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Impeachment Today Podcast: They're The Most Interesting Lawyers In The World

In today's episode: Lawyers Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing are Fox News regulars who worked with Rudy Giuliani in his hunt for dirt in Kiev.

Posted on December 12, 2019, at 11:40 p.m. ET

It's Thursday, December 12, 2019, 79 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Thursday, December 12, 2019, 79 days since the House began the impeachment process, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. Can you believe how close we're getting to the finale of this season of the Trump White House? And the cliffhanger that the writers have been setting up, I tell you, mwah. Golden Globes-worthy. Okay. Today we're talking to Buzzfeed News politics reporter Miriam Elder about a pair of lawyers in the impeachment orbit. They're buddies with Rudy Giuliani, a staple on Fox News, and just happened to be working for a shady Ukrainian billionaire who may or may not have funded Rudy's adventures overseas. But before we get to all that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

Last night, the impeachment process moved into primetime, sort of. The House Judiciary Committee was ready to begin its review of the Articles of Impeachment for any edits, a process known as markup, but first they had to get through a couple of speeches. See, each member is entitled to give a five-minute opening statement in this hearing, and with 41 members on the Judiciary Committee, that adds up to... then carry the one... Several minutes.

So the decision was made to start the process on Wednesday night and do the actual, you know, review part in the morning on Thursday. The speeches were about what you'd expect from each side as far as their defense or condemnation of the president. But there were some real moments, like when Representative Valerie Demings, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, spoke about why her belief in America is motivating her vote.

Valerie Demings:

I believe that only in America can a little black girl, the daughter of a maid and a janitor growing up in the South in the '60s, have such an amazing opportunity. So regardless of the spirited, sometimes painful political debates, no one can make me give up on America. You see, I believe in the promise of America because I've seen the promise of America. I come before you tonight as an American dream realized because America is great and decent, and our democracy complete because we live in a government of the people.

Hayes Brown:

Across the aisle, representative Kelly Armstrong spoke about why people are sticking by President Trump, even in the face of his pending impeachment.

Kelly Armstrong:

Voters in states like mine that not long ago sent Democrats to Congress, but in recent years have found no home in today's Democratic Party, who feel that their Midwestern sensibilities have been replaced by liberal, elitist ideology, who feel that partisan points are more important than practical solutions. Voters who know that rather than working to win back their trust and their support, you would rather invalidate the results of the last election and abolish the electoral college to silence their voices in the future. Your never-ending quest towards impeachment is a constant reminder to these Americans that you don't trust their judgment, that you mock their way of life, and that you couldn't care less about the issues that matter most to them.

HB:

And Congressman Louie Gohmert just casually tossed out the name of a person a bunch of people on the right think might be the whistleblower, so that's cool.

With this part of the process done, judiciary members will be back bright and early to start actually going through the two articles. They're expected to vote on them as soon as this afternoon, which, uh, wow, I can't believe this is actually happening.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has backed Trump's version of events so far. He's insisted in public interviews that he felt no pressure from Trump in their July phone call. That denial has been held up by Republicans as proof that the Democrats' narrative is all just made-up garbage. And in an interview published by Time on Tuesday, one of Zelensky's top aides denied a key part of testimony from the impeachment hearings. He said that despite what the U.S. ambassadors at the EU testified, he was never told of a link between a hold on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, and Zelensky announcing investigations that would benefit Trump politically.

But The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that given Trump's ongoing snubs, Ukraine's defense of the president may change. See, apparently a statement or tweet from Trump backing Zelensky and maybe inviting him to the White House, finally, that Ukraine was expecting this weekend never came, but you know who did have an Oval Office meeting on Tuesday? Russia's foreign minister. Ouch! According to The Daily Beast, Ukrainian officials said they're reconsidering their strategies on communication with and about the Trump administration since going along with the White House's story isn't really getting them anywhere, which if they do, would make things much more interesting when Trump goes to trial in the Senate, taking away a key part of his defense.

The details of that trial's format have yet to be hammered out, but multiple outlets on Wednesday said that Senate Republicans are pushing now for a quick one, maybe two weeks where they hear opening arguments, presentations from both sides, called zero witnesses, then vote on whether to remove the president or not, but Trump being Trump wants it to be a real showstopper of a trial. Jazz hands! With a bunch of witnesses testifying live in his defense. And the White House agrees with them leaning on senators to stretch things out. Given how quickly we're coming up on when a trial would have to start, it's about time for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to start making some choices.

And now we turn to our refuge from a cruel, crazy world. Today's reading from our Nixonmeter.

On our scale, a zero is a normal day, normal White House. 10, Richard Nixon resigns, flies away in a helicopter. This morning, we're at a 7.7. Articles of Impeachment could come out of the House Judiciary Committee in the next 24 hours. That's the point when Nixon resigned, you have to remember, and while that's not an option on the table right now, it is still really wild to consider how far along in the process we are. We're days at most from Trump becoming the third president in history to be impeached, and nobody knows what the world will look like by February 2020.

Okay, after the break, we talk to Miriam Elder about the married lawyers/Trump defender/Rudy Giuliani helpers in Ukraine who are leading one of the impeachment story's weirdest sideshows. Stick around.

HB:

All right. It's time for the This Fucking Guy. It's where we zoom in on a person, place, or thing that's shaping the impeachment. Today we're looking at a pair of lawyers who have been side characters in the Ukraine saga but are so weirdly connected to everything. Their names: Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing. Both are emphatic Trump supporters, frequent Fox News commenters, and also just happened to have done some work with Rudy Giuliani in his hunt for dirt in Kiev.

We're welcoming back BuzzFeed News politics reporter Miriam Elder, who has a story about these two legal eagles that you can go read on buzzfeednews.com, the internet website. Thank you for coming on, Miriam.

Miriam Elder:

Thanks for having me, Hayes.

HB:

So who are these two, and have they always been so weird?

ME:

So Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova have a very long history in D.C. They've basically been operating in the legal realm since like the early '80s. They were both... They got fairly high ranking inside the Justice Department. diGenova is a former U.S. Attorney for D.C.

HB:

Oh, wow.

ME:

These are super official people who Rose through the halls of power in D.C., and then they went into private practice.

HB:

And there comes the turn, usually, for a lot of people, unfortunately.

ME:

And that's where things get weird, and their turn to private practice coincided with this rise of the celebrity lawyer, like those early days, right after the O..J Simpson trial, when suddenly every channel wanted to have a talking head lawyer.

HB:

Right.

ME:

And they just became stars commenting on absolutely everything from the Clinton impeachment to any scandal that you could possibly think of that had a legal angle. And then they found their way into Trump's orbit and are now at the center of all this Ukraine stuff.

HB:

Right. So like you just said, they found their way into Trump's orbit. For a second there, they were going to sign on his lawyers during the Mueller investigation, right?

ME:

They were. They were going to be part of Trump's outside-the-White-House legal team. But then just a couple of days after it was reported, another lawyer for Trump was like, "Oh, never mind. They're not going to do it. Conflict of interest." But the president looks forward to continuing to work with them. So as we understand it, they're still kind of like informal advisors.

HB:

Right. So like we said at the top, though, they're in pretty deep with the Ukraine saga except not at all. They're not part of what seems like the main scheme that Trump's being impeached over, but they are mixed up with Rudy Giuliani. How did that come about?

ME:

So they've known Rudy Giuliani for a long time. They were all, again, high-ranking inside the Department of Justice. Remember that Rudy before he was just screaming on Fox all the time. It was a big deal before he was in New York Mayor. So they've known each other since the early '80s, and then basically what Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova did was work these connections that they had gathered through decades in practice to kind of just put people in touch with each other.

ME:

Victoria Toensing is the lawyer for John Solomon, The Hill columnist, that brought a lot of the conspiracy theories to light that Giuliani is relying on. And she was also meant to travel to Kiev with the Giuliani back in the day to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutors.

HB:

Right, when The New York Times story came out, she was mentioned in there as going with Rudy, but then that was all canceled.

ME:

Yeah, exactly. When it came to light, it was all canceled. And then the main thing is that they joined the legal team of this shady Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who was another kind of like center point for all this stuff. But it is all incredibly confusing.

HB:

Absolutely. I try to keep it all in my head, and it gets kind of weird and muddled. So this guy Firtash, though, his name's come up a bunch, including, I remember I will never forget that Rudy Giuliani months before all this came out, was on The Hill, actually. They're like a video series dunking on a lawyer for Firtash. And now his friends are working for Firtash. What are they actually doing for him, though?

ME:

So they signed on in the summer for initially a four-month contract for $1.2 million.

HB:

Good money. Wow.

ME:

Not bad. It was recently extended to the end of the year, and the idea is that they're meant to plead his case to the Department of Justice to get them to drop their request to extradite him. He's wanted in the U.S. on bribery charges.

HB:

Oh, so that makes sense. Have they actually been successful in pushing his case forward at all, or was it a waste of money?

ME:

So they did manage to get a meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr, but it came to nothing. But they must be doing something right if he just extended their contracts. And I think like a really important thing to know is that a key piece of "evidence" that is being used as like the groundwork for a lot of the accusations against Joe Biden came from the Firtash case after Toensing and diGenova signed on...

HB:

Oh, right.

ME:

...to be his representation. It's this supposed affidavit from one of the disgraced Ukrainian prosecutors saying, "Oh, yeah, I know now. When I was fired a couple of years ago, it was Joe Biden's personal vendetta because of his son's position on the board of this Ukrainian company." And it's this key piece, again, of "evidence" that came out of this case that they were working on.

HB:

So there's been a lot of speculation over the last two or three months that Firtash is secretly the money behind all of Rudy's Ukraine adventures. Has that been backed up at all?

ME:

So Firtash came out of hiding and gave an interview to the New York Times. He said that he's not the money behind it, but he did acknowledge that he did fund some of Lev Parnas' travel. So maybe, you know?

HB:

Kind of, and the fact that Lev Parnas, our old friend, is a part of this, too. I mean, the web here is just so tangled, because if I remember this correctly, and correct me if I'm wrong, Parnas was working with Rudy, but Rudy got him in touch with the diGenova and Toensing, who hired Parnas again to work on their case with Firtash as a translator but maybe doing more digging for dirt in the process?

ME:

Well said. Correct.

HB:

Thank you. Ah! Ding, ding, ding. Awesome. And by the way, listeners, if you want to read more about Firtash, Miriam wrote a great story in October, and we'll link to that plus her most recent story in the show notes.

HB:

So in this web, we also have the other prosecutors who we've talked about before, Lutsenko and his deputy. We learned in the impeachment report that diGenova and Thompson had signed retainers with them too, right?

ME:

Yeah, exactly. But according to their spokesman, this guy Mark Corallo, who also used to be a spokesman for Trump's outside legal team during the Mueller report, they were never executed.

HB:

This is all so much. So what do you think, though, is their end game here? Is there any bigger, deeper conspiracy here, or is this all just about money?

ME:

I mean, that's kind of the reason that I wrote this story in the first place is to try to figure that out. Like what drives these people and what drives people like Rudy Giuliani? Is it their proximity to power? Is it just money? Do they really believe these conspiracy theories? Because these lawyers are on Fox News just as often as Giuliani is with these impassioned pleas, and you have to wonder do they believe it? Do they not? Do they just want money, and then in the end, my conclusion is it actually doesn't really matter because they've still done what they've done.

HB:

Well said. Okay, so let's flash-forward really quickly to a year from now. It is 2020 ,just after the election. What are diGenova and Thompson up to?

ME:

They're definitely sitting in like a dark studio with an image of the capital behind them, and either Lou Dobbs or Sean Hannity is asking them for their opinion on events. They've been doing this for so long, and they're literally going to be doing it for a hundred years more.

HB:

Ah, Miriam, thank you so much for coming here and illuminating as best you could the spotlight onto these weirdos. Thank you so much.

Okay, that is it for today. Tomorrow, we'll have a look at how other countries handle this whole getting-rid- of-their-elected-leader thing, specifically the United Kingdom and Australia. It's going to be corking, as they might say. I'm told that's a thing they say. Speaking of saying things, as always, we want to hear from you, the listeners, as we move forward towards the actual vote in the House on impeachment. What are you still or newly confused by? What just doesn't make sense to you at this point in the game?

Open the voice memo app on your phone and record your message and send it to us @impeachmentatbuzzfeed.com or just send me a direct message on Twitter. I'm @HayesBrown and my DM's open as ever. Be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you go to hear my disembodied voice, and maybe please leave us a rating and a review? Also, tell your friends about the show as we all figure this out together.

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