The publication in recent days of hundreds of pages of messages between Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas and a cascade of other people has increased the complexity of an already complex situation. Parnas is at the center of another, discrete web of connections that landed him in legal trouble in October. (It’s that legal situation — he’s under indictment — that has apparently prompted him to share details of his work with Giuliani.) Given the importance of the newly released information, however, it’s worth stepping back and articulating more fully the Giuliani-centered connections that underlie what we’re learning about Parnas.
Consider, for example, the intertwining legal connections.
Giuliani is a personal attorney for Trump (something he made explicit to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a letter released by Parnas). For much of 2018 and 2019, he worked with Parnas and a man named Igor Fruman (also included in the indictment that tripped up Parnas last year). Parnas and Fruman provided translation services for Giuliani and outreach to officials in Ukraine. In return, Giuliani represented businesses with which Parnas and Fruman were involved. That representation, Parnas told the New York Times this week, was meant to establish an attorney-client relationship between the three — and therefore to legally shield it.
When House investigators first reached out to Parnas and Fruman for information last year, they were represented by John Dowd, who had previously represented Trump. One of the messages released by Parnas indicated Dowd’s representation of the two had been approved by Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s personal attorneys. (Since that point, Dowd has stopped representing Parnas.)
Parnas and Fruman also worked for a husband-and-wife legal team, Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova. Like Giuliani, both have been frequent guests on Fox News. At one point, Trump considered adding them to his legal team, but that push collapsed.
Toensing and diGenova also represent several other key actors. They represent Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman facing extradition to the United States on charges of bribery. They began representing him in the middle of last year, after Giuliani and Parnas apparently developed a strategy to transition him away from his existing representation. (That attorney was Lanny Davis, who also represents Michael Cohen — himself a former personal attorney for Trump.)
They also explored an agreement with Yuri Lutsenko, who served as Ukraine’s prosecutor general until last summer. That agreement, focused on Lutsenko’s interest in arranging a meeting with American authorities, never came to fruition. Toensing and diGenova also represent John Solomon, a former opinion writer for The Hill. More on that in a second.
Toensing also represents Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s personal legal team and, now, a spokesman for Toensing.
As we said, it’s complicated. At least five of the people mentioned above have or had direct relationships with Trump himself. Several others were obviously linked to him, including Parnas, Toensing and diGenova.
In practice, here’s a look at how central figures in the above network helped push for information that might undercut Biden — and, therefore, help Trump politically.
The most important actors here are Lutsenko and his predecessor, Viktor Shokin. Both served as prosecutors general in Ukraine. Shokin worked for former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko until he was fired in 2016. That firing came after Biden and other international figures put pressure on Ukraine to do so out of concern about Shokin’s efforts in fighting corruption. Shokin was replaced by Lutsenko, who continued in his position for several months after the inauguration of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who defeated Poroshenko in an election in April. Zelensky brought several advisers with him into office, including Andriy Yermak and Sergey Shefir.
Beginning in late 2018, Shokin and Giuliani were in contact about Biden. Shokin has alleged repeatedly he was ousted solely because Biden wanted to protect his son Hunter Biden, who at the time was working for a Ukrainian energy company. Shokin claims he was investigating the company, Burisma, and might implicate Hunter Biden; independent assessments of this claim show it to be unfounded. Nonetheless, Shokin found a receptive audience in Giuliani.
Parnas was involved with Shokin as well. When Giuliani interviewed Shokin by phone in January 2019, Parnas was in the room. Shokin and Parnas exchanged text messages for much of 2019. At one point, Parnas worked to get Shokin interviewed by Fox News’s Sean Hannity.
Lutsenko also began working with Giuliani and Parnas in January 2019. His motivations were different. He was frustrated the United States — and, in particular, then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — had pushed him to the side in favor of another anti-corruption group. He was also apparently concerned about his position with the presidential election looming. Messages released by Parnas show Lutsenko tried to leverage information he claimed to have about Biden and Burisma in exchange for getting Yovanovitch removed from her position.
Parnas also connected Shokin and Lutsenko with Solomon, who conducted interviews with each last year, often conveying their accusations uncritically. (Two significant accusations made by Lutsenko were subsequently retracted; The Hill is reviewing Solomon’s work.) Solomon also obtained and published a sworn affidavit from Shokin that Bloomberg News reported was obtained by staffers working for Firtash. In short order, Giuliani was touting it on television.
Parnas also communicated with both Shefir and Yermak and met with both. In his meeting with Shefir in May 2019, Parnas claims he demanded Ukraine announce an investigation of Biden or else face a cutoff of aid and the cancellation of the planned attendance by Vice President Pence at Zelensky’s inauguration. The day after the meeting, a Pence aide learned his trip to Ukraine had been canceled.
Giuliani and Yermak met as well, in early August. That meeting came shortly after Trump directly pressed Zelensky for new investigations. After the two met, Yermak began working with administration officials on a statement announcing new investigations and planning for a visit by Zelensky to the White House — a priority for the new Ukrainian president. Neither came to fruition.
Again, this is just a subset of the connections involving Giuliani and Parnas. The newly released messages loop in a number of other people, even beside the numerous officials and politicians Giuliani has been talking to in recent months as part of his effort. (Many of those officials have also talked to Solomon at various points in the last year.)
The distance between all of this and Trump is a critical question as the president’s impeachment trial begins. He has claimed in the past all of it was veiled behind Giuliani, a claim that stretches credulity.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, Parnas claimed Trump was intimately aware of what Giuliani was doing. “President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” he said. “He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the president.”