No, she’s what threatens Trump most: an honest American.
Elite Trump circles
Pitching a gas deal
Backing Giuliani’s efforts
Trump allies felt Giuliani’s free-wheeling monologues were hurting the president. And that was before the ex-New York mayor’s business associates got arrested.
For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.
And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.
Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.
The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.
Giuliani has been Trump’s attack dog since he was hired as an unpaid personal attorney April 2018. But the president’s personal lawyer has now found himself at the center of an unfolding controversy over the president’s attempts to get the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter.
To numerous Trump advisers, though, the appearances have hurt more than they’ve helped the president.
“Rudy right now needs to focus on himself and not Ukraine,” said an outside Trump adviser.
For now, Trump is sticking with Giuliani, or “My Rudy,” as Giuliani said the president sometimes calls him. “Nothing has changed on that,” said Giuliani’s own attorney, Jon Sale. Trump plans to keep using Giuliani on everything but Ukraine matters because they know he’s a witness if this goes to impeachment, according to a source familiar with the legal team’s strategy.
Trump said late Friday he didn’t know if Giuliani was still his attorney. “I haven’t spoken to Rudy,” he said. “I spoke to him yesterday, briefly. He’s a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.”
That’s good for Trump, Giuliani argued.
“I’m not a puppy — I know what I’m doing,” he said. If he didn’t represent Trump, Giuliani added, “they would let him be a punching bag.”
In a text on Saturday morning, Giuliani replied to the two most pressing questions he’s facing. “No knowledge of any probe. Still President’s counsel in same way as before…no change,” he wrote.
In a Saturday morning tweet, Trump wrote: “So now they are after the legendary “crime buster” and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani. He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer.”
At least one Republican suggested Giuliani would not leave even if Trump wanted him to. Either way, Giuliani is not going away, given his central role in the budding Ukraine controversy.
Giuliani fed Trump the information that largely led the president in a phone call to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The former New York mayor had spent months trying to make contact with Ukrainian officials to collect evidence and convince them that they should be looking at Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian gas company and Joe Biden’s Obama-era efforts to have a Ukrainian prosecutor removed over corruption concerns. There is no public evidence that either Joe or Hunter Biden broke any laws.
House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry after Trump’s request was revealed, spurring Giuliani to blanket the airwaves with his bulldog defenses of the president. Democrats have also subpoenaed Giuliani for documents and testimony related to his Ukraine activities, setting off a battle that’s likely to drag on for weeks.
Don Goldberg, who helped respond to congressional investigations in the Clinton White House, said Giuliani shouldn’t be helping Trump when he’s facing his own problems.
“It’s so messed up,” he said. “You’d think a president would want to have competent counsel if you’re talking about fighting for your political life. We’re so far not seeing that with the caliber he’s been using.”
Giuliani suggested in an interview this week that his television appearances could be reduced now that Trump’s legal team is expanding.
Some also speculated that the recent addition of former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to the Trump impeachment legal team was an attempt to reduce Giuliani’s appearances on the airwaves.
Although Gowdy — who led the congressional investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to in the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks — won’t start as a Trump attorney until January, he could appear as a surrogate on television in the meantime.
Democrats initially launched an investigation into Trump on Sept. 24 after learning about his call with Zelensky.
And Giuliani has been talking — a lot.
On Sept. 19, he denied he asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, only to admit it 30 seconds later.
On Sept. 24, he blew up at radio host Christopher Hahn during a joint television appearance, calling him a “moron” and an “idiot.”
On Oct. 6, he yelled at TV host Howard Kurtz, putting his fingers to his lips to shush him in the middle of the interview.
And in a series of phone interviews, Giuliani described himself both as a “hero” and the real “whistleblower” in the Ukraine saga, questioning why anyone would praise the person who initially raised concerns about Trump’s call.
“If I get killed now, you won’t get the rest of the story,” he warned POLITICOlast month.
Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor who has written books on impeachment, said Giuliani’s primary legal role is to appear on television.
“That’s helping facilitate the political arguments the president is making,” he said. “But at some point, if impeachment gets any traction, you’re going to need somebody that can speak more clearly and more powerfully with respect to the different points of the impeachment articles that may be drafted and ratified.”
Giuliani said he and Jay Sekulow, another Trump attorney, are still working for Trump because they successfully represented Trump during Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
“Jay and I got us through the last one, not the peanut gallery,” Giuliani said. “The president has made his views quite well known.”
It’s not the first time prominent Republicans have complained to Trump about Giuliani. But those same allies say the situation has grown dire since the House opened its impeachment inquiry.
“I think he’s massively hurting,” said a person close to the Trump campaign. “His TV appearances are so confused and contradictory, he’s creating an impression of internal chaos.”
“He’s inarticulate,” said a Republican who speaks to the president. “Rudy hurts the president with inconsistent, confusing messages.”
One former senior administration official described it this way when asked what Trump’s strategy against impeachment should be: “Hopefully Rudy will be on the space shuttle.”
So far, Trump has not heeded the advice.
“As long as Giuliani is doing battle with the president’s perceived critics and opponents, that’s what matters to the president,” said Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who worked for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “The efficiency of the performance isn’t as important as the willingness to do battle.”
Trump admires Giuliani’s brand, his loyalty and his Trump-like style, according to people familiar with their relationship. He has both political and legal experience at the national level, and has known the president for decades.
“They have a brotherly relationship,” said a second Republican who speaks to the president. “He likes his combative style.”
Giuliani’s reputation soared after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when he was dubbed “America’s Mayor.” These days, he’s regularly mocked on late-night shows and “Saturday Night Live.” His favorable ratings dipped to their lowest point in 2018 since Gallup began their polling on him in 2004.
Still, Trump supporters credit him with helping the president survive the Mueller investigation — and now exposing the Biden allegations.
At the White House Friday, senior aide Stephen Miller forcefully defended Giuliani. “You should all be grateful Rudy Giuliani is helping to shine a light on the endemic corruption that occurred while Joe Biden was vice president,” he told reporters, alluding to unsubstantiated claims that Biden got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect his son.
Republican strategist John Feehery said Trump loves what he is doing. “If this were any other president, Rudy would be a disaster,” he said. “There is a method to the madness. The goal is to always stay on offense and not be defensive.”
But there was at least one sign that Trump might be tiring of Giuliani.
On Thursday, the president told reporters he didn’t know the two Giuliani associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — charged with sending foreign money to U.S. political campaigns. Then, he turned the attention squarely back to Giuliani.
“You’d have to ask Rudy,” he said.
THAT AT LEAST SHOULD BE SAFE. HE CLEARLY DID NOT EXPECT TO RUN
HE CLEARLY DID NOT EXPECT TO RUN INTO LOCAL REPORTERS WHO KNEW
INTO LOCAL REPORTERS WHO KNEW EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE TALKING
EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT WHO WERE ABSOLUTELY RED IN
ABOUT WHO WERE ABSOLUTELY RED IN ON THIS SUBJECT, WHO KNEW WHAT
ON THIS SUBJECT, WHO KNEW WHAT TO ASK, WHO WOULDN’T BACK DOWN
TO ASK, WHO WOULDN’T BACK DOWN AND WERE READY TO — READY TO
AND WERE READY TO — READY TO ADVANCE THIS STORY EVEN WHEN HE
ADVANCE THIS STORY EVEN WHEN HE WOULD NOT ANSWER.
WOULD NOT ANSWER. WATCH THIS FROM NASHVILLE.
WATCH THIS FROM NASHVILLE. >> THE ANNOUNCEMENT YESTERDAY,
>> THE ANNOUNCEMENT YESTERDAY, ONE OF YOUR MOST TRUSTED SENIOR
ONE OF YOUR MOST TRUSTED SENIOR ADVISERS RESIGNED.
ADVISERS RESIGNED. HE IS ADDING HIS VOICE TO A
HE IS ADDING HIS VOICE TO A NUMBER OF CAREER DIPLOMATS WHO
NUMBER OF CAREER DIPLOMATS WHO EXPRESSED FRUSTRATION OVER WHAT
EXPRESSED FRUSTRATION OVER WHAT THEY SEE AS YOUR FAILURE TO
THEY SEE AS YOUR FAILURE TO STAND UP FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICE
STAND UP FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICE AND FOR SERVANTS LIKE AMBASSADOR
AND FOR SERVANTS LIKE AMBASSADOR YOVANOVITCH CAUGHT UP IN THE
YOVANOVITCH CAUGHT UP IN THE UKRAINE CONTROVERSY.
UKRAINE CONTROVERSY. DID YOU DO ENOUGH TO DEFEND THE
DID YOU DO ENOUGH TO DEFEND THE AMBASSADOR PRIVATELY AND
AMBASSADOR PRIVATELY AND PUBLICALLY AGAINST THE SMEAR
PUBLICALLY AGAINST THE SMEAR CAMPAIGN BEING WAGED AGAINST
CAMPAIGN BEING WAGED AGAINST HER?
HER? AND WILL YOU SPEAK TO THAT NOW?
AND WILL YOU SPEAK TO THAT NOW? >> MAYBE YOU HAVE SOME OF YOUR
>> MAYBE YOU HAVE SOME OF YOUR FACTS WRONG, SO YOU SHOULD BE
FACTS WRONG, SO YOU SHOULD BE CAREFUL ABOUT THINGS YOU ASSERT
CAREFUL ABOUT THINGS YOU ASSERT AS FACTS BEFORE YOU STATE THEM.
AS FACTS BEFORE YOU STATE THEM. >> CAN YOU SPEAK TO MICHAEL
>> CAN YOU SPEAK TO MICHAEL McKINLEY’S RESIGNATION?
McKINLEY’S RESIGNATION? >> I DON’T TALK ABOUT PERSONNEL
>> I DON’T TALK ABOUT PERSONNEL MATTERS.
MATTERS. >> DID YOU SUPPORT AMBASSADOR —
>> DID YOU SUPPORT AMBASSADOR — THE AMBASSADOR BEING RECALLED
THE AMBASSADOR BEING RECALLED MONTHS BEFORE HER TENURE WAS UP?
MONTHS BEFORE HER TENURE WAS UP? >> I SUPPORTED EVERY MISSION
>> I SUPPORTED EVERY MISSION THAT THE STATE DEPARTMENT HAS
THAT THE STATE DEPARTMENT HAS BEEN ENGAGED IN.
BEEN ENGAGED IN. >> IN MID-FEBRUARY YOU WERE IN
>> IN MID-FEBRUARY YOU WERE IN WARSAW.
WARSAW. DURING YOUR TIME THERE, DID YOU
DURING YOUR TIME THERE, DID YOU MEET WITH GIULIANI?
MEET WITH GIULIANI? >> YOU KNOW, I DON’T TALK ABOUT
>> YOU KNOW, I DON’T TALK ABOUT WHO I MEET WITH.
WHO I MEET WITH. I WENT TO WARSAW FOR A
I WENT TO WARSAW FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.
PARTICULAR PURPOSE. >> SO YOU’RE NOT GOING TO SAY
>> SO YOU’RE NOT GOING TO SAY WHETHER YOU MET WITH HIM?
WHETHER YOU MET WITH HIM? >> SO WHEN I WAS IN WARSAW, I
>> SO WHEN I WAS IN WARSAW, I HAD A SINGULAR FOCUS.
HAD A SINGULAR FOCUS. MY FOCUS WAS ON THE WORK WE HAVE
MY FOCUS WAS ON THE WORK WE HAVE DONE.
DONE. >> IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE NOT
>> IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE NOT GOING TO SAY.
GOING TO SAY. >> WHEN I WAS IN WARSAW, WE WERE
>> WHEN I WAS IN WARSAW, WE WERE WORKING DILIGENTLY TO ACCOMPLISH
WORKING DILIGENTLY TO ACCOMPLISH THE MISSION.
THE MISSION. >> TEXT MESSAGES SHOW THAT
>> TEXT MESSAGES SHOW THAT DIPLOMATS UNDER YOUR AUTHORITY
DIPLOMATS UNDER YOUR AUTHORITY TOLD THE UKRAINIANS THAT THE
TOLD THE UKRAINIANS THAT THE GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT
GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP WAS ONLY POSSIBLE IF THEY
TRUMP WAS ONLY POSSIBLE IF THEY INVESTIGATED HIS POLITICAL
INVESTIGATED HIS POLITICAL OPPONENTS AND THEORIES ABOUT
OPPONENTS AND THEORIES ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016. WERE YOU AWARE THAT THIS WAS
WERE YOU AWARE THAT THIS WAS HAPPENING?
HAPPENING? >> AGAIN, YOU HAVE GOT YOUR
>> AGAIN, YOU HAVE GOT YOUR FACTS WRONG.
FACTS WRONG. SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE WORKING AT
SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE WORKING AT LEAST IN PART FOR THE DEMOCRATIC
LEAST IN PART FOR THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE WHEN YOU
NATIONAL COMMITTEE WHEN YOU PHRASE THAT PREDICATE OF A
PHRASE THAT PREDICATE OF A QUESTION IN THAT WAY.
QUESTION IN THAT WAY. TUS
TUS IT IS UNFORTUNATE.
IT IS UNFORTUNATE. >> THE REPORTER ASKING THOSE
>> THE REPORTER ASKING THOSE QUESTIONS WAS NANCY AMENS, WHICH
QUESTIONS WAS NANCY AMENS, WHICH IS A LOCAL NBC AFFILIATE IN
IS A LOCAL NBC AFFILIATE IN NASHVILLE.
NASHVILLE. WOW DID SHE DO A GOOD JOB THERE.
WOW DID SHE DO A GOOD JOB THERE. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO,
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO, LISTEN, CAN’T ANSWER QUESTIONS
LISTEN, CAN’T ANSWER QUESTIONS FROM LOCAL REPORTERS, NOT WHEN
FROM LOCAL REPORTERS, NOT WHEN EVERYBODY CAN FOLLOW THIS VERY
EVERYBODY CAN FOLLOW THIS VERY STRAIGHTFORWARD STORY.
STRAIGHTFORWARD STORY. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO MAY FIND HIMSELF GETTING
MAY FIND HIMSELF GETTING IMPEACHED HERE FOR HOW HE HAS
IMPEACHED HERE FOR HOW HE HAS TRIED TO COVER IT UP SINCE.
TRIED TO COVER IT UP SINCE. MIKE POMPEO TRIED TO HIDE THE
MIKE POMPEO TRIED TO HIDE THE FACT HE WAS ON THE CALL.
FACT HE WAS ON THE CALL. HE APPEARS CLEARLY NOW IN AN
HE APPEARS CLEARLY NOW IN AN INTERVIEW WITH NBC’S AFFILIATE
INTERVIEW WITH NBC’S AFFILIATE IN NASHVILLE TENNESSEE, HE
IN NASHVILLE TENNESSEE, HE APPEARS CLEARLY NOW TO BE TRYING
APPEARS CLEARLY NOW TO BE TRYING TO HIDE SOMETHING ABOUT WHEN AND
TO HIDE SOMETHING ABOUT WHEN AND WHERE HE WAS MEETING WITH RUDY
WHERE HE WAS MEETING WITH RUDY GIULIANI WHEN THE SCHEME WAS
GIULIANI WHEN THE SCHEME WAS BEING HATCHED.
BEING HATCHED. DID YOU IN FACT MEET WITH RUDY
DID YOU IN FACT MEET WITH RUDY GIULIANI IN WARSAW EARLIER THIS
GIULIANI IN WARSAW EARLIER THIS YEAR BEFORE WE ALL KNEW THIS
YEAR BEFORE WE ALL KNEW THIS SCHEME WAS UNDERWAY?
AND EVERYBODY IS TRYING TO GET AS FAR AWAY AS THEY CAN FROM
AS FAR AWAY AS THEY CAN FROM THIS, RIGHT?
THIS, RIGHT? BUT WITH THE FIRST ARRESTS, WITH
BUT WITH THE FIRST ARRESTS, WITH NOT JUST ONE BUT MULTIPLE PHOTOS
NOT JUST ONE BUT MULTIPLE PHOTOS OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE
OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE PRESIDENT WITH THESE MEN WHO
PRESIDENT WITH THESE MEN WHO WERE JUST ARRESTED AND THE
WERE JUST ARRESTED AND THE PRESIDENT’S ELDEST SON WITH
PRESIDENT’S ELDEST SON WITH THESE MEN WHO WERE JUST
THESE MEN WHO WERE JUST ARRESTED, WITH NEWS ABOUT THE
ARRESTED, WITH NEWS ABOUT THE WHITE HOUSE DINNER THAT
WHITE HOUSE DINNER THAT PRESIDENT TRUMP INVITED THESE
PRESIDENT TRUMP INVITED THESE MEN WHO WERE JUST ARRESTED TO
MEN WHO WERE JUST ARRESTED TO JUST LAST YEAR.
JUST LAST YEAR. THAT’S HIM INVITING THEM TO THE
THAT’S HIM INVITING THEM TO THE WHITE HOUSE FOR A MEETING, FOR A
WHITE HOUSE FOR A MEETING, FOR A DINNER MEETING, RIGHT?
DINNER MEETING, RIGHT? I MEAN, THIS IS A DOWNWARD
I MEAN, THIS IS A DOWNWARD SPIRAL AT THIS POINT.
SPIRAL AT THIS POINT. THE HOMELAND SECURITY SECONDARY
THE HOMELAND SECURITY SECONDARY RESIGNED TONIGHT.
RESIGNED TONIGHT. THE ENERGY SECRETARY RECK PERRY
THE ENERGY SECRETARY RECK PERRY IS FACING A SUBPOENA FOR HIS
IS FACING A SUBPOENA FOR HIS INVOLVEMENT IN THIS.
INVOLVEMENT IN THIS. THE SECRETARY OF STATE APPEARS
THE SECRETARY OF STATE APPEARS TO BE AT RISK OF IMPEACHMENT
TO BE AT RISK OF IMPEACHMENT HIMSELF AS HE IS MULTIPLY
HIMSELF AS HE IS MULTIPLY IMPLICATED IN THE PRESIDENT’S
IMPLICATED IN THE PRESIDENT’S SCHEME THAT NOW APPEARS TO HAVE
SCHEME THAT NOW APPEARS TO HAVE TURNED ROUNDLY AGAINST HIM,
TURNED ROUNDLY AGAINST HIM, INCLUDING THE RESIGNATION IN
INCLUDING THE RESIGNATION IN PROTEST OF HIS NUMBER TWO LAST
PROTEST OF HIS NUMBER TWO LAST NIGHT.
NIGHT. BUCKLE UP.
Prosecutors say Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were part of a conspiracy to funnel a Russian donor’s money into President Trump’s campaign
WASHINGTON—Two Soviet-born donors to a pro- Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges of violating campaign finance rules, including funneling Russian money into President Trump’s campaign.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, have been under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, and are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later on Thursday, the people said. Both men were born in former Soviet republics.
House committees issued subpoenas for documents from the two men on Thursday.
Mr. Giuliani, President Trump’s private lawyer, identified the two men in May as his clients. Both men have donated to Republican campaigns including Mr. Trump’s, and in May 2018 gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through an LLC called Global Energy Producers, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The men were charged with four counts, including conspiracy, falsification of records and lying to the FEC about their political donations, according to the indictment that outlines a conspiracy to funnel a Russian donor’s money into U.S. elections.
The group concealed their work by laundering foreign money into U.S. elections by disguising the true origin of the money, the indictment says.
Beginning in about March of 2018, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Frurman began attending fundraising events and making substantial contributions “with the purpose of enhancing their influence in political circles and gaining access to politicians,” prosecutors wrote.
The indictment Thursday alleges that Mr. Fruman intentionally misspelled his name as to further evade FEC scrutiny. Fundraising records show that an “Igor Furman” who otherwise matches Mr. Fruman made additional campaign donations totaling almost $400,000, beginning in March 2018. That would bring the pair’s contributions to about $1 million.
John Dowd, who headed Mr. Trump’s legal team until spring 2018 and is a lawyer for the two men, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Giuliani said he hasn’t been contacted by Manhattan federal prosecutors.
Attorney General William Barr discussed the case on Thursday with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, where he was making a preplanned visit. A Justice Department official said Mr. Barr was supportive of their work on the case, on which he was first briefed shortly after being confirmed as attorney general in February. He was aware the pair would be charged and taken into custody last night, the official said.
The Campaign Legal Center, a transparency advocacy group, filed a complaint with the FEC in July 2018 calling on the commission to investigate whether Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had violated campaign-finance laws by using an LLC to disguise the source of their donations.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had dinner with the president in early May 2018, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured in a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They also met with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. , later that month at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, Calif., along with Tommy Hicks Jr. , a close friend of the younger Mr. Trump who at the time was heading America First Action. Mr. Parnas posted a photo of their breakfast four days after his LLC donated to the super PAC.
A spokeswoman for America First Action said the super PAC had placed the contribution in a segregated bank account following the complaint filed with the FEC. The donation “has not been used for any purpose and the funds will remain in this segregated account until these matters are resolved,” the spokeswoman said. “We take our legal obligations seriously and scrupulously comply with the law and any suggestion otherwise is false.”
Since late 2018, Mr. Fruman and Mr. Parnas have introduced Mr. Giuliani to several current and former senior Ukrainian prosecutors to discuss the Biden case.
Mr. Parnas in July accompanied Mr. Giuliani to a breakfast meeting with Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. “We had a long conversation about Ukraine,” Mr. Volker wrote in his testimony to House committees last week. During that breakfast, Mr. Giuliani mentioned the investigations he was pursuing into Mr. Biden and 2016 election interference.
House committees last month sought documents and depositions from Messrs. Parnas and Fruman related to their interactions with the Trump administration, Mr. Giuliani and Ukrainian officials. The initial notice from the committees set the dates for their depositions as Thursday and Friday.
Mr. Dowd wrote a letter to the House Intelligence Committee last week advising them that he was representing Messrs. Parnas and Fruman and noting that the two men had assisted Mr. Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump.” He said some of the documents sought by House Democrats last month were protected by attorney-client privilege and that a privilege review of those documents “cannot reasonably be conducted by Oct. 7,” the deadline lawmakers had set.
He also criticized the document requests as “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman also worked to oust the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Mr. Trump had removed from her post this spring.
In May 2018, Pete Sessions, at the time a GOP congressman from Texas, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for her removal, saying he had been told Ms. Yovanovitch was displaying a bias against the president in private conversations.
Mr. Sessions told the Journal his letter was in line with a broader concern among members of Congress that the administration wasn’t moving swiftly enough to put new ambassadors in place. He declined to say where his information about the ambassador came from but said he didn’t follow up on his letter and didn’t hear until months later about Mr. Trump’s interest in replacing her.
The indictment references a congressman, identifiable as Mr. Sessions, whose assistance Mr. Parnas sought in “causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” The indictment says those efforts were conducted “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.” Mr. Sessions didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in July that they told Mr. Sessions last year that Ms. Yovanovitch was “bad-mouthing” the president. They later donated to his campaign.
Mr. Trump moved to oust Ms. Yovanovitch this spring after Mr. Giuliani told him that she was undermining him abroad and hindering efforts to investigate Mr. Biden. House committees are seeking Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony.
I don’t think it’s possible to fully grasp the Ukraine scandal without understanding the dynamic outlined by former homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert last weekend. Recall that he told ABC News and the New York Times that a pernicious cycle had taken hold in the White House — even as aides debunked 2016 conspiracy theories, Trump allies (including Rudy Giuliani) would sell the president once again on wild tales. Here’s the Times report on Bossert:
“It is completely debunked,” Mr. Bossert said of the Ukraine theory on ABC. Speaking with George Stephanopoulos, Mr. Bossert blamed Mr. Giuliani for filling the president’s head with misinformation. “I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity here, George, let me just again repeat that it has no validity.”
Other former aides said separately on Sunday that the president had a particular weakness for conspiracy theories involving Ukraine, which in the past three years has become the focus of far-right media outlets and political figures. Mr. Trump was more willing to listen to outside advisers like Mr. Giuliani than his own national security team.
I’ve heard many of these conspiracy theories, and — like many conspiracies — they can use a base of troubling truth as a launching pad for the most bizarre of claims. For example,
- the origin of the Steele Dossier is troubling and worth investigating.
- The Carter Page FISA applications should also be closely examined. It is not at all uncommon (sadly) for to find examples of overreach or abuse in any far-flung and complex investigation — that’s one reason why defense lawyers often spend so much time on suppression motions before trials.
But the theories floating around online Trumpworld go far, far beyond any discernible connection to logic or evidence.
But here’s the problem — the wildest theories are floated in the quarters that are most fiercely devoted to the president. They’re the ones who constantly to refer to the “real collusion” as the connection between Democrats and the Ukrainian government. They’re the ones who cast doubt on the very idea that Russia interfered in the election at all, much less on Trump’s behalf. They’re the ones constantly using absurd words like “coup” to describe constitutional and legal processes that are adverse to Trump. And, based on the transcript of the call with Volodymyr Zelensky, it seems as if Trump is drinking deeply of their conspiratorial Kool-Aid.
In their click-bait zeal to curry favor with the world’s most powerful man, they are feeding Trump’s worst instincts, and now we know that he’s warped American diplomacy in one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods as a result.
In an interview earlier today, I described the scandal as one part corruption, one part fitness. Yes, it’s venal and corrupt to depart from any conventional legal process to urge a dependent foreign government (or a hostile foreign government, like China) to investigate a domestic political rival — especially in the absence of evidence of criminal wrongdoing. But the willingness to believe in conspiracy theories and conduct diplomacy accordingly also speaks less to Trump’s corruption than whether he has the character, knowledge, and temperament to be president. In fact, I’m starting to believe that the fitness aspect of this controversy may well be dominant.
Trump’s most extreme allies have built a large media following, but the most important person in that audience is the current occupant of the Oval Office. They’ve succeeded in convincing the most powerful man in the world that their theories are right. They’re influencing diplomacy at the highest levels. But they just might be planting the seeds of Trump’s political destruction. They’ve helped put their beloved president on the path to impeachment.
President Trump ordered the removal of the ambassador to Ukraine after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the matter.
The recall of Marie Yovanovitch in the spring has become a key point of interest in the House impeachment inquiry. A whistleblower complaint by a CIA officer alleges the president solicited foreign interference in the 2020 elections by pressing Ukraine’s president in a July 25 call to pursue investigations, including into the activities of Mr. Biden, a Democrat who is running for president.
The complaint cites Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster as one of a series of events that paved the way for what the whistleblower alleges was an abuse of power by the president. Mr. Trump has described the call with his Ukrainian counterpart as “perfect” and the House inquiry as a “hoax.”
State Department officials were told this spring that Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal was a priority for the president, a person familiar with the matter said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supported the move, an administration official said. Ms. Yovanovitch was told by State Department officials that they couldn’t shield her from attacks by the president and his allies, according to people close to her.
In an interview, Mr. Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal that in the lead-up to Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal, he reminded the president of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations. In Mr. Giuliani’s view, she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter.
As vice president, Mr. Biden spearheaded an international anticorruption reform push in Ukraine, which included calling for the dismissal of a prosecutor the U.S. and its allies saw as soft on corruption. He had once investigated the Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden served on the board at a salary of $50,000 a month, according to one official with ties to the company. Mr. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption.
In May, Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
When Ms. Yovanovitch left her post in May, the State Department said she was concluding her assignment “as planned,” and that her departure date aligned with the start of a new administration in Ukraine. She was recalled at least three months before the end of the customary three-year diplomatic tenure.
Mr. Giuliani told the Journal that when he mentioned the ambassador to the president this spring, Mr. Trump “remembered he had a problem with her earlier and thought she had been dismissed.” Mr. Giuliani said he subsequently received a call from a White House official—whom he declined to identify—asking him to list his concerns about the ambassador again.
Mr. Giuliani said he gave Mr. Pompeo a nine-page document dated March 28 that included a detailed timeline of the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine and allegations of impropriety against Ms. Yovanovitch, including that she was “very close” to Mr. Biden.
“He called me back and he said they were going to investigate,” Mr. Giuliani said of the secretary of state, saying Mr. Pompeo asked for additional documents to back up the allegations. “The reason I gave the information to the secretary was I believed that he should know that the president’s orders to fire her were being blocked by the State Department.”
Neither the State Department nor the White House responded to requests for comment.
Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, said Mr. Biden has professional respect for Ms. Yovanovitch but that the two aren’t close. “She became our ambassador during the final 6 months of the administration,” he said. “This is standard Rudy Giuliani: noun, verb, lie about Joe Biden. ”
When asked about Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal Thursday, Mr. Trump told reporters: “I don’t know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her but I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time. Not good.”
Ms. Yovanovitch couldn’t be reached for comment. She is set to testify before House lawmakers on Oct. 11 as part of the impeachment inquiry. People close to her disputed that she did anything wrong and defended her work.
“She was doing everything by the book,” said a senior Ukraine government official who interacted with her. “Everything was blessed by State Department.”
Ms. Yovanovitch remains an employee of the State Department and is a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University.
A career diplomat, she first served as the second-ranking diplomat in Kyiv in 2001 under President George W. Bush and returned as ambassador under President Obama in 2016.
Prior to Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall from Kyiv, her relations with some senior Ukrainian officials were fraught. Ms. Yovanovitch openly criticized the office of Mr. Lutsenko, then the prosecutor general, for its poor anticorruption record. “Lutsenko hated her because she pushed for reforms, especially in the judiciary sector,” said a former Western diplomat in Ukraine.
Presidents have the authority to nominate and remove ambassadors. But some senior officials at the White House and State Department say they had been unaware of the president’s displeasure with Ms. Yovanovitch and surprised by her removal.
Mr. Giuliani’s role in pressing for the ambassador’s ouster is unusual given that he holds no formal government role. The president’s critics contend that, in his capacity representing the president’s personal interests as his attorney, he has exercised undue influence over administration policy and personnel.
Mr. Giuliani isn’t the only figure outside the administration to have expressed concerns about the ambassador. As early as the spring of 2018, Pete Sessions, at the time a GOP congressman from Texas, sent a letter to Mr. Pompeo asking for her removal, saying he had been told Ms. Yovanovitch was displaying a bias against the president in private conversations.
Mr. Sessions told the Journal he didn’t follow up on the matter and didn’t hear until months later about Mr. Trump’s interest in replacing her. He declined to say where his information about the ambassador came from but said his letter was in line with a broader concern among members of Congress that the administration wasn’t moving swiftly enough to put new ambassadors in place.
In a March 2019 interview with a columnist at The Hill, Mr. Lutsenko complained that the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv was obstructing corruption investigations, including by providing a “do not prosecute” list and restricting Ukrainian access to the U.S. Mr. Lutsenko’s claim is mentioned in the whistleblower complaint.
The U.S. State Department at the time called the untouchables list claim an “outright fabrication.” Mr. Lutsenko later retracted the allegation about the list and said had no evidence of Biden wrongdoing. He was dismissed in August.
Mr. Lutsenko couldn’t be reached for comment. Mr. Giuliani said he brought concerns about the ambassador to the president in the weeks following his meetings with Mr. Lutsenko. “It would have been a dereliction of my duty if I didn’t,” he said. He accused Ms. Yovanovitch of blocking his efforts to push Ukraine to investigate the Bidens: “I think she covered it up.”
The president’s supporters kept up criticism of Ms. Yovanovitch. In a March 22 interview on Fox News, Joe diGenova, a lawyer close to the president, accused Ms. Yovanovitch, without providing evidence, of having “bad-mouthed” Mr. Trump to Ukrainian officials and having told them “not to listen or worry about Trump policy because he’s going to be impeached.”
Mr. diGenova declined to comment. In the Fox interview, Mr. diGenova added: “The president has ordered her dismissal from her post.” The same month, Donald Trump Jr. , the president’s son, referred to the ambassador in a Twitter message as a “joker.”
After Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidency on April 21, State Department officials told their Ukrainian counterparts that they favored continuity at the embassy in Kyiv, rather than inserting a new ambassador, according to people familiar with the matter.
Instead, Ms. Yovanovitch was recalled about two weeks after the election. The State Department hasn’t named a successor.
In the July 25 call, Mr. Trump described Ms. Yovanovitch to Mr. Zelensky as “bad news.” Mr. Zelensky responded: ”It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%.”
In early May, a packet of materials was received by Mr. Pompeo’s office at the State Department, according to an account given Wednesday to House and Senate committee members by the State Department inspector general and later described by Democratic lawmakers. The inspector general told Congress he had information relevant to the impeachment investigation. The inspector general didn’t respond to requests for comment.
It contained several folders marked “Trump Hotel” containing notes and newspaper clippings Democratic lawmakers said were designed to smear Ms. Yovanovitch, packaged in an envelope marked “White House,” according to documents viewed by the Journal.
“It is a package of propaganda and disinformation and conspiracy theories,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.).
The nine-page document Mr. Giuliani said he gave to Mr. Pompeo dated March 28 was part of that packet, according to a person who saw the packet.