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Read It: Trumpworld Lawyers’ Contracts to Dig Dirt on Biden

PAY DIRT
The agreements add context to the activities in Ukraine—in particular the ties between Giuliani, Toensing, and diGenova, and the powerful Ukrainians with whom they were in contact.

Lachlan Markay, Betsy SwanDec. 05, 2019 1:57 PM ET

In April 2019, as Rudy Giuliani and a number of his associates looked for dirt on President Donald Trump’s political opponents in Ukraine, two of those associates drafted contracts that they hoped would land them a quarter of a million dollars to push conspiracy theories about Ukraine in the United States.

The agreements were never executed, but they spelled out just how two Trump-allied lawyers, Joseph diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, planned to advance the president’s allegations against his perceived political foes—and collect hefty retainer fees for their services.

The retainer agreements received some attention in the House Intelligence Committee’s report on its impeachment investigation findings this week. But the full agreements have not been previously published.

One of the agreements laid out the services that they were offering to a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, and his deputy, Konstiantyn Kulyk. DiGenova and Toensing would “represent them in connection with recovery and return to the Ukrainian government of funds illegally embezzled from that country and [provide] assistance to meet and discuss with United States government officials the evidence of illegal conduct in Ukraine regarding the United States, for example, interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.”

In other words, they’d be working on precisely the matters that Giuliani and the ad hoc investigative team he’d assembled to dig for dirt in Ukraine had been pursuing for months. And according to a copy of the agreement obtained by PAY DIRT, Lutsenko and Kulyk would pay Toensing and diGenova a $125,000 retainer for their services.

Three days later, Toensing drafted another agreement for another former Ukrainian prosecutor, and this one was even more explicitly aimed at advancing the sorts of conspiracy theories that Trump and Giuliani have pushed about Ukraine. Viktor Shokin, Lutsenko’s predecessor, would pay Toensing and diGenova $125,000, the agreement specified, “for the purpose of collecting evidence regarding [Shokin’s] March 2016 firing as Prosecutor General of Ukraine and the role of then-Vice President Joe Biden in such firing, and presenting such evidence to U.S. and foreign authorities.”

This is the sort of agreement that generally requires “foreign agents” to register their work with the Justice Department.

Indeed, a paragraph of the agreement states that it may trigger “mandatory public disclosure under United States law.” But neither diGenova nor Toensing filed Foreign Agents Registration Act paperwork associated with it.

That’s because, according to their spokesman Mark Corallo, the agreement never actually went into effect. “The [House Intelligence] Committee flat out got it wrong,” Corallo told PAY DIRT. “The draft agreements were never executed. There were no representations. The committee misread the documents and the reporting on it.” The report states, in a footnote, that the retainer agreement is “not signed by the Ukrainians, but a spokesman for Ms. Toensing and Mr. diGenova confirmed that the firm represented Mr. Lutsenko.”

In any case, the agreements, even unexecuted, add some context to the investigation into Trumpworld activities in Ukraine—and in particular the relationships between Rudy Giuliani, his allies Toensing and diGenova, the powerful Ukrainians with whom they were in contact, and the proximity of those contacts to the dirt-digging efforts at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

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Toensing and diGenova were briefly recruited as Trump lawyers themselves. The president planned to add them to his personal legal team in early 2018, but backtracked in light of conflict-of-interest questions raised by diGenova’s representation of Corallo, himself a person of interest in the then-active special counsel investigation into Russian election-meddling.

“The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining his special counsel legal team,” said Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s personal attorneys, at the time. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters. The president looks forward to working with them.”

How closely they continued to work with the president personally is not known. But the impeachment committee report released this week makes clear that they were key cogs in a quasi-political machine looking to advance not just Trump’s interests, but those of a handful of Ukrainians that sought to hype conspiracy theories that aligned with the president’s political agenda and paranoid outlook toward Ukraine in general.

DiGenova and Toensing had long been acquainted with John Solomon, the columnist for The Hill under whose byline some of the more outlandish but impactful conspiracy theories appeared. In previous, FARA-registered work on behalf of a Kurdish political party in Iraq, the duo reported contacting Solomon regarding a column they hoped to run in The Hill. It’s not clear what role Solomon, who then oversaw the publication’s video products, had in placing opinion columns, but days later the Toensing-authored piece ran.

By the summer of 2018, she and diGenova had a new client: exiled Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who’s been holed up in Vienna since 2014, fighting U.S. extradition on bribery charges. Bloomberg News reported in October that Firtash had billed them for about $1 million for their services, and that diGenova and Toensing had worked to dig up dirt on Trump’s perceived foes in Ukraine in an effort to enlist Giuliani on Firtash’s behalf.

As part of that work, Shokin provided a sworn statement to individuals working with Firtash attesting that Biden had pushed for his removal, and threatened to withhold U.S. aid if he remained in office, in order to block an investigation into a company that employed Biden’s youngest son. The theory is baseless—Shokin’s removal was a key goal of U.S. policy at the time—but the statement would soon be a pillar of Giuliani’s campaign against the Bidens in Ukraine; he literally used Shokin’s statement as a prop on live television.

Shokin’s statement, and additional interviews with both him and Lutsenko, also formed the bedrock of Solomon’s reporting on the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine. Two weeks before Toensing signed on the retainer agreement’s dotted line, Solomon had run the first in a series of Ukraine-related columns aligning perfectly with the conspiracy theories being advanced by Giuliani and company.

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Throughout April, Solomon plugged away at allegations about the Bidens and then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who he claimed, citing Lutsenko, had drafted a list of entities that Ukraine was forbidden from prosecuting for alleged corruption. Solomon also relayed what he called “the first documented allegation of Democrats receiving assistance from a foreign power in their efforts to help Clinton win the 2016 election.” That story also cited Lutsenko and added a perfunctory “if true.”

Then the phone calls began. The House Intelligence Committee obtained phone records for Giuliani and one of his associates, Lev Parnas, that provide a snapshot of their communications in the subsequent days, and they show this same crew in frequent contact in the days following Solomon’s efforts to inject Shokin’s and Lutsenko’s allegations into the American political bloodstream.

This timeline can be a little hard to keep track of, so we put together this spreadsheet of calls and text messages identified in the impeachment report so you can more easily follow along.

The logs pick up with a call to Rep. Devin Nunes, the very person who, as the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, would later try to scuttle investigations into the very conduct at issue. Parnas’ call to Nunes on the afternoon of April 10 lasted just over 30 seconds. Ten minutes later, Nunes put in a call to Giuliani. They spoke for 30 seconds. Giuliani then got a text from an unknown number, and immediately called Nunes back for a three-minute conversation.

We don’t know anything about what was discussed, as the committee only obtained phone “metadata,” turned over by the cell provider AT&T. The data picks up two days later, when Toensing and Parnas exchanged calls. They talked for a combined four minutes or so. 

About 15 minutes after their last conversation, Giuliani got a call from someone identified in phone records only as “-1.” It’s not clear who that is, but The Washington Post reported Wednesday that it “almost certainly” refers to calls with Trump himself. Indeed, when the FBI examined phone records for convicted Trump adviser Roger Stone, it determined that calls from Trump showed up as “dash 1.”

Giuliani spoke with “-1” for more than 12 minutes on April 12, records show. Two hours later, he got a call from Toensing. She rang Parnas as well that afternoon. Then, later in the day, Parnas put in no fewer than four phone calls to Solomon, with an eight-minute conversation with Nunes in between his last two Solomon calls.

It was that flurry of communication that immediately preceded or coincided with Toensing and diGenova’s drafting of their retainer agreements for Lutsenko, Shokin, and Kulyk. And while it has been previously reported that they pursued that work in Ukraine in that general timeframe, the specific dates at the top of each agreement, combined with the timeline laid out by the Intelligence Committee’s phone records, presents a new and more detailed timeline of events in that fateful two weeks.

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The Shokin and Lutsenko conspiracy theories, laundered through Solomon’s columns and advanced stateside by Giuliani, Parnas, Toensing, and diGenova, would soon have very significant consequences. And the official actions that largely landed Trump in this impeachment debacle would also coincide with some revealing phone exchanges identified in this week’s report.

The most significant of those phone calls was an eight minute and 42-second call on the evening of April 24 between Giuliani and “-1.” According to committee phone logs, the call lasted from roughly 6:42 p.m. to 6:51 p.m. In her testimony before the impeachment committee, Yovanovitch said that she received a phone call informing her that she was being recalled at about 1 a.m. Ukraine time in the wee hours of April 25. “I needed to be on the next plane home to Washington,” Yonanovich said she was told.

In Washington, it would have been 7 p.m. on April 24, just minutes after Giuliani’s call with “-1.”

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