How many false alarms have we had already during the Trump era about recordings that were supposedly going to bring down the president? There were the reports after he fired Comey that Trump himself might have surreptitiously recorded their conversations in the Oval Office, including the famous conversation about going easy on Mike Flynn. The White House denied it and nothing ever came of it. There was the breathless hype about Michael Cohen recording the president without his knowledge, perhaps frequently, during their time together, but apart from one brief bit of audio nothing was ever released and no reports of anything incriminating on the recordings ever surfaced.
There was the Steele dossier’s rumor of a “pee tape,” about which let us say no more except that there’s no evidence that it exists.
And so, inevitably, we come to the stage of this scandal where reports of secret recordings emerge to tantalize anti-Trumpers everywhere, only to prove either false or underwhelming in the end:
The House Intelligence Committee is in possession of audio and video recordings and photographs provided to the committee by Lev Parnas, an associate of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who reportedly played a key role in assisting him in his efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.
The material submitted to the committee includes audio, video and photos that include Giuliani and Trump. It was unclear what the content depicts and the committees only began accessing the material last week…
However, some of the material sought by congressional investigators is already in possession of federal investigators within the Southern District of New York and thus held up from being turned over, according to sources familiar with the matter.
I’m going to guess that the material that “includes” Trump is just those photos of him posing with Parnas and Rudy’s other crony, Igor Fruman, at various events over the years that everyone’s already seen. But if you’re of the opinion that we’re living in a reality-show simulation of actual reality now and that this impeachment process is destined for some weird dramatic twist, secret recordings of Trump that revive public interest in the Ukraine matter is an obvious way to go.
Either that or having John Bolton kick down the Senate door and declare, “I’ve got something to say!”, moments before the Senate is about to vote to acquit the president after his trial.
Just because Parnas is destined to be a bust in producing incriminating evidence on Trump doesn’t mean he won’t be a fruitful witness for Schiff and the DOJ. His lawyer has begun dangling information about the alleged extent of Republican efforts to squeeze various Ukrainians for dirt about the Bidens. One strand of that information involves a Kremlin-linked oligarch named Dmitry Firtash who’s facing extradition to the U.S. to face federal racketeering and bribery charges. If you believe Parnas, Giuliani had a proposal for Firtash, one you might call a … quid pro quo. If Firtash lent a hand to Rudy’s effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens, maybe arms could be twisted at the DOJ to rethink those criminal charges:
[O]ne of Mr. Giuliani’s associates [Parnas] has described offering the oligarch help with his Justice Department problems — if Mr. Firtash hired two lawyers who were close to President Trump and were already working with Mr. Giuliani on his dirt-digging mission…
Mr. Firtash’s relationship to the Trump-allied lawyers — Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova — has led to intense speculation that he is, at least indirectly, helping to finance Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. But until now he has stayed silent, and many of the details of how and why he came to hire the lawyers have remained murky.
Firtash claims that he doesn’t have any Biden dirt and didn’t knowingly pay to fund the search for it, but he did reportedly pay diGenova and Toensing more than a million dollars to serve as his lawyers. And apparently diGenova and Toensing were at one point involved in the Biden effort. Asked about all this by the Times, Rudy gave his usual all-over-the-map replies: He never told Parnas to do anything with Firtash, but even if he had, there’d be nothing wrong with it, and yes, okay, maybe he did at one point ask a member of Firtash’s legal team early on for “information” that might benefit Trump, but so what? The key question, though, which only Parnas can answer is what was said with respect to the DOJ’s case against Firtash. If anyone was making promises to Firtash to obstruct justice on his behalf in return for oppo research, that’s a bigger scandal than the quid pro quo Trump is accused of with Ukraine.
How would a sleazy character like Parnas get anyone to believe this? Well, that’s where those recordings come in, potentially. No one will trust a word he says so he’ll need hard evidence. Does he have any?
The other Parnas-fueled story involves Devin Nunes. Parnas’s lawyer claims that Viktor Shokin told Parnas he met with Devin Nunes last year in Vienna to discuss Biden dirt. Who’s Viktor Shokin? He’s the Ukrainian lead prosecutor who was dismissed several years ago after Vice President Joe Biden (among other international figures) demanded that the Ukraine government fire him for corruption. If you believe that the Bidens were worried about what Shokin might know about Burisma and Hunter Biden, then Shokin is a logical person to speak to. Nunes, of course, denies the story. But Parnas’s lawyer wasn’t done yet. He also claims that Nunes’s aides were preparing to travel to Ukraine this year to interview two prosecutors about information that could help Trump’s reelection campaign — but they hit a snag:
Lev Parnas would tell Congress that the purpose of the planned trip was to interview two Ukrainian prosecutors who claimed to have evidence that could help President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, Parnas’ attorney, Joseph Bondy, told CNBC. Nunes is one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders in Congress.
But when Nunes’ staff realized that going to Ukraine themselves would mean alerting Schiff to their plans, they instead asked Parnas to set up the meetings for them over phone and Skype, which he did, according to Bondy.
Top Democrats are already talking about an ethics probe of Nunes to see if he’s actually been a secret undeclared participant in the Trump-Ukraine business that his committee has been investigating. At a minimum, you would think Democrats would want to haul Parnas before their committee to see what he knows before handing off impeachment to the Judiciary Committee. He’s probably the only witness they’ll talk to with firsthand evidence of exactly what Rudy Giuliani was up to. And if nothing else, it sounds like his testimony will bolster the Democratic argument that the Trump/Rudy show with Ukraine was always about 2020 politics vis-a-vis the Bidens, not about exposing official corruption by a former VP.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s John Kennedy saying anything he needs to say in order to create a defense for the president. If that means dismissing the universal view among U.S. intelligence that Russia, not Ukraine, meddled in the 2016 election then that’s what it means. And if that requires Kennedy to push a talking point which he knows happens to come from the Russians themselves, then so be it.
WALLACE: Senator Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC & Clinton campaign? Russia or Ukraine?
KENNEDY: I don't know. Nor do you.
W: The entire intel community says it was Russia.
K: Right. But it could be Ukraine. Fiona Hill is entitled to her opinion pic.twitter.com/KQAUkWeJIo
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 24, 2019