posted this one in the comments yesterday, but it bears repeating. Reuters: Indicted Giuliani associate worked on behalf of Ukrainian oligarch Firtash.
One of the two Florida businessmen who helped U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, also has been working for the legal team of a Ukrainian oligarch who faces bribery charges in the United States, according to attorneys for the businessmen and the oligarch.
Lev Parnas, one of the two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, served as a translator for lawyers representing oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Parnas was arrested on Thursday along with the other Florida businessman, Igor Fruman, on unrelated charges that included illegally funneling $325,000 to a political action committee supporting pro-Trump candidates.
Both men had worked in an unspecified capacity for Firtash before Parnas joined the Ukrainian’s legal team, according to a person familiar with the Florida men’s business dealings with Firtash….
Firtash, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, is battling extradition by U.S. authorities on bribery charges from Vienna, where he has lived for five years.
Federal prosecutors in Illinois said in court papers in 2017 that Firtash was an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime. He was indicted in 2013 and charged with bribing Indian officials for access to titanium mines. Firtash has denied any wrongdoing.
Firtash was “financing” the activities of Parnas and Fruman, the source familiar with their business dealings said. The source did not detail their specific work for the oligarch or how much money he had paid them and over what period.
Firtash’s attorneys are Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, who also have been working for Trump. Parnas and Fruman are being represented by former Trump attorney John Dowd.
I’ll be honest, I’m still trying to sort all these stories out. It’s kind of like reading a Russian novel–it’s difficult to keep all the names straight. I’m just sharing the latest news I’ve read.
CBS San Francisco reports on another arrest in the SDNY Ukraine/Giuliani investigation: Ukrainian Andrey Kukushkin, Linked To Giuliani Associates, Arrested In San Francisco On Campaign Finance Violations.
Andrey Kukushkin, 46, is one of four people named in a grand jury indictment announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York.
The others, all Florida residents, include two associates of presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas, 47, and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, 54, and a fourth defendant, David Correia, who was born in the United States. The four men are all U.S. citizens….
Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco Thursday morning, according to William Sweeney, assistant chief of the FBI’s New York field office. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco and was ordered to be held in custody until a detention hearing on Friday, according to court records.
He is expected to be transferred to New York at a later date to face the charges there.
All four defendants are accused of conspiring in a scheme to disguise contributions of $10,000 each to two Nevada state office candidates from an unnamed Russian businessman who wanted to obtain licenses for marijuana businesses. Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign nationals.
Everyone is trying to find out who the unnamed “Russian businessman” in the SNDY indictment is. David Corn speculates at Mother Jones: Who’s the Secret Russian in the Indictment of Giuliani’s Pals? We Found Some Clues.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—who had been helping Giuliani search for dirt on Joe Biden and the Democrats in Ukraine—and David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, who were each identified as businessmen, were charged in what seems to be overlapping capers. Parnas and Fruman allegedly made secret donations to Republicans in an effort to advance their business interests and promote the agenda of one or more Ukrainian officials (which included firing the US ambassador to Ukraine). And these two Giuliani confederates also teamed up with Correia, a business partner of Parnas, and Kukushkin and allegedly made donations secretly financed by a Russian national to Republican candidates for state offices in Nevada to buy influence they could use to set up a cannabis business there. This Russian, who would be part of their legal marijuana venture, sent $1 million from overseas accounts to Fruman that was to be used for contributions to federal and state candidates in Nevada and other states, according to the indictment. It’s illegal for a foreigner to funnel donations to US candidates.
The mystery: Who is this wealthy Russian who allegedly tried to make illegal contributions to US politicians in pursuit of launching a cannabis venture?
The indictment does not say. It refers to this individual only as “Foreign National-1.” And the question cannot be yet answered definitively. But California state records and emails obtained by Mother Jones indicate that a Russian businessman named Andrey Muraviev had previously worked with Kukushkin to develop a cannabis enterprise.
It’s complicated so if you’re interested, head over to Mother Jones and read all about it.
NBC News has a scoop on the ousting of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged 2 Giuliani associates to push for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador.
The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.
According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.
The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.
“They sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official — a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,” Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Thursday news conference.
The indictment says the efforts by Parnas and Fruman to remove then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, a respected diplomat with deep knowledge of Ukraine, were “conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”
Read the rest at NBC News. Lutsenko is the prosecutor that Trump urged Ukraine’s President Zelinsky not to fire in the July 25th phone call.
One more from Foreign Policy: Pompeo’s State Department Reels as Impeachment Inquiry Sinks Morale.
The fast-moving impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump has dragged the State Department into the center of the scandal and further wrecked morale at Foggy Bottom, presenting a stress test for how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will balance his relationship with America’s diplomats against his relationship with the president.
The ever-expanding probe into the Trump administration’s apparent efforts to coerce foreign governments into digging up dirt on political rivals has even lower-level State Department officials wondering if they, too, need to lawyer up, with the foreign service officers’ union starting a legal defense fund for career officials caught in the impeachment crossfire.
The latest State Department drama came on Friday as Marie Yovanovitch—a decorated career diplomat forced out of her job as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May following a pressure campaign from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his now indicted associates—testified before Congress. The White House sought to ban her voluntary testimony, but she went ahead after a subpoena from the House of Representatives.
Some nine current and former officials said many in the State Department are shocked and angry that Pompeo did little to shield her. No senior State Department official, including Pompeo, defended Yovanovitch as she was thrust into the spotlight amid the impeachment scandal. The State Department, again at the behest of the White House, also blocked the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, from testifying before Congress on Tuesday, though his lawyer said Friday that he will testify next week.
“You don’t get credit for saying something about swagger, then caving the first time you get heat,” said Daniel Fried, who served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under former President George W. Bush, referring to Pompeo’s promise last year to restore the State Department’s “swagger.”
Read more at FP.
I have no doubt there will be more news breaking this weekend and I can’t wait! What do you think?