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Why Is Mitch McConnell Afraid of This Man?

December 16, 2019
Why Is Mitch McConnell Afraid of This Man?
Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-Floridian businessman who is both a client and associate of Rudy Giulianis arrives for his arraignment in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) on October 23, 2019. - Parnas was arrested for campaign finance violations along with fellow businessman Igor Fruman in Virginia. Both Parnas and Fruman are being held on a million dollars bond and have been served with subpoenas to testify as a part of the impeachment investigation conducted by the US House of Representatives. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Senate Republicans—such as Lindsey Graham, who just bragged he is “not trying to pretend to be a fair juror”—are intent on racing through an impeachment trial. One of the reasons for this rush may be a desire to be done with impeachment before any more news connects Russian money to President Trump. We now know Rudy Giuliani’s indicted ex-business partner Lev Parnas—who paid Rudy $500,000 to do Trump’s Ukraine election meddling—had a Russian funding stream.

No wonder that, after the latest Parnas news broke last week, Graham said of the Senate trial, “I will do everything I can to make it die quickly.”

Of course he will.

If Mitch McConnell and President Trump have their way, the trial is likely to lack witnesses and conclude expeditiously, as Senate Republicans are eager to avoid testimony, on the (reasonable) assumption that the facts are so well established that testimony can only hurt the president.

Senate Republicans also seem to think that after disposing with impeachment, they can go on offense, using their majority to conduct other probes and call for dramatic and distracting witness testimony from Hunter Biden and the whistleblower in committees. As Sen. David Perdue of Georgia told the Wall Street Journal: “ I would hope in one of these other formats, in one of these committee hearings, we could actually subpoena these guys and get ‘em on the ropes.”

But the real reason for getting the impeachment trial done fast is defensive: Republicans want to dispense with their Constitutional responsibility before the public realizes there is a second Russia-focused federal criminal investigation underway and that Trump, once again, is at the center of it.

And the more Giuliani—who is also being investigated, along with Parnas and others, by the FBI as well as the Southern District of New York for his work as Trump’s “attorney,” flies around the world ranting about what he and Trump are up to and shows up at the White House (as he did last Friday), the more incentive Republicans have to get the trial over with.

The ironic part is that Trump and Giuliani don’t seem to understand their own best interests quite as clearly as their Senate enablers do.

The president and his personal lawyer have delighted in updating the press about Rudy’s latest jaunt to Kyiv—where Trump said he ”found plenty,” and has been making a TV series about Burisma Holdings and the Bidens. Giuliani boasted to reporters that his plane had just landed before Trump called last week to ask what Rudy had dug up in Ukraine, to which he responded “more than you can imagine.”

This must drive McConnell and his colleagues slightly meshuggah. Because while Trump and Giuliani are having fun with their out-in-the-open election interference, sooner or later people are going to start wondering whether or not this work is also being indirectly financed by the Russians.

And worse: Trump’s actions strengthen the argument that if he is not removed from office, he will continue to abuse his power.

Which is, in turn, an argument for passing, then holding, the articles of impeachment in the House.

As former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner explains, “I’m not sure why anyone would want to rush into what both McConnell and Graham have made clear is an illegitimate Senate trial.” Kirschner argues that there should be a robust debate over the timing of the Senate’s receipt of the articles of impeachment.

Think about it this way: If Trump and Senate Republicans want to finish impeachment as quickly as possible, then they must believe that time is not on their side and that future developments are likely to cut against Trump’s position.

For instance, Parnas has now been deemed a flight risk by federal prosecutors, who last week asked a judge to revoke his bail for failing to divulge a $1 million deposit from a Russian account. His attorney has said Parnas will testify that he did everything for Trump.

Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were busted at Dulles International Airport on October 9 after lunching with their business partner Rudy Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, have been charged with a long list of crimes:

  • Conspiracy
  • False statements and falsification of records in election law violations
  • Funneling foreign money into campaigns, including a pro-Trump super PAC

And prosecutors say the pair are likely to face additional charges. Both men have been subpoenaed by three congressional committees, and Parnas has agreed to cooperate with them, providing audio and video and documents to House investigators.

So Parnas seems to have turned on Trump and Giuliani, which makes him a time bomb for Trump World.

President Trump has said he didn’t know Parnas. This claim seems at odds with other claims and much evidence. Parnas claims to have had a secret visit with Trump at the White House during last year’s Hanukkah party, where he was personally given the Ukraine assignment by the president.

Parnas has donated to the top House Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy. He has been photographed with President Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Mike Huckabee, and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

By strange coincidence, Bondi just started working at the White House to help Trump with the impeachment that resulted from the scandal in which Parnas is a central figure. Bondi also recently resigned from Ballard Partners, an influential firm in Florida Republican politics, which was itself also subpoenaed by the SDNY in the case because the firm paid $45,000 to Parnas for referring the Turkish government as a client.

Now follow along: Giuliani has also represented the Turkish government. And Brian Ballard is a fundraiser for President Trump. There is no reporting showing an indication of wrongdoing by anyone at Ballard, but the subpoena to the firm seems to have resulted from an examination of the activities of Parnas and Giuliani.

It’s just interesting.

There are other threads to be pulled on. The pro-Trump PAC America First Action is also cooperating with the investigation SDNY. Parnas and Fruman donated $325,000 to the PAC in 2018 through their company Global Energy Producers, which has been described by prosecutors as a money laundering entity from which political donations flowed to federal and state campaigns.

Parnas has conveyed through his attorney that he will also testify that Rep. Devin Nunes was part of the effort to get Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens and that Parnas arranged connections for Nunes in Europe beginning in 2018. Nunes failed to reveal these facts or recuse himself during the impeachment process when he skipped several key depositions, but railed during the hearings about the media and the Democrats’ obsession with locating naked pictures of Trump.

Nunes may soon face an Ethics Committee investigation for taking a trip to Ukraine immediately after the midterm elections last year (on the taxpayer dime) to meet with a former Ukrainian prosecutor. If so, it would be his second ethics investigation in two years.

And former Rep. Pete Sessions has now testified before a grand jury in the case because Parnas and Fruman enticed him last year into helping them get Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired, something Giuliani bragged about being involved with. Sessions received campaign donations from Parnas and Fruman and wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticizing Yovanovitch. This makes it more than likely Nunes has also been interviewed by SDNY about his “work” with Parnas.

And those are only the loose ends we know about.

What Trump and McConnell are counting on is that Attorney General Bill Barr can stifle the SDNY and FBI probes and keep things quiet between now and the election. After all, Barr has proved himself to be an eager supplicant.

But at the announcement of the indictments of Parnas and Fruman, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman made a point of stressing the SDNY’s commitment to their independence and the rule of law. “We will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute those who engage in criminal conduct that draws into question the integrity of our political process.”

And FBI assistant director William F. Sweeney Jr. recently emphasized the importance of campaign finance laws: “The American people expect and deserve an election process that hasn’t been corrupted by the influence of foreign interests, and the public has the right to know the true source of campaign contributions. These allegations aren’t some technicality, a civil violation or an error on a form. This investigation is about corrupt behavior and deliberate law breaking. The FBI takes the obligation to tackle corruption seriously—there are no exceptions to this rule.”

We’ll see.

As Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly warned: With Trump, all roads lead to Russia. McConnell, Graham, and Barr—all Republicans, really—know this.

Yet instead of exposing it, they seek to cover it up.

Editor’s note, Dec. 18, 9:50 AM: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. It has been updated to reflect that Berman promised to “investigate and prosecute” — not “investigate and protect” — those accused of criminal misconduct.

A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard is a columnist at The Bulwark. Previously, she was associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.