Those documents were then put into folders stamped with the “Trump Hotels” insignia and placed into a manila envelope, which itself bore a handwritten return address: the White House. Material of political use to Trump collected under the brand of Trump’s private business and then packaged as the work of the Trump administration.
Most of what we know about the effort to get Ukraine to gin up investigations that would taint the Russia probe or former vice president Joe Biden stems from a similar enveloping of Trump’s priorities. Giuliani, his private attorney, tasked with guiding an irregular diplomatic process and identified as a point of contact in Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Giuliani ran point on what former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill last week described as the “domestic political errand” of getting the new probes while State Department and other administration officials were focused on “national security foreign policy."
They were the formal White House letterhead; Giuliani was the Trump folder in the manila envelope.
Over the past week, we’ve learned more about the scope of Giuliani’s efforts to generate information about Ukraine and leverage that to Trump’s political advantage. Much of that comes through reporting on what Giuliani associate Lev Parnas is willing to tell prosecutors about his work with and on behalf of Giuliani over the past two years. The timeline of activity establishes ways in which Trump, his allies and his subordinates were engaged by Giuliani on Ukraine.
One of the earliest points of contact between Giuliani’s team — including Parnas and Igor Fruman who, like Parnas, was indicted on campaign-finance charges last month — and Trump on the subject came in April 2018. At a dinner at Trump’s Washington hotel that month, The Washington Post reported earlier this month, Parnas and Fruman disparaged then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as hostile to the president, prompting Trump to agree. That same month, Trump hired Giuliani as his personal attorney.
Ousting Yovanovitch became a central part of Giuliani’s efforts. It’s not entirely clear when Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman began working together, though Parnas told the New Yorker’s Adam Entous that it began when “Giuliani wanted to gather information in Ukraine to counter the findings of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation” — the focus of Giuliani’s work for Trump. Yovanovitch was clearly a focus of Parnas’s; he met with then-Texas Rep. Pete Sessions in May 2018, the same day Sessions wrote a letter to Trump targeting Yovanovitch (and the same day he received a check from Parnas).
Entous reports that Parnas helped connect Giuliani to former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin last December. Shokin is the individual who Giuliani alleges was unfairly targeted by Biden, a characterization that isn’t supported by the available evidence.
That same month, Shokin also reportedly met in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, which wrapped up its public hearings on impeachment last week. Parnas helped set up contacts for Nunes and his staff, according to the Daily Beast. Staffers for Nunes were also reportedly involved in ongoing meetings at Trump’s Washington hotel focused on Ukraine and the Bidens earlier this year, which Giuliani’s team also attended. In late March, CNBC reported Sunday, two Nunes staffers planned to travel to Ukraine to seek out more information before learning that they would have to report that travel to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).
These details were shared with reporters by attorneys working for Parnas. Nunes has generally declined to answer questions about the allegations, though he did deny the Shokin trip to Breitbart News.
In late January, Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman interviewed both Shokin and his replacement, Yuri Lutsenko. (Notes of those interviews were included in the packet sent to Pompeo in May.) What’s interesting about the Lutsenko interview in particular is that he didn’t mention any of the more problematic allegations he would later make against Yovanovitch or Biden. In the two interviews, he instead criticized Yovanovitch for supporting Ukraine’s anti-corruption organization, NABU (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine), founded in 2014 as part of an effort to better address corruption in the country.
On March 6, Yovanovitch explicitly criticized Lutsenko. Within weeks, Lutsenko was telling writer John Solomon that Yovanovitch had given him a do-not-prosecute list which aimed to protect political opponents of Trump’s. Lutsenko made the claim with presidential elections looming — and retracted it in mid-April when it became clear that his boss, President Petro Poroshenko, would be defeated. Lutsenko similarly later retracted claims made to Solomon about purported corruption by the Bidens.
In February, Fruman and Parnas directly lobbied Poroshenko to announce an investigation into Biden in exchange for a state visit — the exact quid pro quo identified last week in the impeachment inquiry by Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. They made the request on Giuliani’s behalf, noting that Giuliani was acting on orders from Trump.
Over the course of the spring, Yovanovitch faced more vocal criticism from allies of Trump’s including Fox News’s Sean Hannity. In late March, Pompeo twice spoke by phone with Giuliani. Three days later, the two had a more formal, scheduled call after exchanging contact numbers. In the intervening days, Giuliani sent Pompeo one part of what would eventually become his May packet: a nine-page timeline of allegations about Ukraine, Biden and Yovanovitch.
It’s not clear how the first call between Pompeo and Giuliani, on March 26, came about, as journalist Marcy Wheeler notes. She speculates that perhaps Trump connected the two directly, something that would fit with Trump’s late-May suggestion to a team of officials who became known as the “three amigos” — one of whom was Sondland — that they work with Giuliani on Ukraine. Late March is also the period in which Nunes’s staffers reportedly explored traveling to Ukraine.
Yovanovich was recalled in late April.
Giuliani’s efforts on Biden moved forward. By early July, he had Sondland pushing Ukraine to launch Trump’s desired investigations from within the administration. In late June, he had reportedly engaged a new ally outside the administration: Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash. Parnas offered to assist Firtash, who faces extradition to the United States on charges including bribery, if Firtash were to aid Giuliani’s hunt for dirt on Biden. Firtash eventually hired attorneys Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, who also represent Solomon and who have employed Parnas and Fruman. Last month, Bloomberg News reported that people working for Firtash had obtained a sworn statement from Shokin alleging misbehavior by Biden — which Giuliani then touted on cable news broadcasts.
In early August, after being connected to an aide to Zelensky by another of the three amigos, Giuliani was able to advocate directly to Zelensky’s team for the investigations. Zelensky was already aware of Giuliani, though.
“I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine,” Zelensky told Trump in their call on July 25, according to a rough transcript released by the White House. He went on to assure Trump that the investigations Trump desired would move forward.
Giuliani, the outside attorney, was the first person associated with Trump mentioned by Zelensky in the call. The personal Trump effort wrapped in the auspices of the White House.