Dispatch December 6, 2019

The Ukraine Investigation Exposes the Breathtaking Scope of the Trump Administration’s Corruption


The Ukraine investigation has exposed more than just impeachable conduct by President Donald Trump; it has revealed large-scale corruption involving the president and many of his top advisers.

As former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, the evidence increasingly makes it look like there’s “an organized-crime scheme that works its way throughout the White House.” Public hearings continue to show that Trump’s behavior was not only impeachable but also the exact type of conduct the founders sought to prevent when they gave Congress the power to impeach the U.S. president.

The House Intelligence Committee’s report outlined a long-standing coordinated scheme to extort Ukraine.

  • According to the report, Trump and a variety of allies—including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani; the indicted Soviet-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman; U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland; and several Cabinet officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry—were involved in or knew about efforts to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations for Trump’s personal political benefit.
  • As the report describes, “The solicitation of new foreign intervention [in 2020] was the act of a president unbound …. It was the act of a president who viewed himself as unaccountable and determined to use his vast official powers to secure his reelection.”
  • The July 25 call, which Trump continues to describe as “perfect,” and which his defenders pretend is the only point of evidence against him, was instead “a dramatic crescendo within a months-long campaign driven by President Trump in which senior U.S. officials … were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the President.”

Trump and his team were caught red-handed.

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was set to set to announce Trump’s desired investigations on CNN in early September when congressional pressure and the whistleblower complaint forced the Trump administration to release the aid.
  • As professor Noah Feldman told the House Judiciary Committee, “The possibility that the president might get caught in the process of attempting to abuse his office, and then not be able to pull it off, does not undercut in any way the impeachability of the act.”
  • Not only that, as professor Michael Gerhardt testified: “One of the things to understand from the history of impeachment is everybody who’s impeached has failed. They’ve failed to get what they wanted, and what they wanted was not just to do what they did, but to get away with it. The point of impeachment … is to catch that person.”
  • The bribery scheme is arguably still going: Zelensky has yet to receive the White House meeting he was originally promised in exchange for announcing investigations into Trump’s political opponents and the 2016 election.

The Trump administration immediately responded with a cover-up.

  • When administration officials raised concerns about Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, the White House responded by moving the records of the call to a secret secure server.
  • When the whistleblower filed their complaint about Trump’s conduct, the administration did everything it could to bury the complaint—despite the intelligence community inspector general’s determination that it was “urgent” and “credible” and therefore must be sent to Congress.
  • Since Congress began investigating, the White House has blocked at least a dozen witnesses—at least 10 of whom had already received lawful subpoenas—and refused to release thousands of subpoenaed documents.
  • Trump’s defenders themselves have made the argument against the administration’s obstruction, repeatedly calling for more evidence, including testimony from fact witnesses in the White House, before moving forward with the impeachment investigation.

Questions remain as to whether the scheme involved Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), a member of Congress who sits on one of the committees that is supposed to be investigating the scheme.

  • According to the House Intelligence Committee’s report, in April, a number associated with Nunes had at least four phone calls with Parnas, the indicted Florida businessman and member of Trump’s legal team who worked with Rudy Giuliani to dig up dirt on Trump’s political opponents and force out then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
  • According to CNN and The Daily Beast, Parnas also claims that he helped Nunes and his staffers set up meetings in Europe with Ukrainian officials to discuss conspiracy theories that they thought would help them undermine the Russia investigation.
  • In addition, Parnas is reportedly willing to testify that, earlier this year, Nunes’ team was planning a trip to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Trump’s political opponents but called it off after realizing that it would require alerting House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) to their efforts.
  • Nunes filed a lawsuit against CNN for more than $400 million for reporting what he called “fake news”—the morning after the House Intelligence Committee’s report revealed the logs of his calls with Parnas. In his complaint, Nunes called CNN’s reporting “a demonstrably false hit piece.” CNN has not yet commented on the lawsuit.

While he was pushing Trump’s extortion scheme, Rudy Giuliani may have been pursuing his own interests too.

  • For months, it was a mystery who was paying Giuliani while he represented Trump for free. The answer: Parnas and Fruman, who paid Giuliani $500,000 to consult for a company called Fraud Guarantee. (Giuliani has confirmed that he received the money but says that he “know[s] beyond any doubt the source of the money is not any questionable source.” Parnas and Fruman’s lawyer John Dowd has declined to comment on his clients’ behalf, saying, “What I know is privileged.”)
  • Even after Trump made Giuliani his personal attorney, Giuliani reportedly reached out out to the indicted Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, and even considered taking him on as a client. (According to reports, Giuliani ultimately suggested through Parnas that Firtash hire conservative lawyers Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing instead. Firtash has denied all allegations against him.)
  • Giuliani was also reportedly in talks to sign lucrative legal retention contracts with Ukrainian officials at the center of the allegations against the Bidens, reportedly even going so far as to prepare “at least one retainer agreement, on his company letterhead, that he signed,” for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice. (According to The New York Times, Giuliani “has repeatedly said he has no business in Ukraine, and none of the deals were finalized.”)
  • Now, Giuliani is reportedly under federal investigation for a whole host of possible crimes, including campaign-finance violations, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and seeking to profit off of an oil-and-gas scheme Parnas and Fruman were pushing in Ukraine. (Giuliani has denied all wrongdoing.)
  • That hasn’t stopped him; he’s still spending lots of time in Europe, meeting with Ukrainian officials and tweeting about his desire for Ukraine to open investigations into Trump’s political opponents.

Parnas and Fruman’s Ukraine work appears to have been just one of a host of schemes to profit off of their proximity to the White House.

  • The pair have already been indicted for a wide-ranging campaign finance scheme they allegedly used to buy access to multiple Republican politicians, which they allegedly used in part to oust a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whose anti-corruption stances stood in the way of their schemes. (The pair initially pleaded not guilty; however, Parnas is reportedly negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors.)
  • One such scheme: allegedly forcing changes to the board of Ukraine’s state oil-and-gas board so that Parnas and Fruman could sell them liquefied natural gas—and, according to witnesses on the board, to help Firtash secure “a windfall of more than $1 billion.” (Lawyers for Parnas and Fruman declined to comment. Firtash denies all wrongdoing.)
  • That seems to have been just one small part of Parnas and Fruman’s business with Firtash, who was apparently paying Parnas hundreds of thousands of dollars to facilitate his relationship with conservative lawyers Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing—who he reportedly hired because Giuliani and Parnas said they could use their relationship with Trump to “help with his Justice Department problems.” (DiGenova and Toensing have declined to comment, but a spokesperson at their law firm told The New York Times that they “took the Firtash case for only one reason: They believe that Mr. Firtash is innocent of the charges brought against him.”)
  • It’s no surprise that prosecutors have suggested that there may be additional charges brought against Parnas and Fruman before their case goes to trial, though they haven’t yet done so.

The Ukraine investigation has provided a brief glimpse into a White House that seems to run like an organized-crime syndicate around a corrupt president. All indications—from Trump’s demand that China investigate his political opponents to his bizarre deference toward Turkey and Saudi Arabia to his continued embrace of Russian conspiracy theories—suggest that President Trump is doing the same elsewhere. Corruption in Trump’s White House is rampant and bottomless, and failing to impeach would only encourage further crimes.