The Biggest Scandal in American Political History

The people tell Quinnipiac that the president should be impeached. Their latest survey finds 55 percent supportive of the inquiry and a 48-45 plurality already jazzed to remove Trump from office. To which I respond, “Word to the people’s mother!” After the events of Tuesday, October 22, we don’t need to see anything more.

One of the cooler coincidences I’ve come across in a while relates to Tuesday’s main act, Ambassador Bill Taylor. His testimony and opening statement were devastating to the president. Of course, since he spent nearly 10 hours giving his deposition, we only know a tiny bit about what he said, but the reaction from even Democratic members of the House was ashen.

His credibility is hard to question due both to his sterling résumé…

…and the circumstances under which he agreed to take the job in Ukraine.

Taylor was sent back to Ukraine, where he had served as the United States ambassador during the presidency of George W. Bush, but this time he did not have the advantage of Senate confirmation so his technical title was charge d’affaires. The job was the same.

In his first go-round as ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor had been paid an unsolicited visit by Dmytro Firtash, a Putin-aligned Ukrainian oligarch who is presently in Austria fighting extradition to the United States. We know all about this meeting because Taylor’s lengthy cable back to State Department headquarters was published by WikiLeaks. Near the end of that cable is a description of Firtash’s explanation for his close relationship with notorious Russian mafia crime “boss of bosses” Semyon Mogilievich.

Firtash is in the news again for a variety of reasons, including several related to the impeachment of Donald Trump. For example:

Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, the pro-Trump lawyers representing a Ukrainian oligarch wanted by U.S. authorities on conspiracy charges, reportedly met personally with Attorney General William Barr in July—at the height of Rudy Giuliani’s hunt for kompromat on Joe Biden in Ukraine

…Firtash, who has been fighting extradition to the U.S. on bribery and corruption charges from Vienna for more than five years, had only recently hired Toensing and diGenova at the time of the reported meeting. According to Bloomberg, he paid them $1 million earlier this year to dig up dirt on Biden in a bid to get Giuliani’s help with his legal woes.

While Giuliani has maintained he never had anything to do with Firtash’s case, Firtash reportedly bankrolled at least one piece of opposition research that Giuliani would later hold up on cable news as proof of Biden’s wrongdoing: a witness statement from Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s former prosecutor general, claiming the former vice president had him fired to protect his son from a corruption investigation.

To fully unpack this part of the impeachment story would require a very lengthy post, so here I will just give you an appetizer. Firtash had a very close relationship with Paul Manafort. Together they were sued in the Southern District of New York by former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was imprisoned in 2011 on trumped up charges. The business Firtash ran with Manafort was ostensibly a real estate investment business, but you can see from a complaint filed by a former employee with the New York Department of Labor’s fraud unit that their operation was a money laundering sham.

As we know, Giuliani became convinced that Ukrainian politicians had sabotaged Paul Manafort during his time as the campaign chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign by revealing illegal governmental payouts Manafort had received that were detailed in a black ledger. Now, as the Washington Post recently reported, Giuliani is taking money from Firtash and consulting with Manafort even as he sits in prison.

In his quest to rewrite the history of the 2016 election, President Trump’s personal attorney has turned to an unusual source of information: Trump’s imprisoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Rudolph W. Giuliani in recent months has consulted several times with Manafort through the federal prisoner’s lawyer in pursuit of information about a disputed ledger that would bolster his theory that the real story of 2016 is not Russian interference to elect Trump, but Ukrainian efforts to support Hillary Clinton.

Giuliani denies having any direct communication with Firtash, but that doesn’t hold much water. For starters, the Daily Beast reports that he admits that he considered consulting him even though he’s in Vienna facing extradition to the United States.

Giuliani told the Post that he “did sort of look at Firtash to see if he had any relevant information” that could help with his search for damaging information about Democrats. “As far as I can tell, he didn’t. I looked at maybe 20 of these oligarchs.”

Then there are other inconvenient facts. Firtash had a close relationship with both Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Ukrainians who were recently arrested at Dulles International Airport with one-way tickets to Vienna. Parnas and Fruman had lunch that day with Rudy Giuliani at the the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. They were supposed to give witness testimony to Congress but were fleeing the country instead.

Lev Parnas had actually recommended that Firtash hire Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova as his lawyers, which he did after firing Lanny Davis. Then Parnas served the lawyers as a translator for Firtash, impressing Toensing with his language skills and regional knowledge in the process.

This summer, Firtash — at Parnas’s recommendation — hired two conservative attorneys who are top defenders of the president.

Meanwhile, Parnas and Fruman, Soviet-born emigres with deep business ties in Ukraine, had been assisting Giuliani’s hunt for damaging information about Democrats in that country, an effort that is now the focus of the presidential impeachment inquiry.

To summarize here, Mr. Firtash was once a business partner with Paul Manafort in what was effectively a criminal money laundering enterprise. Giuliani used these old connections in his effort to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. As part of this scheme, he got into bed with some seriously shady Ukrainian-American criminals and fraudsters and even worked to secure the freedom of Firtash, a Putin-backed oligarch with deep and admitted connections to the Russian mafia.

I’ve called this the biggest scandal in American political history and that is because we’ve never seen anything like it. Ambassador Taylor has a deep knowledge of this cast of characters and I suspect his testimony was more restrained and professional than it needed to be. Given what he knows, his hair must have been on fire as soon as he realized what Giuliani was up to.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com