The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and his connection to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Ukrainian-American businessmen who were arrested at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. last week on charges they funneled foreign money to unnamed U.S. politicians in a bid to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations in violation of U.S. campaign finance laws. Parnas and Fruman were preparing to board a plane to Europe when they were apprehended.
According to Reuters , an indictment was unsealed by U.S. prosecutors alleging that an unidentified Russian businessman arranged for two $500,000 wires to be sent from foreign bank accounts to a U.S. account controlled by Fruman in September and October 2018. The money was used, in part, by Fruman, Parnas and two other men charged in the indictment to gain influence with U.S. politicians and candidates, the indictment said.
As impeachment furor sweeps Washington, D.C., the Justice Department has fought to distinguish the investigation into the Trump-Russia investigation’s origins by Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham from Rudy Giuliani’s controversial foray in Ukraine.
While the State Department has been drawn into the Democratic-led investigations on Capitol Hill, the Justice Department has sought to dodge the controversy, even as its global “investigation of the investigators” is under scrutiny.
Barr has privately expressed frustration with conservative personalities demanding dramatic arrests as the Justice Department reviews the actions of former Obama intelligence community officials in its investigation. His position is that it is his job to uphold the same standard of justice for everyone and that indictments should only be handed down when crimes can be proven.
The transcript of a July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released by the White House shows Trump asked for a “favor” from Ukraine in investigating a conspiracy theory related to the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which determined the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee’s email systems, an assessment agreed to by special counsel Robert Mueller and the U.S. intelligence community. Trump also urged the Ukrainian leader to look into whether there was Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.
Trump made his request immediately after Zelensky asked about purchasing anti-tank weaponry, known as Javelins, from the United States. Trump also talked about “the other thing,” suggesting the Ukrainians investigate allegations of corruption related to 2020 Democrat Joe Biden encouraging the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor and Biden’s son, Hunter, receiving $50,000 per month while on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Trump seemed to treat his personal attorney, Giuliani, and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Barr, as nearly synonymous on the call, urging Zelensky to speak with both. Giuliani has spent months urging Ukraine to investigate possible Ukrainian election interference and the Bidens.
Public statements by the department distancing Barr from Giuliani and private comments by Barr show the tightrope the attorney general is walking.
“The president has not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said immediately after the transcript’s release. “The president has not asked the attorney general to contact Ukraine — on this or any other matter. The attorney general has not communicated with Ukraine — on this or any other subject. Nor has the attorney general discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared Barr had “gone rogue.”
Barr was “surprised and angry” to be lumped in with Giuliani on the call. A long-time friend of Barr who declined to be named told the Wall Street Journal that Barr has been frustrated with Giuliani in the past, wondering why Giuliani made a spectacle of himself on national television after the Mueller report’s release this spring and asking Trump to make Giuliani stop.
Kupec said last week that the DOJ was exploring the extent to which “a number of countries” played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed against Trump’s campaign, noting this was being done separately from Giuliani’s efforts. Soon after the Ukraine transcript was released, a call between Trump and Australia’s prime minister was also made public, revealing that Trump had encouraged Australia to cooperate with Barr in his Trump-Russia origins probe.
Barr also discussed the investigation with the United Kingdom, and Barr and Durham traveled to Rome to meet with Italian intelligence officials as part of the effort. The duo are likely seeking information related to key Trump-Russia figures, including: British ex-spy Christopher Steele, whose unverified dossier was used to obtain secret surveillance warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page; Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, whose tip about former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos telling him the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton led the FBI to officially open the Trump-Russia counterintelligence investigation; and mysterious Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud, who allegedly told Papadopoulos that Russia had dirt on Clinton.
Reaching out to foreign governments for help in DOJ-run investigations is not uncommon — as part of his probe, Mueller made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence. Barr has privately said foreign intelligence agencies were likely involved in the Trump-Russia investigation but has urged patience as he figures out exactly what happened.
Barr’s personal interest in how the Trump-Russia investigation began is long-standing. He testified to the Senate in April that he believed “spying did occur” against the Trump campaign and said while he wasn’t “suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated,” it was his obligation to explore it. Barr promised he would “be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities” during the 2016 election, and Trump gave him “full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation” the following month. Barr selected Durham to be his right-hand man in the effort soon after.
But the Justice Department’s careful efforts to separate itself from controversy were complicated further by contradictory messaging from the White House and top Senate Republicans. The White House’s newsletter said Trump “has asked Ukraine to fully cooperate with the Justice Department investigation into the actions of former Vice President Joe Biden and his family in Ukraine” but later changed “the investigation” to “any investigation.” Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn, Trump suggested that it’s not just Ukraine that should investigate the Bidens — China should too. And Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn tweeted “now, the Trump Justice Department is investigating” a number of issues, including “VP Biden conflicts of interest, and possible corruption.”
The Justice Department did not respond to the Washington Examiner’s requests for comment about whether Barr or anyone at DOJ has spoken with Trump about an investigation into the Bidens related to China, nor did it say if investigators are looking into anything related to the Bidens in Ukraine, China, or elsewhere.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigation into possible abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wrapped up in September, but it is not known when the Barr-Durham effort will be completed.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.