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Impeachment Today Podcast: It's Showtime!

In today's episode: what to expect this week as the Senate kicks off the impeachment trial.

Posted on January 21, 2020, at 5:45 p.m. ET

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

It's Tuesday, January 21, 118 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 the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Tuesday, January 21st, 2020, 118 days since the house began its impeachment inquiry and day two of the trial of President Donald Trump, and this is Impeachment Today. Good morning, I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News. We've got a big week ahead of us, so hopefully you spent that three day weekend studying Senate rules. No, just me? No worries. I've got you covered. Okay. Today we're actually taking a trip into our archives to refresh your memories about a guy who's been in the news a lot lately, Lev Parnas. Then tomorrow we'll fill you in on the latest about him, but before we get to all that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

Okay guys, it is show time in the Senate and you know what that means? Paperwork. Woo! The house managers and the president's impeachment team both filed their legal briefs over the weekend. I was going to read the whole of them both out to you as a bit of a treat, but since there are about 280 pages in total, I'll just give you a TLDR. The house managers in their brief argue that Donald Trump is "The framers worst nightmare." In abusing his powers to leave millions of dollars at the Congress, a proof for Ukraine dangling out of reach to help keep himself in office, Trump committed a major crime against the Constitution and only the Senate's removal of the president from office can keep him from climbing some more.

On the flip side, the president's team made the much bolder case in their brief that even if the president say used his office to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate arrival for the presidency, so what? It's not like he was accused of a real crime and without an indictable offense, how can you possibly kick him out of office?

Pro tip, this is the opposite of what most Constitutional scholars say, and you don't need an offense under any criminal statute to be impeached. The defense brief also says that the house managers need to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is true in criminal cases but not in civil cases and not impeachments to my knowledge, and that the articles are written in such a way that the president has to be acquitted.

That argument is a fun one, though dumb, saying that because there's different examples recently charged of abuse of power, then any vote to convict could maybe have been because only like 16 senators thought he was guilty of each accusation in the article, which is neither how's the impeachment clause of the Constitution nor counting works. And while I do implore you to read the whole of these two briefs, I actually recommend a section from the defense titled, the July 25 call transcript shows the president did nothing wrong. A classic of the genre really. The house managers have until noon today to file their response.

Oh, the president's team also filed its official response to the summons from the Senate that went out on Thursday. In that's seven page document, the D team, which is what I'm calling them from now on, argued that, you guessed it, this whole thing is a sham. To quote fashion legend Miranda Priestly, groundbreaking. And there's apparently a few familiar names joining the president's defense team. Well, sort of. The White House released a statement on Monday evening naming several members of the house who will do 'something', I guess. The release was pretty vague. But it lists impeachment hearings alumni like Jim Jordan, Doug Collins, and Elise Stefanik as part of the group that will defend the president, just not at the trial. I don't know. I don't get it either. And now we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

On a scale zero, normal day, normal White House; 10, President Richard Nixon has resigned and is flying away in Marine One. This morning we're at a 7.9. The last bits of procedural drama play out today in the Senate. And then after that we get to oral arguments. This might be the only chance for people out there in the United States of America to hear the full story about what the president did to be impeached and why he needs to be removed from office. These next two weeks are going to be crucial, so I'm going to be paying really close attention. Hopefully you guys will be too. Okay. After the break, we're taking a quick trip back in time to remember what we learned earlier last year about Lev Parnas. Stick around.

All right. For today's this fucking guy, we're doing things a little differently. We've got a great interview from the early days of the show with Buzzfeed News senior investigation's editor, Michael Salah, that seems worth revisiting. We spoke with Mike about Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two of Rudy Giuliani hinch bros. It was recorded in November, 2019, soon after the two of them had both been arrested, but before Parnas agreed to cooperate with investigators.

So with Parnas back in the news, especially with all the info he's provided to Congress, we felt it would be worth listening to it again. Also, one small correction in that I referenced Parnas and Fruman being arrested at JFK Airport in New York as they were about to leave the country. It was actually Dulles International Airport in DC. My bad. Anyway, enjoy.

All right friends. It's time for this fucking guy where we zoom in on a person, place or thing that's shaping the impeachment saga. Today we're actually going to be talking about these fucking guys, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. To give us the low down on these Eastern Europeans embroiled in the impeachment imbroglio is Buzzfeed News senior investigation's editor in DC, Michael Salah. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Michael Salah:

Hayes, glad to be here.

Hayes Brown:

You were one of the first reporters to really ask, "Wait, who are these two dudes who seem to be connected to Rudy Giuliani." How did you first clue in that something weird was happening here?

MS:

Good question. Well, I think it started when we got a call from our counterpart reporter in Kiev who said, "I have something interesting here. I am looking at two people who are involved in something with Mayor Giuliani and they are at a hookah bar. One of them is sitting down and a woman is draped over him and they seem to be enjoying themselves. Should I keep an eye on them?" I said, "Absolutely. Follow through. Let me start researching their background." As I started, we call it pulling paper on them, on my end, I always say all roads lead to South Florida.

MS:

And they were two, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas had deep Florida roots, no surprise. And as I started to look at the court file involving Parnas, I realized this was a financial train wreck. This guy had had multiple judgements against him. He had evictions for luxury homes and I said to myself, "Okay, these are the two people involved with Mayor Giuliani, let's figure out more." And we started just pulling more and the deeper we got, we realized that they were involved in a deep backchannel campaign that was being run by the mayor.

HB:

So let's back up a little then. As far as you can tell, how did these guys connect first with each other and then with Rudy Giuliani, who, what?

MS:

Igor and Lev knew each other from years earlier. They are both from the former Soviet Union. One was born in Odessa, the other one was born in Belarus. Their families knew each other. So, in time they started just basically seeing each other at various clubs in South Florida, other places, and they started doing business together. That was probably four years ago, that they actually became serious together as business partners. And then with Mayor Giuliani, these gentlemen started giving out a lot of money to GOP campaigns.

MS:

It started in early 2018. For them to be able to make their big rise within the party, they needed to give out a lot of money. So, Igor Fruman mortgaged one of his properties; a very high end, nice piece of real estate in Paul Harbor, Florida. And out of that, they had at least a million dollars in the bank to start giving money to GOP campaigns.

HB:

Right. And then Rudy gets involved, I'm assuming, because he gets linked into them through the spending and eventually he gets signed on according to reports with Parnas' company called Fraud Guarantee, which is the best name for any company ever in this whole situation.

MS:

Yeah, you can't make this stuff up. Fraud Guarantee was a company started by Lev Parnas after a long and very checkered past as a stock trader. He starts this company that basically does due diligence for investors and provides insurance to them in the event that they are defrauded, and that was the basis of his company. He eventually gives Mayor Giuliani on as his consultant and they turn over a half a million dollars to Mayor Giuliani to help them advance their company.

HB:

That's so much money for a company that apparently didn't have any clients. Speaking of the money that's being thrown around, the two of them, Parnas and Fruman, were arrested last month at JFK Airport with one way tickets out of the country. They were charged on campaign finance violations. What's the deal with that? Who were they giving that money to?

MS:

Okay. Well, the most controversial of all those campaign contributions dealt with money that they gave to these campaigns in Nevada. They had a marijuana business together.

HB:

Oh my God. Of course they did.

MS:

Yes. And they were trying to basically win approval for their program out there and also get it licensed so that they could expand. Their plan was to expand into five different States. So it starts with campaign contributions to the gubernatorial candidate and the attorney general candidate for Nevada. The money they used, it came from a Russian national who was unidentified in the indictment.

MS:

You can't use foreign money to fund American campaigns. It's against the law. It's a felony. Those are two of the charges against them. And then there are other monies they gave, $325,000 to a Trump aligned SuperPAC called America First Action. And the problem with that donation was that it came from a wire, very controversial, but let's just say the money itself was put in the name of a company they founded. And the reality was, the company had no funds or anything.

HB:

So it was a shell company sort of situation. It's like, okay, the money comes from this people, but it actually came from another source entirely.

MS:

That's correct. And so that's where they got in trouble. They each are charged with four different counts of felony. They can be imprisoned for up to five years for each one.

HB:

Where does the Republican Congressman that they were giving money to fit into all of this? Is that part of the charges as well?

MS:

There was a meeting they had with Pete Sessions, the former Congressman from Texas, and they leaned on him very heavily about removing the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. And getting her out of the way would allow them to do a lot of what they wanted to get done in Ukraine. So they lean on him very heavily. That very day, wrote a letter to Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State saying, "I think she should be terminated." And of course eventually she was. And so, they got them and then they both paid Sessions $2,700 of pieces, the limit that you can give as an individual contribution to a Congressional candidate.

HB:

Right. So that's not what they're charged for, but it is part of this whole plot to get Yovanovitch out of office where they had their own interest in getting her out. Giuliani did, and so did Ukraine. Okay, so they were charged. But then last week Parnas' lawyer said that Parnas was willing to work with Congressional investigators on the impeachment inquiry and he said, I can't believe this. He said, "Part of Parnas' decision was because Trump claimed to quote Mariah Carey 'I don't know her'," did he know her? Does Trump and Parnas actually know each other?

MS:

Yes, they do. I can tell you that. I've interviewed Lev Parnas, probably more than any journalist. I've sat down with him. I've had nearly a dozen interviews with him before all this happened, so I can tell you that he does know President Trump, he's been to Mar-a-Lago many times. He's had dinner with the president at Trump International Hotel. He's met with him in Washington. To say he doesn't know him is almost like saying, "I don't know my vice president." He does know Lev Parnas.

HB:

I can see how that would sting. So really quickly, a moment to focus on poor Fruman. Igor has really been painted as sort of the sidekick in this affair. Do you see that as being accurate?

MS:

Yes it is. It's closer to being accurate than not. And I'll tell you why. Because Lev Parnas is really the muscle and the color and the push behind all these efforts. Igor goes along, Igor funds much of this development, and Igor is money paid for much of what they did in addition to other people's as well. But it wasn't Lev Parnas' money, it was Igor Fruman's. Igor is more the money man, and he's basically gone along for the ride.

HB:

God, there's so many more areas where we can touch on weird things and weird connections between these two and the rest of the players in this impeachment saga. But unfortunately, we can't spend the entire show about them, so we're just going to jump a year forward into the future. We're in 2020, just after the US election. What are Parnas and Fruman up to in your opinion?

MS:

I think there's either one of two things. Either both of them are going to end up becoming serious witnesses to where they will not have to spend a lot of time in prison, or they're not going to cooperate and they will. I do believe the Southern District of New York has additional charges ready to be levied against them and I do believe it's really up to them as to how much they want to participate and help in this ongoing investigation. I don't believe they're going to be, shall we say, out there running businesses again real soon. I think it's going to be awhile.

HB:

All right. Mike, thank you so much for helping us wrap our head around these two really bizarre characters in this whole thing. Mike, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us. We really appreciate it.

MS:

Glad to be here Hayes.

HB:

Okay. It's time for the latest edition of our newest segment, Trial Watch 2020. It's where we run down what's happening next in the Senate impeachment trial. Today is a pretty big day in the Senate. Last night, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell finally released the draft resolution laying out the rules of how this trial will run moving forward. Those rules will not be debated and voted on. Reminder, just 51 votes are needed for it to pass. McConnell has said for weeks now that his plan is based on the Clinton trial, even if he's putting nothing on paper until yesterday.

It got to the point that Senator Susan Collins approached her party's leader with a copy of the resolution that Senate passed back in 1999 and demanded to know exactly what will be different. The answer is, a lot. The house will submit its evidence, but under the draft rules McConnell's put forward, a motion to actually include that evidence in the trial won't come until later, which is weird. Like in the Clinton trial, the two sides will each have 24 hours to present their initial arguments.

But unlike the Clinton trial, they'd have to spend that time in two days instead of three. Instead, the Senate trial is scheduled to start up at 1:00 PM every day. That means the presentations would go late into the night. There would then be 16 hours for the two sides to answer questions put forward from senators. And then, there will be a vote on whether any new witnesses or documents would be allowed to be presented. And that's the thing that everyone has been waiting to learn more about.

So, we already said that if that vote passes, which is not a guarantee, only then will the house's evidence be put into the record. That will then be up for a vote too. And then, again, if the initial vote passes, the house and defense can motion for witnesses. Those votes would then have to pass. And then the witnesses would be to pose and then the Senate would vote again to decide if those witnesses will testify. That is a lot of fucking hoops to jump through just to introduce evidence in a trial.

And it is still a big old question mark just how the many, many votes that are standing between us and former national security advisor, John Bolton testifying, will actually pan out. In all, it's a document and in initial vote, they're going to have a lot of ripple effects on the time stream. So it's likely that the Senate's time today will be spent locking it down with Democrats offering several amendments to this draft resolution. For now, that is it from Trial Watch 2020.

Okay, that's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have Mike Salah back in the saddle to talk about Lev Parnas 2.0. Is he reformed Bill and trying to make good or a wiley scofflaw scamming his way out of trouble. Be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you go to hear my disembodied voice, and maybe 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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