Democracy in peril: Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign began months before Zelenskyy took office

Ukraine may have saved our democracy and its own back in 2019 by resisting Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure the country’s government into announcing an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden.

What many people don’t realize is that Rudy Giuliani had already begun pushing to get the Ukrainian government to announce such an investigation as early as January 2019, when he met in New York with Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko. That’s months before Volodymyr Zelenskyy, running on an anti-corruption platform, won the April 21, 2019, presidential run-off election against incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Biden officially announced his candidacy just four days later.

I would recommend that everyone read the Ukrainegate timeline prepared by Just Security, an online forum that analyzes U.S. national security policy. It outlines the complex chain of events in the campaign to pressure Ukraine that eventually resulted in Trump’s first impeachment. And there was a a quid pro quo offered to Poroshenko—although it did not involve withholding weapons, according to the Just Security timeline.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in late Feburary 2019, Giuliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman met with Poroshenko to press him to initiate an investigation of Hunter Biden and a debunked theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Hillary Clinton. They said if Poroshenko went along he would be rewarded with a state visit to the White House. That would have been a boon to Poroshenko, who was in a tough campaign for reelection against Zelenskyy.

Now imagine an alternate history in which Ukraine’s top prosecutor had announced an investigation of the Bidens in March 2019. Poroshenko was pushed to the brink, but did not yield to the pressure.

Poroshenko and Trump in 2017

It would have come completely out of the blue, since there was no “perfect” phone call or whistleblower at the time. Just think about how CNN or The New York Times would have reported on the investigation. How would Biden have reacted to a nasty smear campaign against his sole surviving son, who was in a fragile state as he struggled to recover from substance abuse problems? 

New York Times story dated Feb. 26, 2019 said Biden had held a family meeting earlier that month in which there was a “consensus” that he should run for president. But at the same time, Biden acknowledged in a speech at the University of Delaware that he had been uneasy about “taking the family through what would be a very, very, very difficult campaign” against Trump. “I don’t think he’s likely to stop at anything, whomever he runs against,” Biden said.

If Ukraine had done Giuliani’s bidding, Biden might very well have decided against entering the race. At best, Biden would have entered the campaign as a weakened frontrunner, with a dark cloud hanging over his head. Either way, Democrats would have faced an even more contentious primary contest, which might have yielded a weakened candidate whom Trump would have had a better chance of defeating.

A second Trump term would have posed an undeniable threat to our democracy. As for Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s puppet would have continued undermining NATO and done little to help Kyiv resist Russian aggression.

In Trump’s mind, Ukraine, not Russia, was his enemy. 

***

Let’s look more closely at what happened in the months before Zelenskyy’s inauguration on May 20, 2019. What happened after his inauguration was well-documented by Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson in March 14’s “Trump’s Ukraine extortion campaign didn’t begin or end with `I would like you to do us a favor.”

In August 2018, polls showed that Biden was leading Trump in a head-to-head matchup, and also leading the potential Democratic primary field. Biden indicated that fall that he was strongly considering a 2020 presidential bid. Around the same time, Giuliani Partners was hired by the Boca Raton, Florida, company Fraud Guarantee, co-founded by Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman. Giuliani ultimately was paid $500,000 for undisclosed business and legal advice, according to Reuters.

Lev Parnas in 2020
Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman were later convicted in a campaign fraud finance case, for using funds from a foreign investor to try to influence political candidates through campaign donations. There was a $325,000 donation to the pro-Trump American First PAC from a shell company set up by Parnas and Fruman. That was enough for both men to get invited to an exclusive donors’ dinner in April 2018 with Trump at his Washington hotel, at which both men urged the president to fire U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, an anti-corruption crusader, claiming that she was unfriendly to Trump, The Washington Post reported
Parnas and Fruman became Giuliani’s facilitators and translators as he revved up efforts to go after Biden, even though he had yet to declare his candidacy.
 

WAS RUDY A “USEFUL TOOL” FOR A DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN BY RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE?

Now there’s one big unanswered question: Was Giuliani wittingly or unwittingly acting as a “useful tool” to spread disinformation prepared by Russian intelligence aimed at derailing Biden’s presidential campaign? It’s not implausible, because U.S. Intelligence has already confirmed that Russia was spreading disinformation about Biden’s mental health
Giuliani and Trump in 2016
The Washington Post reported in October 2020 that U.S. intelligence agencies had warned the White House in 2019 that Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence and being used to feed disinformation to Trump. Giuliani did ask Ukraine to probe accusations that Ukrainian officials plotted to rig the 2016 presidential election in Hillary Clinton’s favor, by leaking evidence against Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager. Giuliani wanted Ukraine to investigate a mysterious Democratic National Committee server that Trump believed was hidden in Ukraine.
During the November 2019, House Intelligence Committee hearings, Fiona Hill, the former Russia expert for the National Security Council, called out House Republicans for pushing the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” Hill said.
Giuliani was pushing allegations that Biden, while vice president to Barack Obama, pushed to get Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin dismissed, in order to avoid a corruption investigation of Ukraine’s Burisma energy company, whose board members included Hunter Biden. But Giuliani could not have come up with this conspiracy theory on his own, because it was totally baseless. It’s logical to assume that this notion was spoon fed to Giuliani, who eagerly swallowed it.
One method used by Russian intelligence operatives is to put ideas into the head of someone who is receptive to the same goal—in this case derailing Biden’s candidacy. The notion that Biden stood a good chance of defeating Trump in 2020 must have really stuck in Giuliani’s craw. It was Biden who turned “America’s mayor” into a national laughingstock in an October 2007 Democratic presidential debate.

“Rudy Giuliani. There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There’s nothing else! There’s nothing else! And I mean this sincerely. He’s genuinely not qualified to be president,” Biden said.

At the time, Giuliani was the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. He ended up running one of the most humiliating campaigns in modern U.S. political history, raising more than $60 million and winning only one delegate before dropping out. Giuliani then vanished into the political wilderness for eight years, only to reemerge as Trump’s personal lawyer and hatchet man.

Giuliani had access to Trump, who had repeatedly expressed his willingness to get dirt on his political opponents from foreign sources. Giuliani’s international consulting practice had clients in Ukraine dating back to at least 2008, including Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion.
During Trump’s first impeachment trial, Giuliani put out this intriguing tweet:

...incriminating documents. It was already a fully-intact bribery/extortion case. The reason you don’t know about it is because of the cover up by the corrupt Democrats and their establishment media!

— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) January 27, 2020

The dossier was allegedly handed to Giuliani sometime in the fall of 2018. That raises some obvious questions: Who prepared it? What were its contents? Who were the witnesses? And who gave the dossier to Giuliani?

There are many possible suspects. A month before Trump’s first impeachment trial, NBC News published a guide to the controversial figures helping Giuliani dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine. The story noted that “most of them have ties to pro-Russian political figures or oligarchs.” Three names stand out in this rogues’ gallery: Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russia member of Ukraine’s parliament; Kostiantyn Kulyk, a former prosecutor; and Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian energy tycoon with deep ties to Russia.

Derkach studied at the FSB intelligence service academy in Moscow in the 1990s. Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin wrote that a top-secret CIA assessment had concluded that Putin and his top aides are “probably directing” a Russian foreign influence operation which involves Derkach, identified by U.S. intelligence as a Russian agent, who has been providing anti-Biden information to Giuliani.

Kulyk did prepare a seven-page, English-language dossier in late 2018 that accused Hunter Biden of corruption related to his service on Burisma’s board, according to The New York Times. The dossier also made the dubious claim that U.S. diplomats covered up for crimes committed by the Bidens. Ukrainian officials said Kulyk had ties to a warlord in eastern Ukraine, accused of working for the Russian intelligence services. It’s not clear whether this was the same dossier that Giuliani was referring to in his tweet.

Firtash has been fighting extradition from Austria to the U.S. on bribery and racketeering charges. Parnas has alleged that Giuliani offered help with Firtash’s U.S. legal problems, in exchange for helping with the hunt for compromising information on the Bidens. Federal prosecutors also alleged that Parnas received a $1 million loan from a lawyer for Firtash. 

Firtash was also involved in investment projects with Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who previously was paid millions of dollars to work as a political consultant for Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

HOW GIULIANI PUT THE SQUEEZE ON UKRAINE BEFORE ZELENSKYY’S ELECTION 

At the annual White House Hannukah party on Dec. 6, 2018, Parnas and Fruman held a private meeting with Trump and Giuliani. CNN reported that Trump tasked them to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens, according to associates of Parnas. 

Parnas and Giuliani in 2018

In December 2018, Parnas and Fruman arranged a Skype call between Giuliani and Shokin, the former Ukraine prosecutor general who was the source of the debunked reports that Joe Biden had him fired to stop him from investigating wrongdoing in Burisma.

Biden actually was among multiple Western officials who had urged Ukraine to dismiss Shokin from his post at the country’s top prosecutor because of his insufficient efforts to combat corruption.

Bloomberg News reported that Giuliani met for the first time with then-Ukraine Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko in New York on Jan. 25-26, 2019. Giuliani held another meeting with the Ukrainian prosecutor in Warsaw, Poland, in mid-February. Parnas and Fruman attended both meetings.

And then in late February we get to the quid pro quo, with Giuliani’s associates telling Poroshenko that if Ukraine announced an investigation of the Bidens, he would be rewarded with a state visit to the White House.

Yet why didn’t the Trump administration try to extort Poroshenko by withholding shipments of lethal weapons? Perhaps because there might have been a previous quid pro quo.

In March 2018, the Pentagon approved the sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. In early April, a Ukraine anti-corruption prosecutor froze four cases involving Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, The New York Times reported. Ukraine also announced it was halting all cooperation with the Mueller investigation. One of the cases resulted from the mysterious black ledger. In August 2016, Ukraine officials revealed the existence of a secret ledger, which appeared to detail payouts totaling $12.5 million to Manafort for his work as a consultant to Yanukovych.

But there was a catch that rendered the Javelin sale mostly symbolic. The U.S. insisted that the missiles be stored in western Ukraine, hundreds of miles from the frontlines in the eastern Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces were battling pro-Russian separatists, The Atlantic reported.

During their early 2019 meetings, Lutsenko fed some information to Giuliani, including bank records that detailed Burisma’s payments to Hunter Biden. But the records did not indicate any wrongdoing by Hunter Biden, according to a New Yorker profile of the Ukrainian prosecutor. Lutsenko told The New Yorker that he suggested to Giuliani that, if U.S. authorities opened an investigation into the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine, the prosecutor-general’s office would share any relevant information.

But Lutsenko soon realized that what seemed most important to Giuliani was to get him to announce investigations into the Bidens and into claims of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to The New Yorker. Lutsenko said he didn’t have any grounds to open such investigations under Ukrainian law. Lutsenko said he sensed that Poroshenko was worried that publicly announcing such investigations would damage Ukraine’s relations with the Democratic Party.

Ukraine had enjoyed strong bipartisan support until Trump came along. Trump’s Republican loyalists were already spouting conspiracy theories put forth by Russian intelligence that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election to help Clinton.

“I was near the red line, but I didn’t cross it,” Lutsenko told The New Yorker. “I was wondering what kind of game he (Giuliani) was playing. I felt like we were getting scammed.”

WE NEED A COUNTERESPIONAGE INVESTIGATION OF TRUMP, GIULIANI, MANAFORT, ET AL.

Imagine the consequences today if Poroshenko and Lutsenko had crossed that red line back in early 2019.

Instead, Giuliani and his associates were back at square one with Zelenskyy’s election. That set in motion the series of events leading to Trump’s “perfect” phone call to Zelenskyy, the arms-for-dirt extortion plot, and the president’s eventual impeachment (the first one, anyway).

The Mueller probe barely uncovered the tip of the iceberg, because its scope was limited to looking only into collusion between Russia and Trump during the 2015-2016 presidential campaign.

The DOJ should make a deal with Parnas and/or Fruman to reduce their sentences in exchange for information about whether Russian intelligence used Giuliani to interfere in the 2020 election by undermining Biden’s campaign. It is also high time that a counterespionage investigation be opened against Manafort, if it is not already under way.

And above all else, we need a comprehensive investigation of Trump’s dealings with Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs over the decades. With the help of former Attorney General William Barr and others, Trump has been able to escape any consequences for his ties to Russia.

Our nation will never be secure until these criminals are exposed and held to account.

Donald Trump, serial grifter who never gives back, has soaked up more than $100 million in donations

Donald Trump has amassed a $105 million war chest since leaving office but hasn't dropped so much as a dime on boosting GOP candidates or funding outside efforts to overturn the 2020 elections, according to Politico.

Nope. That's for losers and suckers, and Trump is just a good old-fashioned grifter. Consequently, he has directed nearly all the money he soaked up through his political action committees (Make America Great Again PAC, Save America PAC, and the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee) to pay his own personal and business expenses almost exclusively. That includes paying for travel expenses, more fundraising appeals, the salaries of personal and political aides, and legal fees he racked up trying to mount an impeachment defense and overturn the 2020 results. Trump did make one external donation of $1 million to the America First Policy Institute, which was founded by several of his former aides after he lost reelection. 

But when it comes to high-profile efforts to overturn 2020, like the Arizona fraudit or helping Republican candidates—zip! They're on their own. In other words, the vast majority of Trump's fundraising appeals have nothing to do with where he is actually directing his money. Those Arizona-style audits that more than half of Republican voters actually think could change the 2020 outcome are just window dressing to Trump. They're going nowhere and he isn't wasting a dime on them—but they sure are lucrative.

Another popular fundraising theme for Trump is that he's going to ensure Republicans win back Congress next year. But apparently the sum total of his efforts include dooming the Republican candidates who are perhaps best-suited to win in general elections

A Trump spokesperson now claims he recently made donations to his chosen candidates that haven't yet shown up in campaign filings. And despite telling all the GOP campaign committees earlier this year to cease and desist from using him or his likeness to solicit donations, Trump is now taking credit for their fundraising hauls.

“In addition to the RECORD BREAKING money raised over the last 6 months to my political affiliates, I am pleased to see the entire party benefit from ‘Trump,’ Trump said in a statement after the GOP's national committee and two congressional campaign committees raised close to a combined $300 million in first six months of the year.

Interestingly, though, the statement from the National Republican Senatorial Committee hailing its $51 million intake made no references to Trump. 

“The more voters learn about the disastrous impacts of the Senate Democrats’ socialist agenda, the more the momentum builds to elect a Republican Senate majority in 2022,” NRSC chair Rick Scott said in a statement.

Gee, it almost seems like Senate Republicans don't want to be associated with Trump. Rest assured that Trump is lying awake at night smarting over the fact that the GOP committees have raised even a single cent that he believes belongs to him exclusively.

What Trump has lavished money on is attorney fees—the many, many lawyers involved in defending and advising him in everything from his second impeachment to the Russian investigation to a host of personal lawsuits.

Rudy Giuliani, however, the face of Trump's legal resistance following his 2020 loss, appears to have come up dry. The $75,000 Trump shelled out to Giuliani went exclusively to his travel expenses, not legal fees. Sorry, Rudy.

Not shocking: The Republicans’ star witness at Trump’s first impeachment was lying

When former special ambassador to Ukraine Kurt Volker appeared to testify before the House in hearings connected to Donald Trump’s first impeachment, Republicans were thrilled. Volker was part of the “three amigos,” who Trump had sent to Ukraine to force out experienced diplomats and see that Rudy Giuliani got all the assistance he needed in extorting the Ukrainian government into pretending to investigate Joe Biden. 

As soon as Volker completed his testimony, it was clearly at odds with that delivered by other witnesses. Volker testified that he never talked about the company Burisma, where Hunter Biden was on the board, in his discussions with Ukrainian officials. He completely omitted any reference to a series of meetings and calls on July 10, 2019, after which then-Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman took his concerns about what was going on to the NSC’s lead counsel. Volkman contradicted the content of text messages he sent on July 19, in which he joined Rudy Giuliani in urging the Ukrainian president to initiate an investigation of Biden. He left out how Burisma and the Bidens factored into a statement Trump wanted from the Ukrainians. And he completely failed to testify about how he had insisted—as text messages showed—that Ukrainian officials had to include both claims that Ukraine had interfered with the U.S. election in 2016, and that Biden had tried to block an investigation into Burisma, if they wanted to “prevent a recurrence” of Trump blocking military aid to the country.

But what really excited the Republicans was the fact that Volker provided them with the Big Talking Point: a claim that there was “no quid pro quo” connecting the request for an investigation into the Bidens and the release of U.S. assistance to Ukraine. In his deposition to the House committee, Volker made it clear: “At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden.”

But text messages at the time also made it clear this wasn’t true. And calls that CNN released this week while looking into the actions of Giuliani make this one thing exceedingly clear: In his sworn testimony to Congress, former ambassador Kurt Volker was lying his ass off.

As The Washington Post reports, it was Volker’s testimony that Republicans leaned on when they claimed that Trump had been exonerated. 

“Ambassador Volker … confirmed what the President has repeatedly said: there was no quid pro quo,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan. 

“Ambassador Volker, you just like took apart their entire case,” said a grateful Rep. Michael Turner during questioning.

In his testimony, Volker didn’t hold back. “At no time was I aware of or knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden. As you know from the extensive real-time documentation I have provided, Vice President Biden was not a topic of our discussions.”

How could this be the case when Volker repeatedly texted concerning an investigation into Burisma? The pretense that Volker put forward was that he didn’t know. He didn’t know why Trump wanted an investigation into a particular Ukrainian energy firm as part of his deal. He didn’t know why this was so vital that it could be a factor in allowing an ally to be preyed on by Russian forces.

Volker wasn’t the only one. His former “amigos”—Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry—pushed the same line. Apparently Trump and Giuliani had it out for this one gas company. After that, they all pled blissful ignorance. 

Yeah, but … Volker was on the call when Giuliani said this to one of the Ukrainian president’s top assistants:

“All we need from the President is to say, I’m going to put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence that presently exists, and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out.”

That was just one of several instances where Giuliani explicitly drew the connection between what was being asked of the Ukrainian president with the Bidens. Volker was on that call. Pretending that he didn’t know what he was asking when he asked about Burisma would mean not just acknowledging an astounding ignorance about the country he was supposed to be assisting—past allegations against Burisma had played a key role in both U.S. and U.K. actions in Ukraine—it would mean he wasn’t actually listening to what Giuliani said during their conversations with Ukrainian officials. In Volker’s testimony he claimed that “In referencing Burisma it was clear he was only talking about whether any Ukrainians had acted inappropriately,” which never made any sense at all. It still doesn’t.

The Post suggests that Volker hewed a very narrow line in his testimony and that he “referred specifically to the idea that Biden wasn’t brought up in the text messages he turned over—rather than at all in any conversations.” But that’s attempting to parse things way, way too finely.

It’s clear that when Volker, Sondland, and others mention Burisma in their text messages, that this is shorthand for announcing an investigation into the role Joe and Hunter Biden played in connection to that company. That’s specifically what Giuliani asks for, again and again.

And in his testimony, Volker goes much further than The Post suggests. Volker’s full statement to the committee, apparently in response to a question by Rep. Adam Schiff, was this:

“At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden. As you will see from the extensive text messages I am providing, which convey a sense of real-time dialogue with several different actors, Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion.”

It might be possible to twist that statement so that the last mention of Biden is directed toward the text messages. It’s not possible to do so with the first mention. “At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden” is simply a lie. An out and out lie. A lie that was intended to cover Volker’s ass, and which Republicans seized on as justification to exonerate Trump.

It was always clear that Volker was lying when he claimed to not understand the connection between Burisma and Joe Biden. The most recent revelations just underline the extent of that lie.

it may be too late for a do-over of that first impeachment, this time with honest testimony. It’s not too late to charge Kurt Volker for his lies.

There’s a second federal investigation underway looking at Rudy Giuliani’s actions in Ukraine

Even before the 2016 election, Donald Trump and his supporters were pushing back against news that Russia was directly interfering in the U.S. presidential election. Even though Russia had engaged an army of false social media accounts, a network of sites dedicated to generating Trump-favorable false stories, and teams of dedicated hackers digging into documents at the DNC, Trump refused to say a bad word about the land of Vladimir Putin. Instead, Trump and his campaign pushed a conspiracy theory that all the hackers, bots, and Facebook ads didn’t actually come from Russia. Instead, said Trump’s campaign, the U.S. was being taken for a ride by that most powerful of opponents … Ukraine.

Trump and members of his campaign team pushed a completely unsupported idea that the “Cozy Bear” hackers were actually Ukrainians just pretending to be Russian. Then Trump took the whole thing further, insisting that Hillary Clinton’s emails were somehow stored on a “missing server” that was somewhere in Ukraine. That there was no missing server in the first place wasn’t a problem. 

It was all ridiculous. But over the next four years, Trump set out to prove that not only was Ukraine behind the 2016 hacks, they were also hiding criminal activity on the part of Joe Biden and his son. So, with the help of Rudy Giuliani and a cast of seemingly hundreds of eager to help scam artists, Trump spent months making connections with pro-Russian elements in Ukraine and leaning on the Ukrainian government. Those efforts not only earned Trump his first impeachment, it seems they also opened the 2020 election to foreign interference … from Ukraine. By way of Rudy Giuliani.

As The New York Times reports, federal prosecutors are now investigating whether a group of  Ukrainian officials launched a scheme to use Trump to get things they wanted in exchange for false information that Rudy Giuliani could spread in hopes of harming President Joe Biden. Which … yes. Yes, that happened. And it’s already been well-documented by House investigators

It’s been clear for months that Giuliani established ties to both exiled oligarch Dmytro Firtash and corrupt officials like parliament member Andriy Derkach. Firtash, who is also connected with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and employs Trump attorneys Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, gave Giuliani the indicted Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas to act as his guides to the Ukrainian underworld. With both Trump and Firtash leaning in, Giuliani had no trouble finding plenty of people willing to sign off on statements that smeared Biden—even if some of those same people instantly folded when questioned and admitted that they were just trying to “curry favor” with Trump.

However, Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine did have some very serious consequences, including giving power to hoodlums who wanted a U.S. ambassador out of the way so they could increase their level of corruption. Giuliani gleefully served that role, helping to demean and dismiss a dedicated career official so that he could get crooks to sign onto his scheme.

Now that Giuliani is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation that has seen his home and office raided, it seems that prosecutors are also looking at the people on the other end of the pipe. Particular attention seems to be focused on Derkach. Derkach has been both named by the intelligence community as an “active Russian agent” and sanctioned by the Treasury Department. He’s also one of Giuliani’s primary sources for claims against Biden and his son, Hunter.

The only person standing up for Derkach appears to be Giuliani, who said in an interview, “I have no reason to believe he is a Russian agent.” He said that after being officially warned that Derkach was … a Russian agent. Which is a pretty important denial for Giuliani.

The federal case against Giuliani seems to center on to what extent he acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian elements in lobbying Trump to take actions such as the firing of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. That Giuliani did such a thing as a dupe of corrupt former officials supported by an oligarch who can’t even set foot in his own country for fear of arrest … that’s bad. But if it turns out that Giuliani did this as the knowing partner of someone who had been identified to him as an active agent of Russia … that’s considerably worse.

This investigation is based in the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, and is apparently running in parallel with the investigation into Giuliani’s activities being based in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. Hopefully they’re sharing notes.

Prosecutors investigating Giuliani seized wider array of materials than previously disclosed

Oopsies. Looks like the investigation into personal Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is broader than what was previously reported. A court document unsealed Tuesday revealed that federal prosecutors obtained correspondence from email and iCloud accounts that appear to belong to two former Ukrainian government officials, according to CNN. Additionally, prosecutors seized a cell phone and iPad belonging to a pro-Trump Ukrainian businessman.  

CNN also accessed redacted portions of the court filing by cutting/pasting it into a new document and found that federal prosecutors obtained the "historical and prospective cell site information" of both Giuliani and Victoria Toensing, an attorney who informally advised Donald Trump and aided Giuliani's dirt digging efforts. Investigators executed a search warrant on both attorneys last month.

According to CNN, the Ukrainians involved are former Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko, former head of the Ukrainian Fiscal Service Roman Nasirov, and businessman Alexander Levin.

The court filing came from Joseph Bondy, the defense lawyer for indicted former Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. It contained some juicy revelations, including the fact that federal prosecutors had described materials they obtained starting in late 2019 and extending through last month. Bondy was petitioning the judge in Parnas' case for a status conference on the seized materials, which he believed to be relevant to Parnas' defense. 

But here's the juiciest part of the CNN scoop:

Bondy wrote that the evidence seized "likely includes e-mail, text, and encrypted communications" between Giuliani, Toensing, former President Donald Trump, former Attorney General Bill Barr, "high-level members of the Justice Department, Presidential impeachment attorneys Jay Sekulow, Jane Raskin and others, Senator Lindsey Graham, Congressman Devin Nunes and others, relating to the timing of the arrest and indictment of the defendants as a means to prevent potential disclosures to Congress in the first impeachment inquiry of then-President Donald. J. Trump."

Just to be clear, none of this is verified and even Bondy used the term “likely.” But wow—encrypted communications between Trump, Barr, Sekulow, Graham, and Nunes, potentially related to an effort to silence Parnas and presumably his partner, Igor Fruman, in advance of Trump's first impeachment inquiry. 

Hard to know whether Bondy is right, but any encrypted communications among that cast of characters that proved fruitful for prosecutors would certainly be interesting. 

Eric Swalwell files second major lawsuit against Trump, allies for inciting deadly Capitol siege

Rep. Eric Swalwell filed a new lawsuit Friday in DC's federal District Court against Donald Trump and his closest allies for inspiring the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol that claimed five lives and injured more than 100 police officers. The second federal suit of its kind, it accuses Trump, Don Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and GOP Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama of violating federal civil rights and anti-terrorism laws by inciting the riot, aiding the rioters, and inflicting lasting emotional harms on members of Congress, according to CNN.

Last month, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi filed a lawsuit against Trump, Giuliani, and the right-wing extremist groups the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Both lawsuits cite violations of a Reconstruction-era law designed to insulate Black Americans from intimidation by white supremacists. 

Swalwell, who was in the House chamber on Jan. 6 and later served as an impeachment manager, charges that the defendants incited the Capitol attack through their repeated claims that the election was stolen, their urging of supporters to attend the rally, and their specific encouragement of rally attendees to march to the Capitol and commit violence.

"Trump directly incited the violence at the Capitol that followed and then watched approvingly as the building was overrun," the lawsuit said. "The horrific events of January 6 were a direct and foreseeable consequence of the Defendants' unlawful actions. As such, the Defendants are responsible for the injury and destruction that followed."

Trump told rally attendees they must "show strength" and "fight like hell" and then directed them to "walk down Pennsylvania Avenue," while falsely telling his supporters that he would march with them to the Capitol.

Brooks told rally goers, "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass."

Giuliani famously declared, "Let's have trial by combat!"—a reference to settling disputes through a personal battle between two opposing sides.

Naturally, Don Jr. offered rally goers the most dismal slogan of them all, but also literally threatened anyone who failed to act. "You can be a hero, or you can be a zero," he said at the rally. "If you're gonna be the zero, and not the hero, we're coming for you, and we're gonna have a good time doing it." Nice touch.

The lawsuit alleges, "The Defendants, in short, convinced the mob that something was occurring that—if actually true—might indeed justify violence, and then sent that mob to the Capitol with violence-laced calls for immediate action."

The defendants are all named in their personal capacities, forcing them to hire private attorneys and depriving them of hiding behind their public offices. As CNN notes, if either lawsuit proceeds, Trump and his allies would have to go through the discovery process and be subject to depositions—all of which could turn up fresh evidence about their personal involvement in the event.

Trump supporters were fed explicitly racist and anti-Semitic propaganda before marching on Capitol

Republicans want to frame Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial as if it’s all about the speech he made at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. It’s not. The impeachment is over the incitement to violence and insurrection created by Trump over the whole span from the election to the assault on the Capitol. That includes Trump sending tweets such as “This Fake Election can no longer stand”  and, of course, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

However, so long as Republicans are focusing on the events of that one morning, it’s worth taking a second look at that rally and the one that came before on the evening of Jan. 5. While the words of Trump’s closing speech—complete with repeated demands that his followers march to the Capitol—are the most obvious subject of the impeachment, he was far from alone. Speakers at those two rallies included Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr. All of them did their share in both raising the temperature of the crowd and encouraging violent actions. 

But there was one other event at that rally that both sums up what Trump’s movement is all about, and contributed to driving insurgents into the halls of Congress. It was a film. One in which every frame is a cast study in delivering violent, anti-Semitic propaganda. 

There’s no doubt that every speaker on the agenda added to the dark energy that resulted in the deadly insurgency. In fact, as The Washington Post reports, one of the speakers at the Jan. 5 rally was actually among those who bashed their way into the Capitol the following day. Brandon Straka—a white guy who founded the “walk away” campaign that encouraged Black voters to leave the Democratic Party—described Jan. 6 as “the revolution” in his speech to the gathered Trump supporters, and encouraged them to “fight back” as “patriots.” Straka, who frequently appears on Fox News as “a former liberal,” assaulted a police officer, called on others to do the same, then broke into the Capitol. He’s now facing multiple felony charges.

That same evening Roger Stone spoke while being flanked by “guards” from the Oath Keepers. As Mother Jones noted, Stone has a long-standing relationship with terrorist group the Proud Boys. On Jan. 5, Stone was there to tell Trump supporters to “fight until the bitter end” to block Joe Biden’s victory. Stone described the following day as the central moment of an “epic struggle.”

Michael Flynn described Jan. 6 as “a crucible moment in United States history.” While his word choice was suspect, his message to the gathered mob was clear. “We should not accept this,” said Flynn.  “Some of these states had more dead voters than the battlefields of Gettysburg or the battlefields of Vicksburg or the battlefields of Normandy. … We did not have a free, fair, and transparent vote on the third of November. And the entire world knows, everyone in this country knows, who won the election on the third.” And Flynn finished by explicitly telling the crowd what was expected of them. “The members of Congress, the members of the House of Representatives, the members of the United States Senate … those of you who are feeling weak tonight; those of you who don’t have the moral fiber in your bodies, get some tonight. Because tomorrow we the people are going to be here, and we want you to know that we will not stand for a lie.” On the heels of Flynn’s speech, former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos stepped up to make it clear that Trump’s supporters would not forget the “traitors” who voted to count the electoral votes. 

Before Trump spoke on Jan. 6, Rudy Giuliani took the stage and spun a completely fantastic tale in which halting the day’s count of electoral votes would somehow generate a 10-day period in which everything about the election could be reviewed. There’s nothing in the Constitution or later law that even hints at such an event, and Giuliani was speaking after 63 days and 62 lawsuits had failed to uncover any of the evidence of fraud he assured the crowd was present. Still, “Over the next 10 days, we get to see the machines that are crooked,” said Giuliani, “the ballots that are fraudulent, and if we’re wrong, we will be made fools of. But if we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. Let’s have trial by combat.”

Donald Trump’s sons also appeared that morning, and their speeches—particularly that of Donald Trump Jr.—did have one especially notable quality. As Politico reported, Junior’s speech was so laced with expletives that Fox News, which had been covering the event live, was forced to cut away. But as Trump’s eldest son warned Republicans that they better vote the way his father wanted spoke, he did make one clear statement between all the four letter words. “This gathering should send a message to them,” said Trump Jr. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore! This is Donald Trump's Republican Party!” Oh, and Eric also spoke. “We will never, ever, ever stop fighting,” said Eric. 

But for all those speakers, it was a film that both set the mood of the day and serves as the best defining document of Trump and Trumpism. Just Security has done a breakdown of the imagery involved in this brief film, and the message of fascism shines through. Not just the kind of authoritarianism that everyone casually assigns to Trump as if that’s just peachy, but genuine shiny-boot and red armband fascism, complete with enough tropes of Übermensch and Untermensch to make Leni Riefenstahl jealous.

As Just Security’s analysis makes clear, the video follows a long tradition of fascist framing. That doesn’t just mean presenting Trump as a heroic figure whose powerful presence causes others to swoon, or contrasting a false paradise under Trump with an equally false wasteland without him. It also explicitly involves using images to remind supporters what Trump stands for: white nationalism.

Everything about the video is designed to help viewers see a through line that connects what’s happening in the Capitol to an elite group of Jews secretly, and not so secretly, guiding America toward a state where white Christians are under siege. The scope of the threat is expanded to include an international conspiracy that includes the U.N. and E.U. who, with Jewish-controlled Hollywood, are seeking to weaken powerful white America.

The video shifts to an image of Senator Charles Schumer, reminding the viewer of prominent Jewish leaders of the Democratic party. Schumer is wearing a Kente cloth, an image evocative of Ku Klux Klan ideology — that Jews support Black liberation movements as a way to undermine white rule and destroy the nation. The next frame shows the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, flanked by two Jewish Congressman, Representatives Nadler and Schiff. Pelosi, too, is controlled by Jews.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy may have had a sudden memory lapse when it comes to understanding QAnon and the intrinsically anti-Semitic ideology at its core. Trump’s video team did not forget. They’ve created a video that is practically a look into Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s hate-filled mind.

This video was sequenced right after Rudy Giuliani told Trump’s supporters that he wanted “trial by combat” and right before Trump himself stepped up to call on his followers to march to the Capitol. What those people who murdered a police officer, trampled over a woman, injured hundreds, smashed open the doors of the Capitol, raised a gallows, and went hunting for congressional hostages received wasn’t just limited to Trump’s statements on the morning of Jan. 6. What drove them there was what Trump, his surrogates, the right-wing media, and Republicans in both the House and Senate did after—and before—the election.

They created a world where people don’t just believe the propaganda of the video above, they’re willing to act on it. 

Federalist Society quiet on bigwig member who spoke at insurrection, told Pence to overturn election

More than 200 judges have been embedded in the federal judiciary by outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. The huge majority of those judges come from the Federalist Society, the right-wing dark money association that has been working for years to erode civil rights, end abortion, oppose LGBTQ equality, stop gun safety laws, and fight regulations protecting the environment, health care, and worker safety—aka everything achieved in roughly half a century of progress. They are responsible for the current makeup of the Supreme Court and most of the Republican Senate. And they also have at least partial responsibility for the insurrection that happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

John Eastman, until this week the chairman of the Federalist Society's Federalism & Separation of Powers practice group, spoke at the pre-insurrection rally. "Anybody that is not willing to stand up and [vote to overturn the election] does not deserve to be in the office!" Eastman told the crowd. Standing next to Rudy Giuliani at the rally, he broke into a smile when Rudy incited the crowd with "Let's have trial by combat!"

Those linked tweets are from Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, who highlighted Eastman's role in pushing Trump's various plots to overturn the election: "As the president's actual attorneys backed away from his coup, Eastman rushed in to fill the void, attempting to bolster the scheme with incoherent legal theories," Stern writes. "When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urged the Supreme Court to overturn the election by nullifying millions of votes, it was Eastman who intervened on Trump's behalf to endorse Paxton's suit."

Worse, Eastman was in the Oval Office on Jan. 5 telling Trump—and Vice President Mike Pence—that Pence could legally toss out the real, certified electoral votes and throw the election to Trump. Because of his participation in the coup attempt, he's been tossed from the Chapman University School of Law, where he was a law professor and onetime dean. He's officially "retired"—at age 60, in the middle of the school year. But sure, retired. Eastman has been a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado Boulder, where calls for his dismissal have so far resulted in cancellation of two courses he was going to teach this spring.

As of now, the Federalist Society has not thrown out Eastman. Never mind that his name has been floated as one of Trump's impeachment lawyers, which would be kind of awkward. In what can only be considered an effort to save face—and its ability to someday again be able to shape the federal judiciary—one of the group's co-founders is calling Trump "a danger to the nation" who must be convicted by the Senate.

But the Federalist Society, which has supplied 85% of Trump's judges, has made no comment on Eastman, who is an insurrectionist. That's a problem for the organization. It's a much larger problem for the nation. Expanding the courts to dilute the influence of these judges is going to have to be a high priority for President-elect Joe Biden and the Democratic Senate.

Trump expected splashy Wall Street Journal coverage of Hunter Biden’s emails. He was disappointed

Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculous waterlogged laptop story wasn’t supposed to be the way the public learned about an alleged trove of Hunter Biden emails. It was supposed to come from a much more reputable Rupert Murdoch-owned publication. Not even Fox News, which passed. No, some ostensibly more reputable Trumpsters were trying to sell the email story—minus the laptop angle—to The Wall Street Journal. 

Eric Herschmann, the former Trump impeachment lawyer turned White House adviser, former deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino, and a public relations person who’s buddies with Don Jr. met with WSJ reporter Michael Bender in early October, The New York Times’ Ben Smith reports. At that meeting, they handed over Hunter Biden emails—including some of the same ones Giuliani supposedly got from the laptop—and put his former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, on speaker phone to make allegations that Joe Biden had profited from Hunter’s corrupt use of the family name. That effort to sell the story ran into one big problem: The Wall Street Journal took its time investigating and decided there wasn’t a lot of there there.

While that investigation was ongoing, Giuliani got the New York Post to run his laptop story, which quickly came under question. (Questions like “Are you f’ing kidding me?” and “So Rudy’s basically a Russian asset now, right?)

But Donald Trump knew that The Wall Street Journal was supposedly going to be doing a story on the emails, and he was excited, telling aides that an “important piece” was coming in the paper. While “The editors didn’t like Trump’s insinuation that we were being teed up to do this hit job,” a reporter told Smith, the investigation into the emails continued. But it didn't go on Team Trump’s schedule, which called for a major, splashy article before last week’s debate. Instead, the eventual WSJ article came after Bobulinski went to the press himself, and Trump tried to make him an issue in the debate. The headline of the short article eventually published? “Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture.”

That’s not exactly what the White House lawyer and former White House lawyer were looking for—they wanted the New York Post insinuations laundered through the respectability of the WSJ. And of course the whole story is further discredited by having multiple overlapping sets of Hunter Biden emails being pushed around by different parts of Team Trump. The laptop story is dubious enough on its own—man from California delivers laptop to Delaware repair shop where blind Trump-supporting owner can’t identify him as Hunter Biden but figures it out from Biden-related sticker on the laptop, etc etc etc, improbability stacking upon improbability—but when you know that that wasn't the only set of supposed Hunter Biden emails, well, it really screams Russian influence campaign. And it screams Trump desperation for any game-changer in the campaign, however illegitimate.

Giuliani’s smear on Hunter Biden is so ridiculous, Fox News passed on it … then covered it 24/7

Once upon a time—also know as 2019—Donald Trump tried to blackmail the president of Ukraine into making false claims about Hunter Biden. Trump got caught, got impeached, and got not even a slap on the wrist from Senate Republicans who were willing to allow Trump to do anything in exchange for a flood of conservative judges. After all, when you’ve already waved off the Hatch Act, ignored federal laws over nepotism, and blown off an endless stream of lies … what’s a little extortion of an ally for political advantage?

When Trump didn’t get what he wanted from from Volodymyr Zelensky, he put both U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani on the case. Barr grabbed U.S. attorney John Durham and opened up an investigation that saw him flying around the world in an attempt to find someone reputable who would lend the slightest credence to Trump’s incredible claims. Giuliani … just skipped out on the “reputable.” Instead, he grabbed a pair of foot soldiers for a Russian oligarch, latched onto some officials who had been kicked out for corruption, and worked directly with an “active Russian agent” to produce a whole series of false claims and fake evidence. 

That brings us to now. Barr’s efforts have apparently come up dry. One part of his investigation has already shut down, Durham’s top assistant has resigned, and there’s no report worth even a patently false summary before Election Day. The Giuliani side has produced a hard drive. A hard drive supposedly dropped off in Delaware by a man who lived in California, at a shop owned by a vocal Trump supporter, where the security footage was mysteriously wiped, the blind shop owner could not identify the person who dropped it off, there was no name or contact information provided, and no one ever returned for it. 

Giuliani’s story is so ridiculous that both Fox News and the New York Post reporter who was forced to write it both disowned it. After years of trying to smear Biden, this really is the best they can do.

As Mediaite reports, the New York Post was hardly Giuliani’s first choice in trying to get this contemptible last-ditch effort into the media. It’s unclear how many other places he went first, but it is clear that he came to Fox News with his story of an unclaimed laptop. Fox News looked at the story, got out their 10-foot pole, and carefully pushed the whole pile back to Giuliani.

After all, this is far from the first time that Giuliani has come up with supposedly shocking information that just happens to support Trump’s every delusional claim. In September, it became clear that Giuliani was working closely with U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo. It’s since come out that the packet of information that Pompeo shared with Republican lawmakers, but not with Democrats, did not come from sources within the State Department. He was simply laundering pages for Giuliani. Naturally, Trump’s personal attorney could not stop bragging about this. At the start of October, he told CNN that he was the source for the Biden information in Republican’s hands. 

This information was enough that Louie Gohmert and Paul Gosar, DDS were willing to scrawl their signatures on a letter to the Justice Department, along with nine other Republicans out of 250 in the House and Senate. But the many, many places where the Giuliani’s claims weren’t just wholly unbelievable but clearly connected to a known Republican disinformation campaign against Biden did bother a few other people.  

Not only is there the little problem of there being absolutely no provenance concerning the hard drive itself—everything about the story of where it was found has holes the size of ocean liners. The shop owner has given various accounts about how the laptop (or laptops, since he at one point claimed there were three), entered his shop; he’s been completely contradictory about how it came to the attention of the FBI; and when and how Giuliani became involved in the affair is as clear as mud. Also, there’s a little matter of how dates on the files found on the machine seem to be from months after the machine was supposedly dropped off.

But just because Fox News wouldn’t take it directly, that doesn’t mean that Rupert Murdoch wasn’t willing to step in to help out his pals. After the story was turned away from Fox News, it was shuffled over to the Murdoch-owned paper where New York Times reports reporter Bruce Golding was tasked with taking the documents, and Giuliani’s ravings, and turning them into an article. But once he heard the whole tale, Golding refused to put his name to the piece. So did other journalists in the Post news room … and this is a paper that just last year went with a front page emblazoned “Bezos exposes Pecker.”

Instead, the story eventually ran under the byline of Emma-Jo Morris. Morris is a former booker for Sean Hannity’s show on Fox, who made the trip across to the Post just in time for Giuliani’s Russian fabrication to be her very first article. A second name on the article was Post reporter Gabrielle Fonrouge. Fonrouge’s name ended up there in the most efficient manner. The Post’s editors put it there, and didn’t tell Fonrouge until after it was published.

All of this works perfectly for Fox, for the Post, for Giuliani, for Trump, and most importantly, for Putin. Fox doesn’t have to front the story. With the story in the Post, Fox can report on it. They can ask Republicans to comment on it. They can construct great rambling opinions from Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. The Post can then report on the comments their story is getting on Fox. Trump can retweet it all. Republicans in the House can cite all of the above as justification for demanding William Barr whip up a special investigator. And Vladimir Putin … can laugh.