The other day I took a shot in the dark speculating about what the quid pro quo was in Donald Trump’s telephone conversation with Turkish authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “I wonder what the quid pro quo was on this call? I’m sure it must have had something to do with unregistered foreign agent for Turkey, General Michael Flynn, currently awaiting sentencing. Trump agreed to stand aside and do nothing as Turkey massacres our Kurdish allies. What did Erdogan promise him in return? Closer relations with Russia?”
I wasn’t too far off the mark. It turns out it is Trump’s vampire “Bat Boy,” Rudy Giuliani. Bloomberg News reports Trump Urged Top Aide to Help Giuliani Client Facing DOJ Charges:
President Donald Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.
Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. They said other participants in the Oval Office were shocked by the request.
Tillerson immediately repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in a hallway conversation just outside the Oval Office, emphasizing that the request would be illegal. Neither episode has been previously reported, and all of the people spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the conversations.
Zarrab was being prosecuted in federal court in New York at the time on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. Zarrab had hired former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Giuliani, who has said he reached out repeatedly to U.S. officials to seek a diplomatic solution for his client outside the courts.
The president’s request to Tillerson — which included asking him to speak with Giuliani — bears the hallmarks of Trump’s governing style, defined by his willingness to sweep aside the customary procedures and constraints of government to pursue matters outside normal channels. Tillerson’s objection came to light as Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders face intense scrutiny following the July 25 call with Ukraine’s president that has sparked an impeachment inquiry in the House.
The episode is also likely to fuel long-standing concerns from some of Trump’s critics about his policies toward Turkey and his relationship with its authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Zarrab’s release was a high priority for Erdogan until the gold trader agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in New York.
It isn’t clear whether Trump considered his request for Tillerson to intervene to be improper or was just testing the bounds of what he could get away with as president on an issue that could provide diplomatic benefits while also helping Giuliani, a longtime supporter. The Oval Office meeting occurred in the second half of 2017 and Giuliani wasn’t the president’s personal lawyer at the time, as he is now.
If Trump urged his secretary of State to interfere in an ongoing Justice Department criminal investigation (as he did by asking FBI Director James Comey to give a break to his former national security adviser General Michael Flynn) derailing the prosecution of one of Giuliani’s clients — a client who faced serious criminal charges — that would constitute obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense. Add yet another count to his Articles of Impeachment.
In a phone interview this month, Giuliani initially denied that he ever raised Zarrab’s case with Trump but later said he might have done so. He said he’d been speaking with U.S. officials as part of his effort to arrange a swap of Zarrab for Andrew Brunson, an American pastor jailed in Turkey who was later released in 2018.
“Suppose I did talk to Trump about it — so what? I was a private lawyer at the time,” Giuliani said. “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe at some point I dropped his name in a conversation. Or maybe one of his people talked to him about it because I was trying to do a prisoner swap.”
Giuliani said he discussed the Zarrab case with State Department officials and disclosed that two years ago, although he declined to say if he ever spoke directly to Tillerson about the case, saying “you have no right to know that.”
State Department Alarm
Concerns about Trump’s close alliance with Erdogan were exacerbated this week after Trump abruptly announced on Sunday that he would clear U.S. troops from the path of a planned Turkish invasion in northeast Syria. The weekend announcement drew quick criticism from top Republican lawmakers, who said it endangered Kurdish forces the U.S. relied on to defeat Islamic State. Those Kurdish-led forces are now under attack.
Trump followed his weekend decision with an announcement Tuesday that he has invited Erdogan to the White House in November.
As he was with Ukraine, Giuliani was so steeped in events in Turkey that State Department officials grew increasingly alarmed. Earlier in 2017, he had traveled to the country and met with Erdogan as part of his effort to seek a resolution in Zarrab’s case.
He and Mukasey said in a letter to the judge in Zarrab’s case that they notified then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions of their plans before holding a meeting with Erdogan.
Erdogan repeatedly spoke with Trump and, before 2017, Obama administration officials about Zarrab’s case when it was before the Southern District of New York as part of a broader investigation into a scheme to evade sanctions on Iran.
At one point, the State Department under Tillerson got involved in discussions over possibly swapping Zarrab for Brunson, the jailed pastor, but the matter was eventually dropped because Turkey kept escalating its demands, according to another person familiar with the timeline of events.
Tillerson has said publicly that the president frequently asked him to do things that were illegal.
“So often, the president would say ‘Here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it,’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way,”’ Tillerson said in an on-stage interview with Bob Schieffer in Texas last year. “It violates the law, it violates treaty you know and he just, he got really frustrated when we’d have those conversations.”
Zarrab, a one-time gold trader in his mid-30s, had lived an opulent lifestyle in Turkey, with a private plane, yacht and a Turkish pop-star wife. After his arrest in early 2016, prosecutors alleged he had “close ties” with Erdogan. They accused Zarrab of using his network of companies to move money through the U.S. financial system to help Iran evade sanctions as the U.S. was stepping up economic pressure on the country.
Zarrab later pleaded guilty and testified against Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who headed international banking at state-owned Turkiye Halk Bankasii AS, known as Halkbank. Zarrab said Erdogan knew of and supported the laundering effort on behalf of Iran. Erdogan and other senior Turkish officials repeatedly rejected the accusations, saying they were fabrications.
Atilla was eventually convicted of helping Iran evade economic sanctions on billions of dollars of oil revenue and served 28 months in U.S. prison before returning to Turkey in July to a hero’s welcome. Turkey has so far managed to avoid U.S. penalties over the sanctions-evasion scheme.
Despite Erdogan’s demands and Giuliani’s efforts, Zarrab was never sent back to Turkey. Once he agreed to testify, he was moved to a county jail for safekeeping, and he stayed there until after Atilla’s trial was over. By then, Zarrab’s home and assets in Turkey had been seized by Erdogan.
NEW DEVELOPMENTS ON GIULIANI’S UKRAINE CORRUPTION
I mentioned only briefly in passing yesterday a developing scandal involving “Bat Boy” and Secretary of Energy Rick “Oops!” Perry:
It was actually Rudy Giuliani and his Ukrainian goon squad making corrupt deals in the Ukraine for his financial benefit. Profit, not politics: Trump allies sought Ukraine gas deal. More, AP’s key findings about Ukraine gas deal Trump allies sought.
Even Secretary of Energy Rick “Oops!” Perry is involved in this corrupt scheme. Rick Perry’s Focus on Gas Company Entangles Him in Ukraine Case, and Perry pressed Ukraine on corruption, energy company changes.
Breaking news this morning from the New York Times: Giuliani’s Ukrainian goon squad have been arrested. 2 Giuliani Associates Arrested on Campaign Finance Charges:
Two associates of the president’s private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who helped fund efforts to investigate one of President Trump’s political rivals, have been arrested and were expected to appear in court in Northern Virginia on Thursday, according to a spokesman in the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.
The two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, believed to be important witnesses in the House’s impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump, were arrested on campaign finance charges. The arrests and charges were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman aided Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to gin up investigations in Ukraine into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, among other potentially politically beneficial investigations for Mr. Trump. Mr. Parnas had been scheduled to participate in a deposition with House impeachment investigators on Capitol Hill on Thursday, and Mr. Fruman on Friday. Neither had been expected to show up voluntarily. House Democrats were preparing to issue subpoenas to force them to do so.
The charges against the men suggest Giuliani’s push on Ukraine and President Donald Trump’s receptiveness to it had ties to an illegal effort to influence US politics and policy using foreign funds. The indictment involves two people central to the impeachment inquiry in the House.
The two Giuliani-linked defendants, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were detained at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington on Wednesday and are scheduled to appear in court in Virginia at 2 p.m. ET Thursday.
UPDATE: A new report from the Wall Street Journal claims that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani had lunch with his two now-indicted henchmen at President Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C. just hours before they were arrested trying to flee the country.
Overall, four men were indicted Thursday on two counts of conspiracy, one count of false statements to the Federal Election Commission and one count of falsification of records.
Along with Fruman and Parnas, Andrey Kukushkin has been arrested and is expected to appear in court Thursday in the Northern District of California, according to the Manhattan US Attorney’s office. The fourth man, David Correia, hasn’t been arrested. All four are US citizens, according to the indictment, which was unsealed by New York federal prosecutors Thursday morning.
Parnas was Giuliani’s fixer in Ukraine, introducing him to current and former officials as far back as 2018, according to CNN’s reporting.
Starting in November 2018, Giuliani told CNN, Parnas and Fruman introduced him to former and current Ukrainian officials who provided information that Giuliani claims is damaging to some of Trump’s political enemies, including Biden. House Democrats have subpoenaed documents from Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman relating to those interactions.
The request from Congress is the second set of subpoenas linking Giuliani and other Trump affiliates to Parnas. The first set, part of a lawsuit filed in federal court in Florida earlier this year, sought Parnas’ financial records and included a request for any work he may have done on Giuliani’s behalf.
They gave hundreds of thousands in donations to a Trump-allied super PAC, according to the Miami Herald.
Fruman and Parnas asked a US congressman to help get the US ambassador to Ukraine fired at the same time that they were committing to raise tens of thousands of dollars for that congressman’s re-election effort, according to the indictment. Parnas made their request to the congressman, who is not named, in part at the behest of one of more Ukraine government officials, the indictment.
UPDATE: “Congressman-1” is now known to be former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), mentioned multiple times in the four-count indictment. Where Does Pete Sessions Fit Into The Indictment Of Rudy’s Cronies?
The Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, allegedly sought for “Congressman-1” to push for the removal of then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch. Sessions wrote a letter in May 2018 to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushing for her ouster, claiming that she had made anti-Trump comments in private. Yovanovitch was recalled a year later.
The indictment describes the then-sitting congressman as receiving two $2,700 maximum contributions (both allegedly coming from Fruman, though one was reported to the FEC as being from Parnas, the indictment said).
According to the indictment, the congressman’s campaign received $3 million in outside support from a PAC to which Parnas and Fruman are alleged to have routed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The indictment alleges that Fruman and Parnas illegally concealed their connections to the America First contributions and to other political donations, using various tactics.
The PAC donations did not come from the funds of Global Energy Producers, the indictment alleges, and did not even pass through the company’s account.
The funds came rather a “private lending transaction” between Fruman and third parties, and prosecutors allege the firm was used to conceal Fruman and Parnas’ involvement from both the FEC and their creditors.
The ambassador at the time, Marie Louise Yovanovitch, was eventually recalled in May after earning the ire of Trump and other conservatives, who viewed her as biased against the President.
Yovanovitch has become one of the central figures in the ongoing impeachment effort in the House and is expected to appear before lawmakers for a deposition on Friday.
As they sought to raise a promised $20,000 for the congressman, Fruman allegedly made a donation to the lawmaker in Parnas’ name to skirt limits on individual donations, in violation of campaign finance law, the indictment says.
America First Action, the super PAC, told CNN in a statement they have not used the donation made through by the men through the super PAC.
If Rudy Giuliani’s co-conspirators have been arrested, why hasn’t he? And Giuliani “acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” his crime boss in the White House.
UPDATE: ABC News reports, Rudy Giuliani’s relationship with arrested men is subject of criminal investigation:
The business relationship between President Donald Trump’s private lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the men charged Thursday in a campaign finance scheme is a subject of the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by federal authorities in New York, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The investigation is being conducted by the FBI’s New York field office and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, the same U.S. Attorney’s office Giuliani ran before he became mayor of New York.
UPDATED: I am certain Trump will fall back on his usual defense, “I don’t know him. I never met him.” ABC News reports:
In his first reaction to the indictments on Thursday, President Trump said he doesn’t know the associates of Rudy Giuliani — even though he may be in a photo with one of them.
“I don’t know those gentleman. That is possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody — I have a picture with everybody here. But somebody said there may be a picture with — at a fundraiser or somewhere so, but I have pictures with everybody. I don’t know if there’s anybody I don’t have pictures with. I don’t know them,” Trump said.
“You have to ask Rudy. I just don’t know,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House.
So damn predictable!
Every picture tells a story:
From left to right: Vice President Mike Pence, Igor Fruman, Lev Parnas, President Donald Trump, and Rudy Giuliani. [Miami Herald]