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Trump-Giuliani scandal trail reaches billionaires eyed by feds

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Conan

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Conan the Army dog and first lady Melania Trump on Monday in the White House Rose Garden. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

Probers hit the gas

President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani and allied businessmen looked to put the squeeze on two Ukrainian oligarchs with U.S. legal problems for possible dirt on Democratic election foe Joe Biden, according to The New York Times.

The report adds to the still-mounting evidence of how official U.S. clout may have been misused overseas to benefit Trump electorally at home.

One of the oligarchs, Dmitry Firtash, for years has been in Vienna, ducking federal bribery charges filed in Chicago related to titanium purchases. He told the Times of how now-indicted Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman had approached him regarding Biden dirt, but said he had nothing to offer. 

Meanwhile, Firtash, a natural-gas billionaire, retains two lawyers who have worked with Giuliani and who frequently appear as Trump advocates on the Fox network. Firtash also has paid for Parnas to serve as a translator. 

The story's other oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky — a finance and media mogul embroiled in a bank scandal but not yet charged — said he was approached by the Giuliani associates in Tel Aviv. Both visitors told him they wanted to meet about liquefied natural gas, but Kolomoisky said he soon figured out they wanted political entree to Ukraine's new president, which he didn't offer.

Giuliani, now under federal investigation, has a special problem. Parnas has begun giving his own accounts through his criminal lawyer. The lawyer, Joseph Bondy, has said Giuliani directed Parnas to issue an ultimatum earlier this year to a representative of incoming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, warning him that if the new government didn't announce an investigation into Biden, the U.S. would freeze military aid and Vice President Mike Pence would not attend Zelensky's inauguration.

Further, The Wall Street Journal reports that Parnas and Fruman tried to recruit a top Ukrainian energy official in March in a proposed takeover of the state oil-and-gas company. They reportedly described both the company’s chief executive and then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as part of a "Soros cartel." Andrew Favorov, the head of Ukraine's energy company Naftogaz, said he met voluntarily with New York federal prosecutors — who are reported to be considering charges of money laundering, obstruction of justice and campaign finance violations against the Giuliani crew.

Reaching for an impeaching

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Monday that investigators will send an impeachment report to the Judiciary Committee shortly after Congress returns from the Thanksgiving break. Schiff said in a letter to colleagues that repeated stonewalling by the White House could inspire a separate impeachment article.

Schiff wrote that “the testimony and documents we have succeeded in acquiring reveal a fact pattern that is overwhelming, unchallenged, and damning.”

But the committee is willing to examine any new materials, he said, “whether in the form of witnesses who provide testimony or documents that become available.” The committee is prepared to meet with other witnesses who may come forward, he said.

The legal battlefield

The Supreme Court ruled Monday against an immediate House review of Trump’s financial records, after his lawyers agreed to an expedited review of a lower-court ruling granting access.

A federal judge, meanwhile, ruled that former White House counsel Donald McGahn must testify before impeachment investigators about Trump’s attempts to obstruct the Mueller investigation.

In Nunes news ...

Over the weekend, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the intelligence panel's top Republican, became embroiled himself in the Trump-Ukraine push when Parnas let it be known that Nunes met with a discredited former Ukrainian top prosecutor in search of dirt on Biden and his son Hunter Biden. On Fox on Sunday, Nunes declined to say if he met with the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in Vienna as claimed.

Parnas has also reportedly provided the committee with audio and video recordings.

'Defeated' ISIS still fought 

Trump has made several unreliable, misleading or false claims in recent weeks about U.S. engagement in the Mideast. He credited himself for having finally brought troops home from Syria. He claimed plaudits for having defeated ISIS already, and he denied rolling over for Turkey against Kurds in the region.

The current scenario is this: Following a brief hiatus, the U.S.-led coalition said it started launching large-scale operations to fight ISIS militants in Syria again. 

Broken chains of command

Trump's other hostile tangle with military brass continued to generate controversy on Monday.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, stemming from a clash over the fate of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq. Esper explained he was “flabbergasted” to hear that Spencer tried to make a secret deal with the White House by which Eddie Gallagher, acquitted of murder, could retire as a member of the elite force if Trump stayed out of the case, The Washington Post reported.

Spencer wrote of Trump's controversial pardons in a barbed and defiant letter acknowledging his termination: "The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again."

What else is happening:

  • The annual presidential pardoning of turkeys is set for Tuesday, with Trump to keep one of two North Carolina birds named Bread and Butter off the holiday table.
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick insists the Democratic primary is a "wide-open race." 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said: “Michael Bloomberg is making a bet about democracy in 2020” by running, believing “he doesn’t need people. He only needs bags and bags of money."
  • One asset Bloomberg brings is a vast trove of email addresses amassed by Moms Demand Action, the nonpartisan gun-control advocacy organization that he largely funds, Mother Jones reports.
  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was released from the hospital two days after she was admitted for chills and a fever.
  • Trump hosted Conan at the White House. That's the Delta Force dog injured in last month’s raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

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