Why Giuliani Singled Out 2 Ukrainian Oligarchs to Help Dig Up Dirt
VIENNA -- They were two Ukrainian oligarchs with American legal problems. One had been indicted on federal bribery charges. The other was embroiled in a vast banking scandal and was reported to be under investigation by the F.B.I.
And they had one more thing in common: Both had been singled out by Rudolph W. Giuliani and pressed to assist in his wide-ranging hunt for information damaging to one of President Trump's leading political rivals, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
That effort culminated in the July 25 phone call between the American and Ukrainian presidents that has taken Mr. Trump to the brink of impeachment and inexorably brought Mr. Giuliani's Ukrainian shadow campaign into the light.
In public hearings over the last two weeks, American diplomats and national-security officials have laid out in detail how Mr. Trump, at the instigation and with the help of Mr. Giuliani, conditioned nearly $400 million in direly needed military aid on Ukraine's announcing investigations into Mr. Biden and his son, as well as a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
But interviews with the two Ukrainian oligarchs -- Dmitry Firtash and Ihor Kolomoisky -- as well as with several other people with knowledge of Mr. Giuliani's dealings, point to a new dimension in his exertions on behalf of his client, Mr. Trump. Taken together, they depict a strategy clearly aimed at leveraging information from politically powerful but legally vulnerable foreign citizens.
In the case of Mr. Firtash, an energy tycoon with deep ties to the Kremlin who is facing extradition to the United States on bribery and racketeering charges, one of Mr. Giuliani's associates has described offering the oligarch help with his Justice Department problems -- if Mr. Firtash hired two lawyers who were close to President Trump and were already working with Mr. Giuliani on his dirt-digging mission. Mr. Firtash said the offer was made in late June when he met with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both Soviet-born businessmen involved in Mr. Giuliani's Ukraine pursuit.
Mr. Parnas's lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, confirmed that account and added that his client had met with Mr. Firtash at Mr. Giuliani's direction and encouraged the oligarch to help in the hunt for compromising information "as part of any potential resolution to his extradition matter."
Mr. Firtash's relationship to the Trump-allied lawyers -- Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova -- has led to intense speculation that he is, at least indirectly, helping to finance Mr. Giuliani's campaign. But until now he has stayed silent, and many of the details of how and why he came to hire the lawyers have remained murky.
In the interview, Mr. Firtash said he had no information about the Bidens and had not financed the search for it. "Without my will and desire," he said, "I was sucked into this internal U.S. fight." But to help his legal case, he said, he had paid his new lawyers $1.2 million to date, with a portion set aside as something of a referral fee for Mr. Parnas.
And in late August, Ms. Toensing and Mr. diGenova did as promised: They went to the Justice Department and pleaded Mr. Firtash's case with the attorney general, William P. Barr.
In an interview, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that he had sought information helpful to Mr. Trump from a member of Mr. Firtash's original legal team. But, Mr. Giuliani said, "the only thing he could give me was what I already had, hearsay." Asked if he had then directed his associates to meet with Mr. Firtash, Mr. Giuliani initially said, "I don't think I can comment," but later said, "I did not tell Parnas to do anything with Firtash."
He added, though, that there would be nothing improper about seeking information about the Bidens from the oligarchs. "Where do you think you get information about crime?" he said.
But Chuck Rosenberg, a legal expert and a United States attorney under President George W. Bush, said the "solicitation of information, under these circumstances, and to discredit the president's political opponent, is at best "crass and ethically suspect."
He added: "And it is even worse if Mr. Giuliani, either directly or through emissaries acting on his behalf, intimated that pending criminal cases can be 'fixed' at the Justice Department. The president's lawyer seems to be trading on the president's supervisory authority over the Justice Department, and that is deeply disturbing."
Mr. Bondy, the lawyer for Mr. Parnas -- who was arrested with Mr. Fruman last month on campaign finance-related charges and has signaled a willingness to cooperate with impeachment investigators -- said in a statement that all of his client's actions had been directed by Mr. Giuliani.
"Mr. Parnas reasonably believed Giuliani's directions reflected the interests and wishes of the president, given Parnas having witnessed and in several instances overheard Mr. Giuliani speaking with the president," the lawyer said. Mr. Parnas, he added, "is remorseful for involving himself and Mr. Firtash in the president's self-interested political plot."
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