When you step back, the picture that comes into focus is of a Republican Party unleashed by Trump to indulge its wildest fantasies of corruption and self-dealing, not just here but also anywhere in the world where there’s a buck to be had. The government of the United States is just a vehicle to enable that pursuit.
And much of it connects to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer and, perhaps quite literally, his partner in crime. We now have this shocking development:
Two associates of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani have been arrested on charges that they schemed to funnel foreign money to U.S. politicians in a bid to affect U.S.-Ukraine relations and launch a marijuana business, according to a newly unsealed indictment.The two men, who helped Giuliani investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, were arrested Wednesday night in Virginia, according to a person familiar with the charges. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman have been under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and are expected to make an initial court appearance later Thursday in Alexandria, Va. …According to the indictment unsealed in New York, Parnas, Fruman and other defendants “conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with the candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments.”
If you’ve been following the Ukraine story closely, you’ve heard of Parnas and Fruman, two U.S. citizens who were born in the Soviet Union. Giuliani calls them his “clients,” but the term “business associates” is probably closer to the truth.
Their names came up earlier this week when we learned that Energy Secretary Rick Perry pressured the president of Ukraine to replace the board of the country’s state natural gas company with people, including Americans, who might grease the wheels of profiteering. It appears that Parnas and Fruman, with Giuliani’s help, were behind that effort.
Though they’re real estate developers, they had plans to export natural gas to Ukraine. They also found it worthwhile in 2018 to start donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican organizations, though if prosecutors are right, they did so with illegal foreign money.
Additionally, “Prosecutors say Fruman and Parnas schemed to donate money to an unidentified U.S. congressman, at the same time they were asking that congressman to get the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed from her job.”
This is where things swing back around to Trump.
The Wall Street Journal identifies the congressman as Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas who was defeated in 2018. America First Action, the Republican PAC to which Parnas and Fruman gave $325,000, spent $3 million trying to save Sessions after he began his campaign to get the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, removed.
This may be getting confusing, but stick with me just a little longer.
For some time, the now-arrested Parnas was going around Ukraine telling people that Yovanovitch, a widely respected career Foreign Service officer, was going to be gone soon, and that would help his business interests. How did Parnas know? Getting Yovanovitch removed was a project he was working on with his associate Giuliani, in part because Yovanovitch resisted Giuliani’s efforts to strong-arm the Ukrainians into opening an investigation on Joe Biden and his son.
After Trump gave Yovanovitch the ax, the president had his infamous July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump told him to talk to Giuliani, and then said, “If you could speak to him, that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news.”
Zelensky agreed that he didn’t like the ambassador, to which Trump said, “Well, she’s going to go through some things. 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.”
Giuliani recently confirmed that he engineered Yovanovitch’s removal. “The ambassador to Ukraine was replaced,” he said. “I did play a role in that.”
Parnas and Fruman were obviously shady characters even before they got arrested, yet they’re tightly linked to the political interests of the president of the United States, and to the operation of U.S. foreign policy. This in and of itself is an absolutely astonishing scandal, and it’s why congressional Democrats have been seeking documents from Parnas and Fruman. The two are represented by Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd, who has been stonewalling those requests.
Democrats subpoena Parnas and Fruman
So Democrats stopped asking politely and just subpoenaed the two men. In their letter to Dowd, they note that he had emailed them to say that Parnas and Fruman “agree with and adopt the position of the White House Counsel pertaining to Democrat inquiry [sic]," meaning that they think the impeachment inquiry is illegitimate and therefore they don’t have to cooperate with it.
This is, frankly, a gobsmacking thing for a lawyer to assert on behalf of private citizens. But that’s how people think in Trumpland: If you don’t like the law, you don’t have to obey it.
Here’s a partial list of what we now need to know:
- To what degree did Giuliani function as Parnas’s and Fruman’s business partner?
- Were they the original source of the idea to fire the ambassador to Ukraine?
- Why did Trump tell Zelensky to talk to Giuliani about the ambassador?
- What was Parnas and Fruman’s involvement in the effort to get the board of Ukraine’s state gas company fired?
- Who else in the U.S. government knew that key foreign policy decisions were being driven by the president’s erratic lawyer and his two disreputable buddies?
- Was the secretary of state aware of their involvement?
- Did he or anyone else try to do anything about it?
- What other decisions has Giuliani pushed Trump to make? (Here’s one that should be a scandal in itself.)
This impeachment inquiry clearly has a lot of work to do. We may need some more whistleblowers.