by Bob Barr
The indictment and arrest of two U.S. businessmen of East European background is the newest development in the effort to weaken the president by attacking those close to him. In this case, it’s his personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
While there may be some arguable basis on which to charge the businessmen — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — with incompetent business transactions, the timing of the indictment — in the middle of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment effort against Trump — makes it seem more than just coincidental.
Neither Parnas nor Fruman appears to possess the business acumen such that Trump would bring them into his inner circle of confidence. Their links to the Trump family appear to be nothing more than as political hangers on; and their relationship to Giuliani seem to consist largely of legitimate business dealings. Still, the fact that there are such relationships, no matter how tenuous, has provided ammunition for the media and Democratic Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to draw direct connections that in less hyper-partisan times would have been considered out of bounds.
As with so much of the ongoing impeachment effort being pressed relentlessly by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Schiff, and others of their majority in the House, the Parnas-Fruman “connection” has to with Ukraine. In this case, the connection is not so much directly with the now-infamous July 25 phone call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, as with the American president’s effort to ensure that his Ambassador to that country is fully supportive of his policies and diplomatic goals.
It is hardly a secret that Giuliani, in his capacity as one of Trump’s personal lawyers, was working to determine if career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch was in fact subtly undermining Trump’s efforts to determine Ukraine’s responsibility for interfering in our 2016 election and the degree to which former Vice President Joe Biden interfered with that country’s investigation of his son Hunter’s involvement with Burisma, an energy company controlled by Ukraine. Giuliani also has made no secret that among his many international business clients with whom he has worked since leaving his job as New York City mayor in 2001, are companies in which both Parnas and Fruman were involved.
Throw into that mix that fact that this pair of foreign-born but naturalized U.S. citizens supported Trump’s 2016 election campaign and boastfully attended the election night celebration in Manhattan, as well as donating in 2018 to a pro-Trump super PAC, “America First Action,” and the scene was set for the legal eagles at the Department of Justice to conclude something was amiss.
The fact that the two businessmen were also photographed with Donald Trump, Jr. later in May 2018, and donated also to a former Republican Congressman seems to have been the final evidentiary proof that the two businessmen were up to no good; especially, perhaps, because Giuliani also attended the 2016 celebratory event. The implication, of course, especially for the Schiff effort to impeach Trump at any cost, is that a vast U.S.-Ukraine conspiracy is at work leading from Kiev to the White House by way of two inept U.S. businessmen born in that part of the world, and who also had a business-client relationship with Rudy Giuliani.
The conspiracy, which the government alleges has Parnas and Fruman making donations clandestinely in behalf of Ukraine to influence U.S. efforts in that country, is made even juicer based on reports that two other Trump-supporting attorneys used Parnas (who does speak fluent Ukrainian) as a translator in an unrelated case in which they represented a Ukrainian back in 2014.
Of course, if Parnas and Fruman were directing donations to political candidates, parties or political action committees in the United States on behalf of foreign interests, that would be a violation of federal campaign laws and should be prosecuted. But it will take far more that attending a couple of campaign events or blustering on social media that they are “Friends of Trump” to make such a case stick as against them, and far more so against Giuliani or Trump. Even far weaker are the tangential avenues down, which Schiff and the media (and perhaps even rogue prosecutors at the Justice Department) are traveling with hopeful heart in an effort to ensnare Giuliani in their impeachment scheme.
For example, there is the theory that, because Giuliani was working with Parnas, Fruman and others, to have Yovanovitch recalled because she was subtly undermining the policies of the very president she was sworn to faithfully represent, that Giuliani should have registered as an agent of a foreign power under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, is absurd in the extreme. Giuliani’s further efforts in Trump’s behalf to help pressure the new Ukrainian government to aggressively uncover and stop the corruption in that country likewise represent fully legitimate efforts to further distinctly American goals in that country, certainly not Ukrainian goals in the United States.
After all, it was Ukrainian corruption that manifested itself in the interference in our 2016 election, and in the meddling by Biden in that government’s choice of a prosecutor investigating his own son’s ties to that government.
Yovanovitch last week complained to Schiff’s committee that neither she nor her careerist colleagues at Foggy Bottom believed they had done anything to deserve her being recalled. Unfortunately for her and her supporters, the president of the United States, who has every right to demand his Ambassadors fully carry out and support his policies and goals in the countries to which they are assigned, determined otherwise, and removed her. End of argument; nothing to see here folks, go home.
This episode brings to mind the Justice Department prosecution of Russian Maria Butina, who recently was forced to enter a plea that she improperly tried to influence U.S. policy toward Russia. She possessed no more ability to do that than did the old TV spy Maxwell Smart.
Still, the complexity and vagueness of federal financial campaign laws and the Foreign Agents Registration Act have made these preferred vehicles by which federal prosecutors can target persons associated with political enemies and pressure them to cave and flip.
Bob Barr (http://www.twitter.com/BobBarr) represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He currently serves as president and CEO of the https://laweef.org/.