About thebellyofthebeast

Adjunct professor at Northwestern University's School of Law and its Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, contributing editor to ABA "Litigation" and "The American Lawyer," and author of "The Lawyer Bubble - A Profession in Crisis (2013), "The Partnership - A Novel" (2010), "Crossing Hoffa - A Teamster's Story" (2007) (A "Chicago Tribune" Best Book of the Year), and "Straddling Worlds: The Jewish-American Journey of Professor Richard W. Leopold" (2008). Recently retired after 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Graduated from Harvard Law School (magna cum laude) and Northwestern University (combined B.A./M.A. in economics, with distinction and Phi Beta Kappa).


When the history of Trump’s impeachment is written, several patriots will be prominent players. They defied orders from Trump, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and testified before House committees pursuing the impeachment inquiry.

Yovanovitch, Kent, and Hill

  • US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Her outspoken anti-corruption views made her a target for corrupt Ukrainian politicians. That, in turn, made her a pawn in Rudy Giuliani’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son and to pursue Putin’s discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had been the origin of foreign interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testified that he and other Ukraine experts were edged out by unqualified individuals whom Trump selected to pressure Ukraine into pursuing investigations that would help Trump against his US political adversaries.
  • National security council adviser Fiona Hill told House investigators about the campaign that Mick Mulvaney, US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and Giuliani were running to pressure Ukraine to do Trump’s political bidding. She described a particularly troubling meeting on July 10, after which national security adviser John Bolton told her to talk to White House lawyers and tell them he didn’t want anything to do with the “drug deal that Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”

To date, the most detailed and damning accounts of Trump’s abuse of power have come from former US Ambassador William Taylor and NSC official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Taylor and Vindman

Called out of retirement after Trump fired Yovanovitch, Taylor sensed “something odd” from the beginning of his new posting in Kiev.

  • Mid-July 2019: It is becoming clear to Taylor that the meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeks with Trump is conditioned on Ukraine opening investigations into the Bidens and into Ukrainian interference with the 2016 US presidential election. It is also clear to him that Rudy Giuliani is driving those conditions.
  • July 18: Taylor learns that the directive to withhold US military aid to Ukraine is coming from Trump to Mulvaney to the OMB person who repeats the order in an interagency videoconference.
  • Aug. 29: Taylor writes to Secretary of State Pompeo that withholding aid in return for help with Trump’s political desires is “folly.”
  • Sept. 1: Sondland tells Taylor that “everything” depends on Ukraine’s public announcement of investigations, including security assistance. He says that Trump wants Zelensky “in a public box” by making a statement ordering such investigations.
  • And on and on and on…

Lt. Col. Vindman heard Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky as it happened. He reported his concerns to White House NSC lawyer John Eisenberg. And he viewed the problem as transcending a wayward president trying to exploit foreign policy for domestic political gain. To Vindman, Trump’s manipulation of US foreign policy for personal domestic political gain posed serious national security concerns.

Armed with the truth, a handful of citizens who place country over political party can change the course of history for the better.

There will be more.

Here is a list of the latest update to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:

MAY 3, 2019: Trump Calls Putin; They Discuss ‘Russian Hoax’ and Ukraine

MAY 7, 2019: Zelensky Concerned About Status of US Aid

MAY 28, 2019: Pompeo Taps Taylor for Ukraine

MAY 29, 2019: Trump Writes Congratulatory Letter for Delivery to Zelensky

JUNE 17-18, 2019: Taylor Arrives in Kiev, Confronts ‘Two Channels’ of US Policy Toward Ukraine

JUNE 27, 2019: Sondland Tells Taylor What Trump Wants to Hear From Zelensky

JUNE 28-30, 2019: Taylor Senses ‘Something Odd’ in Sondland’s Requests on Trump’s Behalf

JULY 10, 2019: Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Concerned That Trump Phone Call Won’t Happen

BY MID-JULY: Realizes Taylor That Investigation of Bidens and 2016 US Election Are Required for Trump-Zelensky Meeting

REVISED: JULY 18, 2019: Volker Learns About Hold on US Assistance to Ukraine and That the Directive Comes From Trump

JULY 19, 2019: Hill and Vindman Brief Taylor on July 10 Meeting

JULY 20, 2019: Sondland Tells Taylor About Investigation Language He Had Recommended to Zelensky

JULY 28, 2019: Taylor Hears About Trump-Zelensky Call

EARLY AUGUST 2019: Giuliani Tells Sondland What He Wants From Ukraine: Investigations into Ukraine Election Interference and ‘Burisma’

EARLY AUGUST 2019: Ukraine Learns of US Aid Freeze

AUG. 16, 2019: Ukraine Wants US Submit ‘Official Request’ for Ukrainian Investigation

AUG. 22, 2019: Taylor Remains Concerned About Hold on US Aid to Ukraine

AUG. 29, 2019: Taylor Tells Pompeo That Withholding Aid from Ukraine is ‘Folly’

REVISED: SEPT. 1, 2019: Taylor Asks Sondland About Ukrainian Quid Pro Quo; Sondland Says, ‘Call Me’

SEPT. 5, 2019: Taylor Hosts Sens. Johnson and Murphy in Kiev

SEPT. 7, 2019: ‘Sinking Feeling’ About Trump-Sondland Phone Call

SEPT. 8, 2019: Taylor Talks to Sondland

SEPT. 12-13, 2019: Zelensky Confirms There Won’t Be a CNN Interview to Announce Ukrainian Investigations

SEPT. 13, 2019: Clinton Cleared in Email Investigation

REVISED: OCT. 10, 2019:Two Giuliani Associates Arrested, Had Sought Removal of US Ambassador to Ukraine; House Issues Subpoenas

OCT. 21, 2019: OMB Personnel Refuse to Obey House Subpoena

OCT. 21, 2019: Facebook Removes Russian and Iranian Accounts Spreading Disinformation and Division; Many United in Opposition to Biden

OCT. 22, 2019: Taylor Testifies

OCT. 23, 2019: Trump Lifts Sanctions on Turkey

OCT. 23, 2019: GOP Lawmakers Storm Secure Room Where Impeachment Hearings Are Taking Place; Delay Cooper’s Testimony

OCT. 23, 2019: Senate Blocks Election Security Bills, Again

OCT. 24, 2019: DOJ Opens Criminal Inquiry on Origins of Russia Investigation

OCT. 25, 2019: Butina Released and Deported, Gets Hero’s Welcome in Moscow

OCT. 25, 2019: Court Orders Production of Redacted Mueller Grand Jury Materials

OCT. 25, 2019: Key Witness Files Lawsuit Regarding Trump’s Efforts to Block Witnesses


This post first appeared on Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Oct. 22, 2019.

Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just made a deal at the expense of a key American ally in the battle against ISIS. Thanks to Trump, the US wasn’t even in the room.

What Went Wrong?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) blistering op-ed in The Washington Post criticized Trump’s withdrawal of US forces from Syria as a “grave strategic mistake.” A setback for the US battle against ISIS and other terrorists, it’s an invitation for “the brutal Assad regime in Syria and its Iranian backers to expand their influence.”

And there’s Putin, as McConnell observed: “[W]e are ignoring Russia’s efforts to leverage its increasingly dominant position in Syria to amass power and influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.”

Who’s on Russia’s Team?

Basha al-Assad, Syria’s dictator, has been plagued by civil war since the “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011. His atrocities— the use of chemical weapons and torture — make him a war criminal. Assad needs the backing of Iran and Russia to survive.

Putin s trying to re-establish Russia as a major global player. To preserve influence in the Mideast when Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi fell in 2011, Putin offered Assad a lifeline and, eventually, military support.

Who on America’s Team?

The Kurds are indigenous to the Mideast and comprise Syria’s largest ethnic minority— approximately 2 million people. They are also an American ally and a nexus of US influence in the region. Since 2014, the Kurds have lost 11,000 fighters battling ISIS. Large Kurdish populations also reside in Turkey (15-25% of the population), Iraq, Iran, and Armenia. Long suppressed and denied basic rights, the Kurds seek autonomy in an area near the Syria-Turkey border that they recaptured from ISIS in 2015.

Erdogan is president of Turkey, a member of NATO. He sees the Kurds near his southern border as terrorists and a catalyst for his intensifying domestic problems with Turkish Kurds.

Whose Team Is Trump On?

You decide.

Jan. 6, 2017: The US director of national intelligence issues a declassified version of a report outlining Kremlin interference with the 2016 US presidential election. It also connects the dots to Syria:

  • “Beginning in June [2016]… Putin publicly indicated a preference for President-elect Trump’s stated policy to work with Russia, and pro-Kremlin figures spoke highly about what they saw as his Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine.” (p. 1)
  • “Pro-Kremlin proxy Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, proclaimed just before the election that if President-elect Trump won, Russia would ‘drink champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions on Syria and Ukraine.” (p. 4) 

Jan. 28, 2017: In Putin’s congratulatory call after Trump’s inauguration, they discuss Syria. As in all subsequent conversations, we don’t know what they said.

May 2, 2017: In Trump’s phone call with Putin, they discuss Syria.

July 7, 2017: At the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Trump and Putin discuss Syria. Trump then confiscates the interpreter’s notes of the session. 

Nov. 11, 2017: At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) in Vietnam, Trump and Putin discuss Syria.

Nov. 21, 2017: In a phone call the day after a rare Putin meeting with Assad, Trump and Putin discuss Syria.

July 16, 2018: At the Helsinki summit, Russia’s US ambassador says later that Syria is the primary topic of a two-hour conversation between Trump and Putin.

Nov. 30, 2018: At the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Trump and Putin discuss Syria. Two weeks later,The Washington Post reports that as a result of Trump’s efforts to conceal his communications with Putin, US officials say “there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years.”

Dec. 20, 2018: Trump announces America’s withdrawal from Syria. Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigns in protest.

Mar. 5, 2019: Responding to bipartisan criticism, Trump reverses himself, saying that a “stabilizing force” of American and European troops will remain in Syria.

“In recent months”: The US encourages Kurdish fighters to dismantle their defenses in northern Syria, saying it will help assure Erdogan that they pose no threat to Turkey. With the US promising protection, they blow up their own tunnels, destroy munitions and trenches, and leave themselves vulnerable. 

Oct. 6, 2019: In yet another phone call for which we have no transcript, Trump gives Erdogan a green light to move forward with his “long-planned operation into Northern Syria” against the Kurds. As Turkey invades, the Kurds turn their attention to self-defense and ISIS-connected detainees escape from Kurdish custody. Facing wholesale slaughter, the Kurds ask Assad for help.

Oct. 13, 2019: Trump orders the withdrawal of all remaining US troops in Syria. Russia and Assad move into areas that, a week earlier, had been under US control.

Oct. 15, 2019: A Russian reporter posts a video showing an abandoned US military base that Russians now occupy. At another base, American bombers mount airstrikes to destroy US munitions so they won’t fall into Syrian and Russian hands.

Oct. 17, 2019: Vice President Mike Pence announces that he and Erdogan have agreed to a deal. It requires the Kurds to abandon their homes and their land. Turkey gives up nothing, but gets relief from US sanctions. Pence calls it a ceasefire. Turkey says it’s a “pause in operations.” Hours later, even the “pause” is over.


Why a five-day“pause? So Erdogan can meet with a victorious Putin on Oct. 22.

Oct. 22, 2019: Putin and Erdogan seal the fate of Syria’s Kurdish fighters. The deal blesses Turkey’s operation against the Kurds and provides that Russian and Turkish military police will patrol the Syria-Turkey border area. Former presidential envoy Brett McGurk summarizes the outcome:


Transcripts We Need to See

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that releasing transcripts of conversations between Trump and Putin requires Russia’s consent. Nonsense. US courts can issue an order requiring their release. Given Trump’s promise of perpetual obstruction, that’s almost certainly what it will take. And it needs to happen — soon.

“With you, all roads lead to Putin,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told Trump.

It always comes back to Russia. The question is why.


“Treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors…”

The US Constitution specifies the exclusive grounds for impeaching a President. The founding fathers’ worst nightmare was foreign influence in a US presidential election. When Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, he solicited it.

Asking Zelensky to pursue investigations against former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee was an impeachable offense. Period. No quid pro quo needed. Impeachment is the remedy.

All by itself, the request alone was a campaign finance violation too.

So what does the overwhelming evidence of a quid pro quo add? An independent basis for impeachment specifically set forth in the Constitution: bribery.

Defense Evolution

Trump said his July 25 call was “perfect.”

Then the White House released a summary memo and people could read his actual words. Not so perfect.

Then Trump and his defenders said that he stated no express quid pro quo in the call. That’s not a winning defense. But even as a talking point, it’s now useless.

  • Trump’s million-dollar-contributor-who-became US-Ambassador-to-the EU, Gordon Sondland, somehow couldn’t remember conversations from a few months ago about his interactions with Trump. Even so, his testimony provided more evidence of a quid pro quo: Ukraine’s new president would get a White House meeting with Trump and military aid in exchange for the Ukrainian investigations Trump demanded.
  • Then on Oct. 17, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted to a quid pro quo — three times — in a nationally televised press conference.
  • Then Mulvaney made it worse by issuing a Trump-approved statement trying to walk back his triple admission.
  • Then he made it worse again by appearing on Fox News’ where Chris Wallace eviscerated him with nothing more than video of Mulvaney’s own words. Lordy, there are tapes!

And then on Oct. 22, in what will be included in next week’s update of the Trump-Russia Timeline, former Ambassador William Taylor gave detailed testimony filling in many of the missing pieces.

Trump has only one potential defense left: Quid pro quos are good. Take it from me, that’s a loser.

The guilt phase is over; the only remaining issue is the penalty.

Here is a list of the latest update to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:

AUGUST 2018: Giuliani Receives $500,000 for Work Related to Parnas’ Company

JANUARY 2019: Giuliani Asks State Dept and White House for Shokin Visa

MARCH 2019: State Dept. Official Warns About Giuliani’s ‘Disinformation’ Campaign About Ukraine to Smear Trump’s Adversaries

MAR. 25, 2019: Parnas Posts Photos With Trump Legal Team

REVISED: MAY 23, 2019: Volker Meets With Trump; Concerned That Giuliani is Providing Negative Information About Ukraine; Trump Says, ‘Visit With Rudy’

MAY 23, 2019: Mulvaney Convenes Meeting To Put State Dept.’s Ukraine Experts on Sidelines

JUNE 2019: Rick Perry Meets With Zelensky in Brussels 

JULY 10-11, 2019: Sondland’s Meeting With Ukrainian Officials Raises Concerns; Hill Meets With WH Lawyers

LATE JULY 2019: DiGenova and Toensing Join Firtash Legal Team, Provide Documents to Giuliani

JULY 26, 2019: Sondland Says He, Perry, and Volker are the ‘Three Amigos’

AUGUST 2019: Federal Prosecutors Look at Giuliani’s Financial Records and Business Dealings in Ukraine, Including Counterintelligence Probe

EARLY AUGUST 2019: Giuliani Tells Sondland What He Wants From Ukraine: Investigations into Ukraine Election Interference and ‘Burisma’

REVISED: OCT. 10, 2019: Pompeo’s Senior Adviser Resigns Due to Use of Foreign Ambassadors to Advance Trump’s Domestic Political Interests

OCT 10, 2019: US Refuses to Join UN Resolution Condemning Turkey’s Invasion of Syria

OCT. 13, 2019: Trump Announces Withdrawal of Remaining Forces in Syria; Kurds Make a Deal with Syria; Russian-Backed Forces Enter Area

OCT. 15: Russia Filling US Power Void in Kurdish Areas of Syria

OCT. 15: Giuliani Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

OCT. 15, 2019: OMB Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

OCT. 15, 2019: Pence Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

OCT. 15, 2019: Kent Defies State Dept. Directive, Appears Before Congress

OCT. 15, 2019: Pete Sessions Subpoenaed

OCT. 15, 2019: Pentagon Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

OCT. 16, 2019: House Asks Ambassador Taylor to Appear on Oct. 22

OCT. 16-17, 2019: Bipartisan House Rebukes Trump on Syrian; Republicans Block Senate Vote

OCT. 17, 2019: Sondland Testifies, Point Accusing Finger at Giuliani and Trump

OCT. 17, 2019: Mulvaney Concedes Quid Pro Quo on Ukraine; Immediately Walks It Back

OCT. 17, 2019: Pence Announces ‘Cease-Fire’ and Lifts Sanctions; Turkey Says It’s Not a Cease-Fire

OCT. 17, 2019: Russia Says Cooperation With US Cyber Security Cooperation Resume

OCT. 17, 2019: Perry Resigning

OCT. 18, 2019: McConnell Blasts Trump Decision to Withdraw From Syria

OCT. 18, 2019: Energy Dept Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

OCT. 20, 2019: DOJ Distances Itself From Giuliani


As Trump’s stonewalling fails, he is adding co-conspirators to his obstruction. And unlike Trump, they don’t enjoy immunity from prosecution while in office.

  • Trump got White House counsel Pat Cipollone to draft a letter purporting to provide a legal justification for defying Congress’ requests and subpoenas in the House impeachment inquiry. But lawyers know a White House press release — and obstruction — when they see it.
  • Trump got Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue an edict barring State Department officials at the center of the Ukraine scandal from appearing before Congress. But several of them showed up to give damning testimony anyway.
  • Trump keeps attacking the whistleblower. But evidence proving the truth of every claim in the whistleblower’s complaint has now become so overwhelming that the whistleblower’s testimony isn’t even necessary. Shooting the messenger was never a winning long-run strategy.

And two of Giuliani’s associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — have earned the newest name tab on the Trump-Russia Timeline. Last week, they were indicted on charges that go to a central issue in the Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry: Along with Giuliani, they were trying to get the US ambassador to Ukraine fired and, eventually, accomplished that mission: “Trump’s Newest Bagmen? Follow the Money.”

It’s not easy keeping up with the pace of key developments. But whenever you get lost in the Trump maze, apply this simple rule: “It Always Comes Back to Russia.” Then ask this question:

On what issue has Trump ever diverged from what Putin would have wanted — or done himself as President of the United States?

Good luck finding one.

Here is a list of the latest update to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:

LATE 1980s: Parnas Works For Fred Trump 

APR. 20, 2012: Ivanka Trump Celebrates Opening Trump Tower-Istanbul

SOMETIME IN 2016: Parnas and Giuliani Meet 

LATE OCTOBER 2016: Parnas Contributes to Trump Campaign

REVISED: NOV. 8, 2016: Sater and Parnas Reportedly Attend Trump VIP Election Celebration

MARCH 2018: Fruman Attends RNC Fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago

MAY 1, 2018:  Parnas and Fruman Have Dinner With Trump; Donate Money to GOP Congressman in Effort to Get US Ambassador to Ukraine Removed

MAY 11, 2018: Sessions Sends Letter to Pompeo About Yovanovitch

MAY 17, 2018: Parnas and Fruman Make Allegedly Illegal Contributions to Trump Super PAC

MARCH 2019: Parnas, Fruman, and Guiliani Together in Washington 

EARLY MARCH 2019: State Department Asks Yovanovitch to Remain Until 2020

EARLY MARCH 2019: Parnas and Fruman Pursue Naftogaz Plan, Say Trump Plans to Replace Yovanovitch

REVISED: APR. 21, 2019: Zelensky Wins Ukraine Presidential Election; Trump Urges Him to Work With Giuliani on ‘Corruption’

LATE APRIL 2019: Yovanovitch Summoned to Return to Washington “On The Next Plane”

REVISED: PRIOR TO JULY 18, 2019: Trump Orders Hold on Previously Authorized Military Aid to Ukraine

JULY 26, 2019: Future Whistleblower Writes Memo of July 25 Call

SEPT. 20, 2019: Parnas and Giuliani Together at Trump Hotel in DC

SEPT. 26, 2019: Two Giuliani Business Associates Claim to Have Alleged Wrongdoing on Biden That They Gave to Giuliani

OCT. 3-8, 2019: Dowd Represents Two Giuliani Associates; They Won’t Comply With House Request for Documents and Depositions

OCT. 6, 2019: Trump Orders US Withdrawal From Syria 

OCT. 7, 2019: House Subpoenas Documents from Pentagon and OMB 

OCT. 8-10, 2019: White House Blocks Sondland’s House Testimony; House Issues Subpoena

OCT. 8, 2019: Senate Intel Committee Issues Report on Russian Measures to Help Trump and Hurt Clinton

OCT. 8, 2019: White House Stonewalls

OCT. 9, 2019: Trump Has Attacked Whistleblower At Least 44 Times

OCT. 9-10, 2019: Two Giuliani Associates Arrested, Had Sought Removal of US Ambassador to Ukraine; House Issues Subpoenas

OCT. 10, 2019: House Subpoenas Perry

OCT. 10, 2019: Pompeo’s Senior Adviser Resigns

OCT. 10, 2019: Trump Says He Doesn’t Know Parnas and Fruman, Hopes Giuliani Doesn’t Get Indicted

OCT 11, 2019: Sondland Says He Will Testify

OCT. 11, 2019: Yovanovitch Testifies Before Congress

OCT. 11, 2019: Giuliani Under Federal Investigation


This is an updated version of a post that appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Oct. 16, 2019.

Rudy Giuliani is well known. The two associates who helped him remove the US ambassador to Ukraine are getting there.

Who Are These Guys?

Ukrainian-American Lev Parnas and Belarus-American Igor Fruman were born in former Soviet republics. Parnas grew up in Brooklyn and got his start in real estate selling condos for Fred Trump in the late 1980s.

In the fall of 2018, Guiliani received $500,000 from a company that Parnas co-founded. But according to their attorney, Parnas and Fruman have also been working for Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump.”

And Parnas has been working for ardent Trump supporters Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing in their representation of Dmitry Firtash — a Ukrainian oligarch. Since 2014, Firtash has been living in Vienna under house arrest, awaiting extradition on bribery and racketeering charges in Chicago.

Make a note: Vienna.

Did Trump Know Them?

You decide.

Late October 2016: Parnas contributes about $100,000 to the Trump campaign, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Nov. 8, 2016: Parnas attends Trump’s VIP invitation-only election celebration in New York.

March 2018: Fruman attends a Republican National Committee fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago and posts on Facebook a photo of himself standing next to Trump.

May 1, 2018: Parnas and Fruman have dinner with Trump in the White House. In a subsequent interview with a Brooklyn-based Russian-language publication, Fruman says it’s an eight-person meeting during which they discuss the upcoming midterm elections and US-Ukraine relations. Later that month, they meet with Don Jr. at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills.

Link: https://twitter.com/TimOBrien/status/1182292238572904448

What Did They Want From Trump?

At the request of “one or more Ukrainian government officials,” Parnas and Fruman seek the removal of US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — an outspoken critic of the country’s public corruption. Her ouster would also clear a path for their personal gain: They hope to make big money on a deal that requires replacing the anti-corruption CEO of Ukraine’s Naftogaz gas company. 

May 9, 2018: After meeting with Parnas in Washington, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) writes a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo questioning Yovanovitch’s fitness. 

May 17, 2018: Parnas and Fruman donate $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC that gives Rep. Sessions more than $3 million for his re-election campaign. They had also promised Sessions that they would raise $20,000 for his campaign, according to their indictment.

Around August 2018: Parnas’ firm, Fraud Guarantee, engages Guiliani and pays him $500,000. Guiliani later says that he consulted on the company’s technologies and provided legal advice on regulatory issues.

January 2019: Giuliani meets with Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko. They discuss the Bidens.

Make another note: Lutsenko.

Early March: At the State Department’s request, Yovanovitch extends her Ukraine assignment until 2020, but…

Mid-March: At a meeting where Parnas and Fruman tout a plan to replace Naftogaz’s CEO, Parnas says that Trump will be replacing Yovanovitch. On Mar. 24, he repeats the prediction. 

Mar. 28: Giuliani prepares a nine-page document for Pompeo, outlining the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine and making false allegations against Yovanovitch. “The reason I gave the information to the secretary was I believed that he should know that the president’s orders to fire her were being blocked by the State Department,” Giuliani says later.

Late April: Yovanovitch is summoned abruptly to Washington “on the next plane.” The deputy secretary of state tells her that she has done nothing wrong, but the department has been under pressure from Trump to remove her since the summer of 2018.

After Yovanovitch departs, general prosecutor Lutsenko sends a message to a Ukrainian anti-corruption activist, gloating about his role in her dismissal.

What Did Trump and Giuliani Want From Ukraine?

For this phase of the Ukraine operation, Trump and Giuliani seek two things: 1) “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and 2) revival of Russia’s false narrative that Ukraine was the source of interference in the 2016 US presidential election. 

May to July 2019: As Trump withholds nearly $400 million in military aid, Giuliani works with State Department officials and an aide to newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The US side pushes Ukraine to reopen investigations into the Bidens and revive Russian propaganda regarding Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.

July 10: National Security Council official Fiona Hill and her boss, NSA John Bolton, are so concerned that Guiliani, Gordon Sondland (US Ambassador to the EU), and Mick Mulvaney (Trump’s acting chief of staff) are running a campaign to pressure Ukraine to do Trump’s political bidding that they notify the chief White House lawyer for the NSC, according to The Washington Post’s later reporting of Hill’s testimony.

Make one more note: Sondland. He’s scheduled to testify Oct. 17.

July 25: In his phone call pressuring Zelensky for investigations, Trump also urges Zelensky not to fire general prosecutor Lutsenkoand says that Yovanovitch is “going to go through some things.”

July 29: Parnas, Giuliani, and US Ambassador Kurt Volker have breakfast together. Giuliani mentions the accusations about Biden and Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

August: Trump continues withholding military aid as State Department officials press Trump’s demands in exchange for a White House meeting date between Trump and Zelensky.

Sept. 1: US Ambassador Bill Taylor texts Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”

Sondland answers, “Call me.”

Sept. 11: The day after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) demands a copy of the whistleblower complaint against Trump, Trump releases the military aid to Ukraine.

Oct. 4: Zelensky had fired Lutsenko at the end of August, but Ukraine’s new general prosecutor announces that he will review cases involving Biden’s son.


Oct. 9: Parnas and Fruman have lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Giuliani tells a reporter that he cannot meet with her that evening because he’s planning to fly to Vienna. But Giuliani later denies that the trip has anything to do with Firtash.

Oct. 9: Fearing that Parnas and Fruman are headed out of the country to escape prosecution, federal agents arrest them at Dulles International Airport around 6:00 pm. They have one-way international tickets. According to Giuliani, the two men are planning to travel to Vienna on matters “related to their business.” DiGenova says the trip isn’t connected to Parnas’ work for his firm.

Oct. 10: A week earlier, Parnas’ and Fruman’s attorney had said that they worked for Giuliani in his representation of Trump. But after prosecutors unseal the Parnas-Fruman indictment, Trump says, “I don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do but I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy, I just don’t know.”

Link: https://twitter.com/ABC/status/1182400090901639169

Sound familiar? When reporters first asked Trump about Michael Cohen’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, he feigned ignorance: “You’ll have to ask Michael.”

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE2XHYxkJgw

We know how that ended.


[This post first appeared on Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Oct. 8, 2019]

Trump’s heavy-handed dealing with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky produced more than an impeachment inquiry. It also gave Vladimir Putin another geopolitical victory.

After Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, Russian-backed nationalists seized large parts of eastern Ukraine’s nearby Donbas region, which borders Russia. As Ukraine’s army tried to recapture rebel-held areas, conflict broke out. Since then, Russian-backed forces have been trying to separate the area from the rest of the country.

Putin’s goal is to force local elections in Donbas as a prelude to rejoining the Russian Federation. America has stood steadfastly on Ukraine’s side of the battle to retain its sovereignty — until now.

The Setup

In the months preceding Trump’s July 25 phone call to Zelensky:

  • Russia continued aggressive attacks in the Donbas region.
  • Trump withheld desperately needed military aid from Ukraine.
  • Trump used US ambassadors and diplomats in the State Department working with Rudy Giuliani and representatives of the Ukrainian government to deliver on Trump’s personal political demands.

The Infamous Call

Based solely on the White House’s “summary memorandum” of the July 25 conversation between Trump and Zelensky, Trump’s own words incriminate him: “…do us a favor though…”

In addition to seeking “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, Trump also asked Zelensky to pursue Trump’s discredited conspiracy theory, promoted by Russia, that interference in the 2016 presidential election actually originated in Ukraine.

The Aftermath

With or without a quid pro quo, Trump abused his presidential power for personal political gain. But the evidence of a quid pro quo is mounting. Highlights from the Trump-Russia Timeline tell the story of what happened after Trump’s call:

  • Throughout August and September: Russian-backed forces continue to mount attacks in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
  • Sept. 1: US charge d’affaires for Ukraine, William Taylor, texts Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU (a $1 million contributor to Trump’s inauguration committee before Trump appointed him): “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”

Sondland responds: “Call me.”

  • Sept. 9:Taylor reiterates, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

By that time, the White House had known for almost a month about the whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump was abusing presidential power for personal political purposes. The CIA’s general counsel had referred the claims to the Justice Department.

Before answering Taylor four hours after receiving his message, Sondland speaks with Trump, according to The New York Times.Then he tells Taylor that their conversation should move to phone rather than text.

  • Sept. 10: The House Intelligence Committee demands a copy of the whistleblower complaint
  • Sept. 11: Trump releases his hold on military aid to Ukraine.
  • Sept. 25: At a joint press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly Meeting, Trump tells Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “I really believe that President Putin would like to do something. I really hope that you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem. That would be a tremendous achievement. And I know you’re trying to do that.”
  • Oct. 1: As Russian-backed attacks continue in Donbas, Zelensky accepts the “Steinmeier formula” for the region. Consistent with Putin’s goal, it calls for local elections in the Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, followed by special self-governing status for the region.

Ukrainian nationalists decry the deal as “capitulation.” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, calls it a “positive development.”

  • Oct. 4: Ukraine’s general prosecutor announces that he will review cases involving Biden’s son.

Domestic and International Ramifications

At great expense to America’s fundamental institutions and the world order, Trump is getting his way on two counts:

  • Ukraine is once again looking at Hunter Biden — a controversy that has been debunked. But to achieve that result, Trump compromised the US State Department by using it as his political tool.
  • Zelensky made a deal with Putin. But the agreement puts Russia on a path to absorb eastern Ukraine by allowing local elections to take place in the occupied parts of the country before Russian-backed forces have withdrawn and Kiev has control of the border.

And that sets up a big problem for the free world. In his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski described newly independent Ukraine as “a geopolitical pivot.” “Without Ukraine,” he wrote, “Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire… However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as its access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.’”

It always comes back to Russia.


If you’re wondering why, at the 11th hour, the White House today blocked the congressional testimony of US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland — a $1 million contributor to Trump’s inauguration committee before Trump appointed him — this week’s update to the Trump Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security offers an explanation.

It has nothing to do with lawyers’ specious objections based on executive privilege.

It has everything to do with this:

  • July 19: Rudy Giuliani tells Kurt Volker, US special representative to Ukraine, that he wants Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as 2016 election interference by Ukraine. Sondland texts Volker: “Looks like Potus call tomorrow. I spike [sic] directly to Zelensky and gave him a full briefing. He’s got it.”
  • July 25: An hour before Trump’s infamous call to Zelensky, Sondland speaks directly with Trump.
  • Aug. 9: Volker texts Sondland about Zelensky’s proposed statement reopening investigations relating to the Bidens and the 2016 election: “Mentioned Z making a statement. Can we all get on the phone to make sure I advise Z correctly as to what he should be saying? Want to make sure we get this done right.” At the same time, Sondland is also communicating with the White House about a proposed Trump-Zelensky meeting after Zelensky issues the statement.
  • Aug. 13: Volker sends Sondland the proposed Zelensky statement. Sondland responds: “Perfect.”
  • Aug. 17: Sondland texts to Volker: “Unless you think otherwise I will return [Zelensky’s aide Andrey Yermak’s] call tomorrow and suggest they send us a clean draft.”

Then things get really interesting.

  • Aug. 30: Sondland tells Sen. Ron Johnson (W-WI) of a possible quid pro quo: Zelensky agrees to probe matters related to Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 US election. In return, Ukraine will receive nearly $400 million in US aid that Trump had been withholding for months.
  • Sept. 1: US charge d’affaires for Ukraine, William Taylor, texts Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU : “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations? Sondland responds: “Call me.”
  • Sept. 9: Taylor reiterates, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

By that time, the White House had known for almost a month about the whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump was abusing presidential power for personal political purposes. The CIA’s general counsel had referred the claims to the Justice Department.

Before answering Taylor four hours after receiving his message, Sondland speaks with Trump, according to The New York Times.

Then Sondland — four hours after receiving Taylor’s message — texts back that their conversation should move to phone rather than text.

If you were Trump, would you want investigators in the House impeachment inquiry hearing from Sondland?

Here is a list of the latest update to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:

JAN. 28, 2017: Trump ‘Fawns’ Over Putin

SUMMER 2018: Trump Dismisses May on Russia

JANUARY 2019: Giuliani and Lutsenko Meet in New York

MARCH 20, 2019: Trump Tweets Headline of Ukraine General Prosecutor Lutsenko’s Interview Pushing False Conspiracy Theory

MARCH 28, 2019: Giuliani Prepares List of Complaints About Bidens, Yovanovitch; Gives it to Pompeo

APR. 21, 2019: Zelensky Wins Ukraine Presidential Election; Trump Urges Him to Work With Giuliani on ‘Corruption’ (revision of previous entry)

EARLY MAY 2019: Pompeo Receives Packet of Disinformation Aimed at Bidens, Yovanovitch; Giuliani Later Admits That Some Came From Him

MAY 6, 2019: US Ambassador to Ukraine Recalled (revision of previous entry)

MAY 20, 2019: Trump Tells Pence Not to Attend Zelensky’s Inauguration

MAY 23, 2019: Volker Meets With Trump; Concerned That Giuliani is Providing Negative Information About Ukraine

JUNE 4, 2019: Kushner Sits Next to Zelensky in Brussels

JUNE 18, 2019: Trump Asks China To Investigate Biden

JULY 18, 2019: Volker Learns About Hold on US Assistance to Ukraine

JULY 19, 2019: Giuliani, Volker, Sondland, and Taylor Exchange Text Messages Re: Effort to Get Ukraine to Investigate Bide

JULY 21, 2019: Taylor Flags Zelensky’s Concern About Becoming Involved in US Domestic Politics

JULY 22, 2019: Giuliani Pushes for Trump-Zelensky Call

JULY 25, 2019: Quid Pro Quo In Place For Trump-Zelensky Call

JULY 25, 2019: Trump Calls Zelensky (revision of previous entry)

JULY 25, 2019: Yermak and Volker Text About Giuliani Meeting in Madrid


AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019: Giuliani Seeking Ukraine Help From Manafort

AUG. 9, 2019: US State Department Seeks Giuliani’s Guidance on Proposed Zelensky Statement; Discuss White House Visit

AUG. 10, 2019: Zelensky Aide Presses for White House Meeting Date

AUG. 13, 2019: Volker and Sondland Exchange Texts About Ukrainian Statement on Corruption

AUG. 14, 2019: CIA General Counsel Confers With White House Lawyer and DOJ; Makes Criminal Referral to DOJ

AUG. 17, 2019: Volker and Sondland Continue Discussions About Ukrainian Statement

AUG. 28, 2019: Ukrainian Expresses Concern About US Reported Withholding of Military Aid

AUG. 30, 2019: Trump Cancels To Meet Zelensky

AUG. 30-31, 2019: Sen. Johnson Asks Trump About Ukraine Quid Pro Quo

AUG. 31, 2019: Pence, Perry, and Sondland Meet With Zelensky in Warsaw

SEPT 1, 2019: Taylor Asks Sondland About Ukrainian Quid Pro Quo; Sondland Says, ‘Call Me’

SEPT. 8, 2019: Taylor Describes Ukraine “Nightmare”

SEPT. 9, 2019: Ambassadors React to Withholding Aid to Ukraine; Trump Involved

SEPT. 25, 2019: Trump Tells Zelensky To ‘Get Together’ With Putin

SEPT. 30, 2019: US Issues Sanctions For Russian Interference

OCT. 1, 2019: Pompeo Defies Congressional Subpoenas

OCT. 1, 2019: Trump Tweets That He Wants to Interview Whistleblower

OCT. 1, 2019: Ukraine Agrees to Formula Favorable to Russia

OCT. 3, 2019: Volker Testifies to Congress, Says He Told Giuliani That Claims About Biden Were False

OCT. 3, 2019: Trump Urges Ukraine and China to Investigate Biden

OCT. 4, 2019: Ukraine Announces Reexamination of Biden Investigation

OCT. 4, 2019: House Subpoenas White House, Asks Pence for Documents

OCT. 5, 2019: Trump Says Perry Prompted Call to Zelensky