As Bette Davis said in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts — it’s going to be a bumpy night.” The ride started last night with Rep. Devin Nunes’ appearance on Hannity, escalated with arrests of figures tied to Rudy Giuliani, and will possibly come to a complete halt when former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch meets with three House committees tomorrow — assuming the State Department allows the testimony to take place at all.
Kicking this off, Nunes went on Hannity last night to claim that Yavonovitch may have been spying on Americans — including journalists. Sean Hannity expresses his anger over what his own sources are telling him about surveillance of John Solomon among others, although Nunes more cautiously advises patience:
“What I can tell you is that we know what Pete Sessions, congressman from Texas now retired, we know what he had to say. We know that there are people within that were not only Ukrainians but also Americans that worked at the State Department who have raised concerns about this ambassador, that’s why she was ultimately removed,” Nunes said.
“We also have concerns that possibly they were monitoring press from different journalists and others,” he continued. “That we don’t know, but, you know, we have people who have given us this information and we’re going to ask these questions to the State Department and hopefully they’ll get the answers before she comes in on Friday.”
Hannity then said three sources have told him there “is evidence that shows government resources were used to monitor communications” of a journalist, The Hill’s John Solomon.
“Well, what I have heard, and I want to be clear. I think there is a difference. What I’ve heard is that there were strange requests, irregular requests to monitor, not just one journalist, but multiple journalists,” Nunes said. “Now perhaps that was okay. Perhaps there was some reason for that, that it can be explained away. But that’s what we know and that’s what we are going to be looking into.”
Keep Pete Sessions in mind as our ride progresses to its next sharp turn. Earlier today, two of Rudy Giuliani’s clients — and donors to a PAC funding Giuliani’s investigation of the Bidens — got arrested for criminal campaign finance violations. Among the allegations are that those violations intended to mask foreign influence on US elections:
Two Soviet-born donors to a pro- Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges of violating campaign finance rules, including funneling Russian money into President Trump’s campaign.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, have been under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, and are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later on Thursday, the people said. Both men were born in former Soviet republics.
Mr. Giuliani, President Trump’s private lawyer, identified the two men in May as his clients. Both men have donated to Republican campaigns including Mr. Trump’s, and in May 2018 gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through an LLC called Global Energy Producers, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The men were charged with four counts, including conspiracy, falsification of records and lying to the FEC about their political donations, according to the indictment that outlines a conspiracy to funnel a Russian donor’s money into U.S. elections.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the two have been instrumental in helping Giuliani make contacts in Ukraine. One of them happened to be part of a meeting Giuliani had with the now-unemployed envoy Kurt Volker:
Since late 2018, Mr. Fruman and Mr. Parnas have introduced Mr. Giuliani to several current and former senior Ukrainian prosecutors to discuss the Biden case.
Mr. Parnas in July accompanied Mr. Giuliani to a breakfast meeting with Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. “We had a long conversation about Ukraine,” Mr. Volker wrote in his testimony to House committees last week. During that breakfast, Mr. Giuliani mentioned the investigations he was pursuing into Mr. Biden and 2016 election interference.
The indictment released today has a very telling reference to a former US congressman who involved himself in the effort to oust Yovanovitch:
And now let’s go back to the WSJ for some dot-connecting:
In May 2018, Pete Sessions, at the time a GOP congressman from Texas, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for her removal, saying he had been told Ms. Yovanovitch was displaying a bias against the president in private conversations. …
The indictment references a congressman, identifiable as Mr. Sessions, whose assistance Mr. Parnas sought in “causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” The indictment says those efforts were conducted “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.” Mr. Sessions didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Hoo boy. If nothing else, this certainly looks bad, which makes Nunes’ citation of Session suspect on its face. The Department of Justice is essentially accusing Sessions of being bought by foreign influence in going after Yovanovitch, and clearly intends to press that case against Giuliani’s associates on that basis.
Bear in mind that this is William Barr’s DoJ, too. Barr got read into the case soon after taking over the Attorney General job in February, and apparently found it convincing enough to proceed to indictment. The arrest also made it very convenient for House Democrats to issue subpoenas for testimony from the pair, although it likely complicates how cooperative they’re willing to be. At the very least, they’ll be easy to find.
Giuliani responded by attacking the DoJ for its “extremely suspect” timing in unsealing the indictment and arresting his associates. He promised Fox News’ Catherine Herridge that he would shortly reveal how all of this is connected to his investigation into the Bidens:
Fox News: Giuliani says timing of the arrests of his associates are "extremely suspect" and that he believes they're "connected" to his investigations in Ukraine pic.twitter.com/1HerrwOJhD
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) October 10, 2019
What about the “extremely suspect” timing? It turns out that the pair were trying to leave the country, which forced the DoJ to make the arrests now:
The two Giuliani-linked defendants, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were detained at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington on Wednesday and are scheduled to appear in court in Virginia at 2 p.m. ET Thursday.
Meanwhile, Yovanovitch continues to prepare for her own testimony, which is still scheduled to take place tomorrow. The Washington Post reported late last night that she’s “on board” for cooperating with the committees, and perhaps now even more so after Nunes’ allegations on Hannity last night. The State Department could still bar her from discussing her work with Congress (she remains employed by State), but ABC reports today that Mike Pompeo is already facing a rising level of discontent over Yovanovitch’s treatment and Pompeo’s lack of a public defense for her:
Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled early from her post this spring, is scheduled for a deposition Friday with three committees in the House of Representatives, but it is unclear whether she will be allowed to show up after the U.S. ambassador to the European Union was blocked by the Trump administration from testifying on Tuesday.
Either way, the manner in which Yovanovitch has been treated by Trump and the silence from Pompeo has already rankled many rank and file at the State Department, according to half a dozen current and former officials, who are also upset by the administration’s use of career diplomats in the president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.
So where does this ride come to a stop? How much of this is true — all of it, none of it, or only some of it? Trump loyalists will surely consider all of this as more evidence of a Deep State plot that now involves both the State and Justice Departments. Trump haters will see this as another case of foreign influence on the administration and a plot to smear Trump’s opponents, both electoral and otherwise. The rest of America might just be hoping that the [expletive deleted] ride would come to an end, period.
At this point, the mess is too complicated to suss out which conclusion reflects the truth. What does appear to true is that we’re not going to know for sure what’s true for a long, long time — and it might turn out, ironically, that the DoJ could end up as the most credible player in Ukraine-Gate.