Last week at his father’s rally in Minnasotta, the president’s simple son led a round of “lock him up” chants aimed squarely at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. It was more than a little ironic given that, on the same morning, two close associates of his father’s personal lawyer were picked up at Dulles International Airport trying to get out of the country with one-way tickets to Vienna. Or the fact that his father’s last personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is currently serving time. Or the fact that his father’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is also in the big house.
On the one hand, it’s kind of funny that everyone around Donald Trump seems to wind up in jail while he accuses the rest of the world of being corrupt. Like it’s all just some big, strange coincidence.
On the other hand, it’s kind of terrifying that Donald Trump always projects his character problems onto his opponents. And somehow he keeps getting away with it.
The arrest of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was just the latest case of Rudy Giuliani costing his boss even while working for him pro bono. He’s the most expensive free lawyer in America.
It’s also not helpful that Parnas and Fruman were supposed to join Giuliani in Vienna. After all, the president of the United States is desperate to convince people that he’s not a corrupt, would-be autocrat who deserves to be impeached because he’s flouting the Constitution and abusing his office by colluding with foreign governments. And yet, there’s his private attorney, running off to a secret meeting in another country with two foreign-born “business associates” who have been arrested on charges of funneling foreign money into U.S. elections. Oops.
Other charges against Parnas and Fruman—who again, it bears repeating, are “business associates” of the president’s personal lawyer—include falsifying records and making false statements.
Hours before they were arrested, they had dinner with the president’s free lawyer at the president’s hotel.
But yes, by all means, let’s lock up Joe Biden. That’s the real story here.
It’s worth unpacking exactly what these gentlemen and the president’s personal lawyer were up to.
For the last several months, Rudy Giuliani has been working tirelessly to get dirt on former vice president Biden’s son, Hunter, in the hope of using it against Biden. So far, that plan has worked. The Ukraine story has hurt Trump, of course. After all, he’s now likely to be impeached because of it.
But it’s also hurt Biden. For months, Biden has led Trump by double digits in just about every general election match-up poll, while also leading the Democratic field. In the Ukraine explosion, Biden’s campaign has been collateral damage. His numbers dropped off a cliff beginning the week the story broke and Elizabeth Warren has now surged past him.
So if Trump gets his preferred opponent and the price is just a little light impeachment, then maybe it was all worth it.
The details we know about the Giuliani-Parnas-Fruman operation are straight out of a Coen brothers’ movie.
[W]ith Mr. Parnas’s company, Fraud Guarantee, Mr. Giuliani increasingly relied on Mr. Parnas to carry out Mr. Trump’s quest for evidence in Ukraine that would undercut the legitimacy of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference on his behalf in the 2016 election and help him heading into his 2020 re-election campaign.
Rudy spent a lot of time with Parnas and Fruman and since we live in a modern age, there’s video of Rudy and Parnas and Fruman hanging out at the Trump Hotel a couple blocks from the White House. The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott remembers meeting the trio at cigar bar in D.C. called Shelly’s Backroom in March. They were literally conspiring in a smoke-filled “backroom.”
Then there’s the name of Parnas and Fruman’s company—“Fraud Guarantee.” Also, they owned a club on the Black Sea called—I kid you not—“Mafia Rave.” And of course, the two men are supposed to be witnesses in the president’s impeachment trial.
You can’t make it up.
But I keep coming back to the free part about the president’s free lawyer. What sort of business is that, exactly? If the president isn’t paying him, then who is?
“My other clients are paying me for the work I do for them. Nobody is paying me for a single thing I’m doing for Donald J. Trump,” Rudy told the Washington Post. Fair enough. But since money is fungible, then shouldn’t we know who Rudy’s other clients are? And if those clients are paying Rudy enough to cover all of the many hours he’s working for Trump, for free, then doesn’t that constitute some sort of in-kind contribution? I’m not a lawyer—not even a free lawyer—but none of this looks very normal to me. Usually lawyers give their pro bono time to needy clients and bill their billionaire clients out the wazoo. Not the other way around.
And it’s not like there aren’t questions about Rudy’s other clients. The Times reports that:
During a contentious Oval Office meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed for help in securing the release of a jailed client, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, as part of a potential prisoner swap with Turkey.
And then there’s the ousted ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who says that, “Contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
If I were the president’s free lawyer, I might be just the tiniest bit worried about all the allegations surfacing about me.
But then again, I would probably console myself in knowing that the president has my back, just as he has had the back of all the very fine people who’ve served him faithfully.
Though, to be honest, this little soliloquy from the president would probably freak me the eff out:
“I don’t know those gentlemen. Now it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody, I have a picture with everybody here,” Trump said, adding that someone told him there “may be” a photo with them “at a fundraiser or somewhere, but I have pictures with everybody.”
He continued, “I don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do but I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy, I just don’t know.”
It sounds like Rudy might be in some jeopardy for all the sketchy stuff he did. But then again, this is Trump World, and lurking behind every potential crime is the hope of a presidential pardon.
The question is whether or not the boss will have time to remember you when he’s spending all of his energy trying to stay one step ahead of the posse.