Nel's New Day

October 10, 2019

Corruption Begins at Home

With his current obsession in investigating corruption, which he claimed after the extortion call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) needs to look closer to home.

Today, two men who worked with DDT’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested as they tried to board a plane to Vienna at Dulles airport near Washington, DC on charges of conspiring to skirt federal laws that prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to US campaigns. They allegedly laundered foreign money with corporate identities and “straw donors” in “secret agreements” to hide the plan from candidates and federal regulators. Parnas and Fruman had one-way tickets, and Giuliani had planned to fly there last night. He refused to comment other than he didn’t plan to meet with them there. DDT said, “I don’t know those gentlemen.” Parnas had posted photos of his dinner with DDT at the White House on May 1, 2018 that have since been pulled. [From left: Vice President Mike Pence, Igor Fruman, Lev Parnas, President Donald Trump, and Trump Lawyer Rudy Giuliani – Miami Herald]

Two other defendants, Andrey Kukushkin and Parnas’ longtime partner David Correia, a longtime business partner of Parnas, were also indicted on the same charges while allegedly working with Parnas and Fruman. Kukushkin was arrested last night in San Francisco. Bill Sweeney, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said that “this investigation is about corrupt behavior, deliberate lawbreaking.” Paul Manafort’s lawyers are representing Parnas and Fruman.

House Democrats had subpoenaed Parnas and Fruman for documents and testimony after they refused to voluntarily appear before House committees.  Both men are immigrants, Parnas from Ukraine and Fruman from Belarus. Parnas also worked with Guiliani to push falsehoods that Ukraine tried to interfere in the 2016 election on the part of Hillary Clinton.

Parnas’ involvement in the Ukraine scandal seems to go back to the beginning with his job as Giuliani’s fixer, the man who connected Giuliani to Ukrainian prosecutors willing to do bogus investigations on Joe and Hunter Biden. Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who lost his district in 2018, is also involved with Parnas. Sessions received money from Parnas for his campaign and wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ask that Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch be recalled to Washington, DC because she wouldn’t pressure Ukrainians for the investigations. Parnas also donated to campaigns for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), and Florida GOP governor Ron Desantis. Sessions had been considering a run for a district 100 miles away from his old one.

Parnas’ company is called Fraud Guarantee.

Another Ukrainian player is Rick Perry, who urged Ukraine to fire the board of state-owned gas company Naftagaz and replace them with big U.S. donors to GOP campaigns. Parnas and Fruman, in partnership with oil magnate Harry Sargeant III, wanted to import natural gas to Ukraine. Sargeant told a senior executive at the gas company that he “regularly meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and that the gas-sales plan had the president’s full support.” The executive “perceived it to be a shakedown.” Parnas said that Yovanovitch would be removed, and Giuliani told reporters, “I did play a role in that.” Perry, who plans to resign soon, has been subpoenaed about his involvement in the Ukrainian scandal.

DDT said that if Zelensky wanted to meet with him, they should circumvent official diplomatic channels and go strictly through Giuliani, who created a more direct role than earlier known. Monday, Fiona Hill, DDT’s former Senior Director for European and Russian affairs, plans to testify that Giuliani and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland circumvented the NSC and normal White House process to run a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. DDT had appointed Sonderland to perform ambassador responsibilities in Ukraine although the nation is not in the European Union and then blocked him from testifying before the House. He tried to do the same for Parnas and Fruman and lied about their working for the White House before he denied knowing them.

Other Corruption Tidbits:

DDT’s former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said it was “absolutely not” appropriate for Mr. Trump to seek help from foreign powers for an election.

The eight-page letter written to House Democrats in an attempt to stop impeachment includes more quid pro quo in DDT’s “art of the deal.” Pat Cipollene wrote that if House Democrats “return to the regular order of oversight requests, we stand ready to engage in that process,” and ends by asking House Democrats to “abandon the current invalid efforts to pursue an impeachment inquiry and join the President in focusing on the many important goals that matter to the American people.” Earlier, DDT threatened Congress to shut down legislation, forgetting that if he refuses to either sign or veto a bill, it goes into law.

DDT is finally taking an interest in congressional affairs, calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) three times a day in an attempt to lock down GOP loyalty in case of impeachment.  

At least four national security officials raised concerns about DDT’s call with Zelensky that pressured Ukraine in exchange for DDT’s “favors.” Their worries began with Yovanovitch’s recall from Ukraine and continued with Giuliani’s promotion of Ukrainian conspiracies and DDT’s statements in White House meetings that he wanted damaging information on Biden. People who listened to the July 25 telephone call between DDT and Zelensky said that “alarm bells were kind of ringing.”

Former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), released from Fox network for his plans to join DDT’s legal impeachment team, won’t be part of the group until January—if ever. DDT said that lobby rules prevent Gowdy from joining until next year. NYT Maggie Haberman questions the reason. She tweeted:

 “Someone in West Wing badly wanted a win internally and put out Gowdy before it was a done deal. So it was quickly done yesterday and then had to be undone.”

DDT assigned his politically appointed official Michael Duffey the authority to withhold $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine because career staff questioned the legality of delaying funds.

In an interview with Bob Schieffer, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked about how DDT tried to break the law. In one of the times, DDT pushed Tillerson to persuade DOJ to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, Giuliani’s client for money laundering. Tillerson refused to interfere in the ongoing investigation of Reza Zarrab and reported his objections to then-chief of Staff John Kelly. When asked if he talked to DDT about Zarrab, Giuliani said “So what [if I did].” Asked if he had talked to Tillerson, Giuliani said, “You have no right to know that.”

Zarrab was arrested in 2016 for evading U.S. sanctions against Iran. Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who DDT fired, wrote that Zarrab had “facilitated millions of dollars-worth of transactions on behalf of Iran . . . through a global network of companies located in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.” Bharara added that Zarrab was “engaged in a massive bribery scheme . . . paying cabinet-level [Turkish] governmental officials and high-level bank officers tens of millions of Euro and U.S. dollars” to facilitate his transactions. DDT’s interest in Zarrab ties into his facilitation of the Turkish invasion of the Kurds: the attempt at Zarrab’s release was another way that DDT could do a favor for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Republican lawmakers make themselves complicit by their silence, denial, of arguments that DDT’s behavior is wrong but not impeachable. The laws that DDT have broken could put anyone else in prison. For a start:

18 U.S. Code § 872, “Extortion by officers or employees of the United States”: “Whoever, being an officer, or employee of the United States or any department or agency thereof, or representing himself to be or assuming to act as such, under color or pretense of office or employment commits or attempts an act of extortion, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

2 U.S. Code § 192, “Refusal of witness to testify or produce papers”:  punishable by a year in prison.

In a bizarre twist to Turkey news, two Russian pranksters pretending to be Turkey’s minister of defense Hulusi Akar called Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham said that DDT would try to be helpful “within the limits of his power” to Erdogan on the case. Now criticizing DDT for abandoning “our Kurdish allies,” Graham also told the pranksters that Turkey’s “Kurdish problem is a big problem.” He continued by saying that Turkey needs to be “protected from this threat in Syria” and that both he and DDT are “sympathetic” to the problem. It is a big different from Graham’s criticism of DDT’s pulling the troops as “shortsighted and irresponsible.”

It’s a deep swamp, with many more stories to be uncovered. Republicans need to start their investigations at home.

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