Dispatch January 17, 2020

For the Ukraine Scandal, the Firtash Connection Keeps Getting Clearer

Lev Parnas has decided to tell the world what he knows, and so far, it’s been devastating for President Donald Trump. In an extensive interview with Rachel Maddow, Parnas declared in no uncertain terms that “Trump knew exactly what was going on.”

One of his most significant allegations involved indicted Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a figure who has been lurking in the shadows of the impeachment investigation since the beginning

According to Parnas, Firtash cut a deal with him, Rudy Giuliani, conservative lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, conservative columnist John Solomon, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr. The deal would entail Firtash providing damaging information on a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney working on the Mueller investigation in exchange for Trump and Barr dropping the DOJ’s efforts to extradite Firtash to the United States. (The DOJ has called Parnas’ allegations “100 percent false.” Giuliani has called Parnas “a proven liar” and denied Parnas’ allegations. At the time of this writing, the other parties allegedly involved are not known to have commented on Parnas’ allegations.)

Firtash is the very model of a Kremlin-connected oligarch.

  • As Max Bergmann broke down on the Moscow Project’s podcast “The Asset,” Firtash epitomizes what it means to be called a “Kremlin-connected oligarch.” He made his billions through a lucrative gas deal, where he acted as an unnecessary middleman between Russia’s and Ukraine’s state-owned energy companies, Gazprom and Naftogaz.
    • This is the kind of deal that would not have happened without Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consent and investment in cultivating Firtash. There was no need at the time for a middleman between Gazprom and Naftogaz, let alone one who would buy from Gazprom at a significant discount and resell it at a high markup.
      • Firtash denies any accusations of wrongdoing in relation to his business practices.
    • According to the DOJ, Firtash is also an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime,” with alleged links to the high-ranking mob boss Semyon Mogilevich—who, incidentally, also appears to have links to an energy company that once served as a middleman between Gazprom and Naftogaz.
    • Firtash was indicted by the DOJ for bribery in 2013 (he denies all charges against him). Shortly afterward, he moved to Vienna, where he lives to this day, fighting extradition to the United States.

Parnas alleged another corrupt quid pro quo—this time involving Firtash, Barr, and Trump.

  • In his interview with Maddow, Parnas claimed that Firtash initially came to the attention of Trump’s team because they believed he could offer dirt on Andrew Weissmann, a DOJ attorney who’s long been a target of attacks from Trump defenders such as Solomon because of his work on the Mueller investigation.
  • According to Parnas, Weissmann had offered Firtash a deal for his cooperation with the Mueller investigation, a fact that Trump’s team might be able to weaponize to undermine the investigation. That information might also help Firtash cozy up to Trump and get the charges against him dropped.
  • Firtash also appears to have been the moneyman behind some of the efforts to dig up dirt on Trump’s opponents in Ukraine: He paid Toensing and diGenova roughly $1 million for their legal work attempting to get the charges against him dropped, along with another $1 million to Parnas through Parnas’ wife. Parnas’ company, Fraud Guarantee, in turn, was reportedly paying Giuliani $500,000 while Giuliani ostensibly represented Trump for “free.”
    • Firtash has said he “had no information about the Bidens and had not financed the search for it.” Toensing and diGenova have declined to comment, but a spokesperson at their firm confirmed that they took on Firtash’s case because “they believe that Mr. Firtash is innocent.” In their capacity as Firtash’s lawyers, they have also claimed “no knowledge” of payments to Parnas. Giuliani has confirmed receiving the payment from Fraud Guarantee, saying he “know[s] beyond any doubt the source of the money is not any questionable source. Parnas, Fruman, and their lawyers have not commented on the allegations.

Parnas’ allegations would further cement the links between the Ukraine scandal and Barr’s efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation by claiming it was improperly predicated and pursued.

  • It’s been clear that Trump saw Barr’s effort to undermine Mueller and Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt on Trump’s political opponents as related since Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump repeatedly told Zelensky to speak to both Giuliani and Barr about investigations he wanted opened. That included pressure to investigate not only the Bidens, but also CrowdStrike and the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack.
  • Trump mentioned Barr four times on the July 25 call, bringing up his name every time he mentioned Rudy Giuliani. Trump told Zelensky on the call, “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.” He also said, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
  • According to Parnas, the investigations weren’t parallel, but rather “all connected,” to the point that Barr “was basically on the team” doing Trump’s work in Ukraine.

Firtash was also involved in trying to dig up dirt on Biden.

  • Firtash appears to have played a key role in securing an affidavit in which the corrupt former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin falsely alleges that he was fired to prevent him from uncovering malfeasance by the Bidens.
    • This affidavit subsequently found its way to Giuliani, who brandished it on television as evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens and a cover-up by the Obama administration, and as proof that Trump only wanted to root out corruption in Ukraine.
    • In reality, multiple Western allies, including the United States, had been calling for Ukraine to fire Shokin over concerns about corruption.
    • Firtash has said he “had no information about the Bidens and had not financed the search for it.” Giuliani has said he did not ask Parnas “to do anything with Firtash.”

Parnas told Maddow that, as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland put it in his testimony, “Everyone was in the loop”: not just Barr but also Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-CA), Vice President Mike Pence, former national security adviser John Bolton—and, of course, Trump himself.

It’s time for the Senate to commit to a full trial to ensure they and the American public know the full truth about Trump’s corrupt abuses of power.

For a list of witnesses the Senate should call, read “Impeachment Trial Witnesses: Who the Senate Should Call and What They Know” by Jeremy Venook and Max Bergmann.