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Questions in Trump scandal: Who Rudy worked for, who paid him and for what

Rudy Giuliani in August 2018.

Rudy Giuliani in August 2018. Credit: AP/Charles Krupa

Follow somebody's money

The two people you'd think would have their stories straight are President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Not so.

The other day, Trump-friendly radio host Bill O'Reilly asked the president what the ex-mayor was "doing in Ukraine on your behalf." The reply: "Well, you have to ask that to Rudy, but Rudy, I don't, I don't even know ... Rudy has other clients, other than me. I'm one person."

Giuliani, who's reportedly had a number of private Eastern European clients, was asked in May about his efforts to get Ukraine to carry out political "investigations" beneficial to Trump. “My only client is the president of the United States,” he said. “He’s the one I have an obligation to report to, tell him what happened."

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Giuliani negotiated earlier this year to represent Ukraine’s top prosecutor or his office for at least $200,000 — while working with the official, Yuriy Lutsenko, to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. So a basic question arises: Who was hiring whom and for what? Can it be called public policy?

Giuliani has said all along he doesn’t charge Trump for legal services. That's unusual. So is the fact that Trump directed U.S. diplomats and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Giuliani along with Attorney General William Barr — which sparked the House impeachment process.

Giuliani had two business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who now face federal corruption charges. They channeled funds to a pro-Trump political action committee and connected the ex-mayor with Ukraine officials. In the case, sources of private money are key. But Giuliani's and Parnas' stories have begun to differ, too.

Pompeo fuzzy on 'theory'

The Kremlin-endorsed "theory" that Ukraine, and not Russia, drove the initial scandals that first stained the Trump White House never proved credible — even if the president chose to spend credibility- and foreign-relations clout trying to promote it.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to keep the possibility open in the public's mind this week.

Pompeo said nebulously at a news conference: “Any time there is information that indicates that any time any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right but a duty to make sure that we chase that down.”

When Pompeo directed the CIA for Trump, he said of Russian election propaganda and hacking: “Yes, I continue to be concerned, not only about the Russians, but about others’ efforts as well." That doesn't quite boost his boss's Ukraine story.

Next week Pompeo is scheduled to share a stage with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has been urging him to seek a Senate seat from Kansas.

Season's grievings

Maybe it’s the mental stress of the holidays.

Trump made the silly claim at his “homecoming” rally Tuesday night that there is a war on Thanksgiving.

"Some people want to change the name Thanksgiving. They don’t want to use the term Thanksgiving. And that was true with Christmas. Now everybody is using Christmas again. Remember I said that?” the president told his rallygoers in Sunrise, Florida, on Wednesday night.

Nobody offered a clue as to who “they” are supposed to be. But the absurd comments did draw a good helping of ridicule on social media.

Speculation was rife about the root of Trump’s imaginary grievance. It ranged from a debunked 2015 hoax that claimed then-President Barack Obama was changing the holiday's name to "Celebrate Immigrants Day,” to contrived Fox News commentaries.

ICE Capades

Ninety foreign students were arrested recently at a fake university in Detroit — set up by the Department of Homeland Security. This brings to about 250 the total rounded up in the sting since January on immigration violations, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The operation, carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, enticed foreign-born students, mostly from India, to attend the school. They were then drawn into violating terms of their visas. "It is unfair for the government to set up something like this to entrap people," a lawyer for defendants said, but officials said the offenders were taking part in a "pay-to-stay scheme." Deportations are moving forward.

Before he was president, Trump set up what authorities in New York and elsewhere called a fake university. His accusers won a $25 million settlement on their fraud claims. But Trump officials didn't invent the ICE sting: The current fake university was established for that purpose during the Obama administration.

Bloomberg's analytics

Ex-Mayor Mike Bloomberg's pro-immigration, pro-gun-control presidential campaign is saturating Super Tuesday states with his ads, and the effort will be a test of his offbeat strategy for capturing the Democratic nomination. CNBC calculates that he spent $13.2 million on television ads across the 14 Super Tuesday states in his first week.

In Arizona this week, Bloomberg attacked Trump's "reckless and unethical actions," including his "zero tolerance" policy on border entry that led to the separation of migrant children from their parents and guardians. 

“Ripping kids away from their parents is a disgrace,” Bloomberg said.

"We need immigrants to take all the different kinds of jobs that the country needs — improve our culture, our cuisine, our religion, our dialogue and certainly improve our economy," he said in a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix.

Disclosures diverge at Trump Tower 

Documents studied by the ProPublica news organization show the Trump Organization reported conveniently different numbers to lenders on one hand and tax officials on the other for president's signature Fifth Avenue building.

Over three consecutive years, the occupancy rate of the Trump Tower’s commercial space was listed as 11, 16 and 16 percentage points higher in filings to a lender than in reports to New York City tax officials, ProPublica reported.

What else is happening:

  • Trump signed a veto-proof bill symbolically supporting pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong despite Beijing's objections.
  • Mark Penn, the former Bill and Hillary Clinton strategist, met with Trump to advise him on impeachment. 
  • Questions have been raised about the authenticity of Ambassador Gordon Sondland's account of a "no quid pro quo" call with Trump.
  • Presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is now reportedly in charge of getting the southern border wall built.
  • Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found no evidence the FBI tried to put moles in Trump’s 2016 campaign, contrary to another White House canard.

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