Outside the Box: These three men may hold the key to the Trump impeachment inquiry

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President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Sept. 20, 2019.

After watching Robert Mueller’s rather lackluster July 24 performance before the House Judiciary Committee on TV, President Donald Trump must have felt ecstatic that he had somehow survived a two-year investigation by the special counsel’s office relatively unscathed.

He had proved again that he was indeed the indestructible Teflon Don, he was ready to go on the offensive: first to root out and pillory the original perpetrators of the “Russia hoax,” and then to neutralize his most likely 2020 Democratic opponent: Joe Biden.

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When Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the following day, July 25, Trump was holding all of the cards, and both of them knew it. Ukraine desperately needed the U.S. military aid that had already been appropriated by Congress.

The anti-tank Javelin missile systems promised to Ukraine would be the nation’s best defense against further Russian incursions into the eastern part of Ukraine known as the Donbass, which pose an existential threat to the survival of Ukraine as a democratic and Western-leaning bulwark against Russian expansionism.

Favors requested

As we now know from the whistleblower complaint and other sources, about one week before the fateful phone call, Trump had placed a hold on the release of U.S. military assistance until Zelensky agreed to grant Trump two political favors.

The favors had nothing to do with legitimate issues involving U.S. foreign policy and everything to do with the mutual agenda of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin of finally proving that the hoax about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election originated in Ukraine. Trump and Putin wanted to prove that it was all a witch hunt, part of a Hillary Clinton/deep state conspiracy to unfairly tarnish both Trump and Russia.

They also wanted to drive a stake through the heart of Joe Biden’s third presidential bid.

Just as the hugely successful disinformation campaign against Hillary Clinton and her Democratic “deep-state” colleagues originated in the troll farms and hacking operations of the GRU and other Russian intelligence operations, there is a strong likelihood the investigation that Trump and his political bagman Rudy Giuliani were so vigorously (and unlawfully) urging the Ukrainians to purse also originated from Russian intelligence sources operating in Ukraine.

Appendage of Trump 2020

The two Soviet-born businessmen and political operatives alluded to in the whistleblower complaint, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are at the center of the Trump/Giuliani effort to turn the Ukrainian government into an appendage to the Trump 2020 campaign.

Campaign Legal Center

Donald Trump and Igor Fruman

These two relatively obscure South Florida businessmen were, until recently, in practical financial ruin. But, after making a $350,000 contribution (of questionable origin) to a Trump Super Pac, they rose to the highest levels of Republican political circles over the past two years: featured in photographs with Trump at the White House, visiting Trump’s Mar-A-Largo, and attending meetings and breakfasts with Don Trump Jr. and other top-drawer Republican politicians and political operatives.

A joint investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and BuzzFeed News details how Parnas and Fruman were instrumental in recruiting Giuliani and Trump in the campaign — supported by Russian intelligence operatives and their pro-Russian Ukrainian allies — to oust the highly accomplished and successful U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, on the grounds that she was disloyal to Trump and was too much of an anti-Russia hardliner.

Parnas and Fruman have claimed they were only passing along information to Giuliani and Trump, but are vague as to the origins of the information. But with Trump’s poll numbers lagging, he was eager to take the bait so he could further his narrative around the Russia hoax.

Drag Bidens into the mess

Even better: dragging the Bidens into the mess by pinning the origins of the probe on Obama-era dealings. Strong arming the Ukraine president into supporting the Russian/Trump talking point seemed like a low-risk/high-reward gambit, especially since the transcript of the conversation between the two presidents would be locked away in a top-secret server.

Trump could not possibly have anticipated the highly credible whistleblower complaint that described the July 25 phone call to a T, or that it would actually find its way to Congress and the public.

Trump’s July 25 request for a Ukrainian investigation aimed to revive the conspiracy theory that the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, while investigating the DNC’s computer hack, created evidence to frame Russia for the hacks in order to discredit Trump’s surprise win in 2016. This theory then morphed into a belief that the DNC server, which had never actually been turned over to the FBI (only a copy was provided) had been spirited out of the U.S. and landed in Ukraine, due to the machinations of CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch, who is often misidentified as a wealthy Ukrainian oligarch linked to billionaire George Soros, when in actuality he is a Russian-born U.S. citizen.

By directing Ukraine to concoct evidence that the DNC server had been hidden away in Ukraine by Democratic deep staters, Trump was seeking both to breathe life into the discredited theory that the “Russia probe” was a hoax from the get-go, and that Trump’s 2016 election was won fair and square since he got little or no help from Russia.

Which brings us back to Fruman and Parnas.

Ties to organized crime

Although they are U.S. citizens, they both have deep ties to Russian/Ukrainian organized crime groups, particularly those located in the Black Sea resort of Odessa, where organized criminal groups have long dominated the city and surrounding region, and where Russian intelligence operatives have successfully insinuated themselves into virtually all aspects of political, financial, and business life.

They were therefore ideally positioned to go between Russian intelligence operations and Giuliani.

This much is clear: Parnas, Fruman, and Giuliani should all be subpoenaed to appear before one or more of the relevant congressional impeachment committees so they can be questioned under oath regarding their sources for the dangerous nonsense and disinformation that Trump was feeding Zelensky during the July 25 phone call.

Breaking: Rudy Giuliani subpoenaed

If these sources prove to be Russian intelligence operatives or pro-Russian Ukrainians secretly working to return Ukraine to the Russian orbit, then this will go a long way in establishing that Trump, with the willing assistance of Giuliani and others, is once again obediently following the Russian playbook handed him by Vladimir Putin in the hopes of pulling off another stunning victory in 2020, no matter what the cost to our democracy.

Kenneth F. McCallion is a former federal prosecutor and expert in Russian organized crime, racketeering and counterintelligence operations. He has represented former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and U.S. businesses doing business in Ukraine. His latest book is “Treason & Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual One” (Bryant Park Press 2019).