Rudy Guiliani
Credit: Felix Josephat/Flickr

Donald Trump and his enablers don’t just lie, they turn truth on its head. Such is the case with the claim that, when the president requested “favors” from the Ukrainian president and blocked aid to that country, he was attempting to fight corruption in Ukraine. No one captured what was at the heart of the Trump-Giuliani extortion scheme better than Representative Jim Himes, who said, “President Trump wasn’t trying to end corruption in Ukraine, I think he was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine at Vice-President Biden and at the 2020 election.”

With the release of some of the phone records of Giuliani’s associate, Lev Parnas, we might question whether that statement from Himes went far enough. As a reminder, Parnas was assigned the job of connecting Giuliani to Ukrainians who could provide him with dirt on the man Trump was likely to face as his opponent in 2020—Joe Biden. One of the key figures who was willing to cooperate in those efforts was Yuri Lutsenko, who was Ukraine’s top prosecutor at the time and a close political ally of then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

After noting that Lutsenko was spreading lies about Ukrainian officials, Ambassador Marie Yavanovitch, and Joe Biden, the whistleblower noted the following in his/her complaint:

The allegations by Mr. Lutsenko came on the eve of the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on 31 March. By that time, Mr. Lutsenko’s political patron, President Poroshenko, was trailing Mr. Zelenskyy in the polls and appeared likely to be defeated. Mr. Zelensky had made known his desire to replace Mr. Lutsenko as Prosecutor General.

In other words, Lutsenko was about to lose his job and he primarily blamed the anti-corruption efforts supported by Ambassador Yavanovitch. If Trump and Giuliani were going to exploit that corruption, Yavanovitch needed to be removed. Here is how the Washington Post summarized the recently released communication between Parnas and Lutsenko on that matter:

The messages, written in Russian, show Lutsenko urging Parnas to force out Yovanovitch in exchange for cooperation regarding Biden. At one point, Lutsenko suggests he won’t make any helpful public statements unless “madam” is removed.

“It’s just that if you don’t make a decision about Madam — you are calling into question all my declarations. Including about B,” Lutsenko wrote to Parnas in a March 22 message on WhatsApp.

It’s unclear if ‘B’ is a reference to Biden or Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden served from 2014 to 2019.

Four days later, Lutsenko told Parnas that work on the case against the owner of the gas company is proceeding successfully and evidence of the money transfers of “B” had been obtained.

“And here you can’t even remove one fool,” Lutsenko laments, using a sad-face emoticon as he again appeared to push for Yovanovitch’s ouster.

“She’s not a simple fool[,] trust me,” Parnas responded. “But she’s not getting away.”

Parnas, days later, told Lutsenko that “soon everything will turn around and we’ll be on the right course.”

Meanwhile, Parnas was communicating with Robert Hyde, a Republican candidate for Congress from Connecticut who was previously best known for a vile tweet about Kamala Harris. Since the release of Parnas’ records, there is photographic evidence suggesting that Hyde was part of Giuliani’s extortion team. That is him on the far right.

Jonathan Chait summarized what Hyde communicated to Parnas about the attempts to get rid of Yavanovitch:

Wow. Can’t believe Trumo [sic] hasn’t fired this bitch. I’ll get right in [sic?] that.

She under heavy protection outside Kiev.

My guy thinks maybe FSB [the Russian security service]

The guys over asked me what I would like to do and what is in it for them

She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Computer is off.

She’s next to the embassy.

They know she’s a political puppet.

They will let me know when she’s on the move

They are willing to help if you/we would like a price.

Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money… what I was told.

Update she will not be moved special security unit upgraded force on the compound people are already aware of the situation my contacts are asking what is the next step because they cannot keep going to check people will start to ask questions

If you want her out, they need to make contact with security forces

In other words, Hyde was in contract with people who were stalking Yavanovitch (possibly FSB), including surveillance of her phone and computer. He also seems to make reference to the possibility of threatening her physically.

During her testimony before the House, Ambassador Yavanovitch stated that Ukrainian officials warned her that Guiliani and other associates “had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me.” She also testified that, while in attendance at an event honoring a murdered Ukrainian anti-corruption activist, she received a call from the State Department’s director-general telling her to get on the next plane to Washington. A little while later she was told that an unspecified security issue demanded her departure from Kyiv.

At this point, we don’t know if Hyde’s communication to Parnas was in any way connected to the State Department claim of “an unspecified security issue.” But the possibility is chilling, to say the least. It is clear that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has some explaining to do.

Beyond an attempt to aim Ukrainian corruption at the 2020 election, everything about this story reeks of mobster-like tactics from the Trump-Giuliani extortion team. Based on what we know about this president’s history, that doesn’t come as a big surprise. But to see it affecting this country’s foreign policy is enraging. To watch Republicans defend the president who is responsible is even more so.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.