The role of a defense lawyer is to help the client minimize or avoid legal jeopardy. Generally speaking, you do not want your lawyer himself to be the subject of a criminal investigation. Yet that is the position President Trump finds himself, as his lawyer Rudy Giuliani is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by federal authorities, according to ABC News.
Giuliani has been working closely since at least March with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Giuliani’s role has been to enlist the two former Soviet émigrés to pressure Ukraine to investigate various domestic opponents of President Trump — focusing first on law enforcement officials who conducted the Russia investigation, and later on Joe Biden.
Why did he get involved with Parnas and Fruman, and what did they have to offer? Parnas owns a club called Mafia Rave. He is, amazingly, the less shady of the two. Fruman has ties to Russia mafia figures and runs a company called Fraud Guarantee. If you were looking to undertake an aboveboard investigation into political corruption, those are not the two people you would pick to run it.
Parnas and Fruman were arrested at the airport yesterday, with one-way tickets to Frankfurt, the day after meeting Giuliani, and charged with campaign-finance violations. Neither had any previous interest in political activity, yet they donated millions of dollars to Republican causes after hiring Giuliani.
Their deal with Giuliani appears to have involved a simple cash-for-influence trade. Parnas and Fruman hired Giuilani, who gave them credence in Ukraine as representatives of President Trump. They paid Giuliani (allegedly hundreds of thousands of dollars), and also made donations to Republican causes, including to a member of Congress who called for the firing of American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, who wasn’t playing ball. Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman all pushed Ukraine to investigate Americans Trump wanted to discredit. Meanwhile, Parnas and Fruman pushed for a deal importing liquified natural gas to Ukraine. The synergy in the deal came in combining the two demands: The Ukrainians got the message that having good relations with Trump meant placating Rudy, and placating Rudy meant not only starting the investigations, but also giving Parnas and Fruman a taste of the gas import business.
Giuliani was trying to take over American diplomacy in Ukraine and steer it toward the goal of digging up dirt on Trump’s rivals. The gas deal they tried to make seems to have been the way Parnas and Fruman would be compensated for financing Giuliani’s private diplomacy on Trump’s behalf.
What laws Giuliani may have allegedly broken in this process, we don’t know yet. Asked about his work for Parnas’s aptly named firm, Giuliani told the New York Times, “All I can tell you is that most of the Fraud Guarantee work, in fact the Fraud Guarantee work, which — or I should say — I can’t acknowledge it’s Fraud Guarantee, I don’t think.”
The Mueller investigation showed that the Department of Justice is not going to bring down Donald Trump’s presidency. That is a job for Congress. Trump can influence prosecutorial decisions by his pliant attorney general, William Barr, and float promises to subordinates to keep his partners from flipping on him. Still, having your lawyer be investigated for crimes is definitely not a helpful development for a president struggling to keep his own party on his side in the impeachment war.