ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Hey there, it's Andrea Bernstein. We here at Trump, Inc. are hard at work reporting a bunch of great new stories. We'll have all-new episodes starting in early September and continuing through the November election. And you can also catch me and Trump, Inc. co-host Ilya Marritz on WNYC's airwaves the week of the Republican National Convention. We'll be on the air daily from noon to 2 p.m. talking about the Trump presidency and the RNC, and we'll also share some of those conversations in the podcast feed.
But today, we wanted to share one of our favorite episodes from the last year: "The Diplomat, the Machers, and the Oligarch." It's a story about how Rudy Giuliani's associates worked their connections to oust the US ambassador in Ukraine, how President Trump's personal interests came into alignment with the interests of an indicted foreign businessman, and how it all came together as part of an attempt to discredit Joe Biden.
ILYA MARRITZ: Previously, on Trump, Inc.
[RECORDED AUDIENCE APPLAUSE PLAYS]
[MUSIC BEGINS TO PLAY]
MARRITZ: Friday, October 11th, 2019. Doral, Florida. The President’s son is giving a speech to a conference promoting pro-Trump conspiracy theories inside the Donald J. Trump ballroom at the family’s golf resort.
MARRITZ: During his speech, the crowd starts yelling about another politician’s son: Hunter Biden. They’re calling out, “Where’s Hunter?”
CROWD: [SPORADICALLY] “Where’s Hunter?”
MARRITZ: “I’ll get to that,” Don Jr. says.
DON TRUMP JR.: [SCREAMING, AS IF BEING DOGGED BY AN UNRELENTING PAPARAZZO] I’ll get to that! Stop stealing my speech! [LAUGHTER, THEN APPLAUSE AND WHISTLING. THEN, THE AUDIO FADES UNDER]
[A LONG PAUSE]
[THE SOUND OF WIND AS SOMEONE WALKS]
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Earlier that same day, Washington D.C. A woman with short reddish hair and a no-nonsense charcoal-colored skirt-suit, American flag pin, square-ish sunglasses, is resolutely striding to the Capitol. She’s the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. [THE SOUND OF CAMERAS CLICKING IN A ROOM] She’s been called to testify about what happened to her when President Trump began to pressure Ukrainians to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden. [PAUSE] Yovanovitch speaks about her work pressing for the rule of law in Ukraine, and how, while she was doing that, it gradually dawned on her that someone was working to undermine that goal: Rudy Giuliani.
Yovanovitch didn’t know exactly what he was doing in Ukraine. She said, in her testimony, “He had clients in Ukraine, so that was one possible thing. But he also was the President’s personal lawyer.” She wasn’t sure exactly what was going on. One Ukrainian official told her about two men whose names were new to her: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. You're going to be hearing a lot about them this episode. The official told her to watch her back. She interpreted that to mean they wanted her out of her post. Yovanovitch said in her testimony, “It was because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine or additional business dealings. I didn't understand that, because nobody at the Embassy had ever met those two individuals. And you know, one of the biggest jobs of an American Ambassador of the U.S. Embassy is to promote U.S. business.”
As Yovanovitch testifies, she talks about these glimpses, these warnings of the forces trying to unseat her. They might have been tied to the moneyed interests, the oligarchs, that have long fought U.S. anti-corruption measures in Ukraine — but she didn't know.
The campaign against her surged out into the open. There was an article in The Hill. Laura Ingram picked up the battle cry. So did Sean Hannity. So did Donald Trump Jr. He Tweeted about Yovanovitch that we needed less of these jokers as ambassadors. It wasn't a sustainable position. Yovanovitch testified. Why not? “Well, if you have the president's son saying, you know, we need to pull these clowns — or however he referred to me — it makes it hard to be a credible ambassador in a country.”
Her testimony lasted nine hours that day. As she was wrapping up, the President's son, Don Jr., was taking the stage at that conference at his family's golf resort, where he fanned the flames of a conspiracy theory involving Ukraine and the Bidens.
[A REPEAT OF THE CLIP FROM EARLIER]
CROWD: [SPORADICALLY] “Where’s Hunter?”
DON TRUMP JR.: [SCREAMING, AS IF BEING DOGGED BY AN UNRELENTING PAPARRAZO] I’ll get to that! Stop stealing my speech! [LAUGHTER, THEN APPLAUSE AND WHISTLING. THEN, THE AUDIO FADES UNDER]
[THE CLIP FADES INTO THE TRUMP, INC. THEME]
BERNSTEIN: Hello, and welcome to Trump, Inc., an open investigation from ProPublica and WNYC into the business of Trump. I'm Andrea Bernstein.
MARRITZ: I’m Ilya Marritz.
BERNSTEIN: Today on the show: witnesses are telling Congress what they saw happening in Ukraine — how the full force of U.S. government was brought to bear to pressure Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens, and a conspiracy theory about the 2016 campaign. The impeachment inquiry is focused on whether or not there was a quid pro quo: military aid in exchange for an investigation.
MARRITZ: We are going to look at a lot of the same events from a different vantage point: the business interests at play, in the United States and in Ukraine. Trump was seeking an investigation of a potential political opponent and to muddy the narrative of the Mueller Report.
BERNSTEIN: Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was representing private clients in Ukraine while also representing the President.
MARRITZ: Rudy Giuliani's business partners, the Soviet émigrés Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were working their connections to serve all of those ends and to make money for themselves in the natural gas business. That doesn't seem to have gone anywhere.
BERNSTEIN: Lev Parnas has ties to someone else: Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who made his fortune in natural gas. Firtash is now facing bribery charges from the U.S. Justice Department, trapped in Austria, fighting extradition. And all of them — Trump, Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman, and Firtash — have been working to discredit Joe Biden and anyone who gets in their way.
MARRITZ: Today, we'll show how the President's personal interests aligned with the interests of an indicted foreign businessman. We're gonna tell this story in parts: the Diplomat, the Machers — that's Yiddish for “big shots” — and the Oligarch. They don't seem to fit together — until they do.
[MUSIC COMES TO A HEAD, THEN FADES OUT]
BERNSTEIN: Act One: the Diplomat.
[PLUNKY STRING MUSIC PLAYS]
BERNSTEIN: Maria Yovanovitch — people call her Masha — was born in Canada to Russian parents who had fled the Soviet Union and the Nazis. She went to Princeton, quickly joined the State Department, working for Bush, Obama, and Trump. Eventually, she became ambassador to Ukraine. In that job she toured old neighborhoods in Kiev —
YOVANOVITCH: [OVER MUSIC] I love Podil. It's one of my favorite neighborhoods in Kiev and not just because … [FADES UNDER]
BERNSTEIN: — visited memorials —
YOVANOVITCH: … honor the sacrifice of those who are lost … [FADES UNDER]
BERNSTEIN: — did things ambassadors do.
YOVANOVITCH: … and met and talked with all sorts of people.
BERNSTEIN: Also, she marched in the Pride parade.
YOVANOVITCH: [OVER TECHNO MUSIC] It’s great to be out here with so many Ukrainians supporting the right for everybody to be treated with dignity …
MARRITZ: She arrived at the Embassy in 2016. It was a fraught time. Russians were already spreading disinformation in the U.S. presidential election. There was a shoot-in war in Eastern Ukraine, and Ukraine was still trying to build a government after an uprising in 2014. Yovanovitch talked about this in interviews.
YOVANOVITCH: They wanted dignity, that everybody be treated in the same way, that there would not be corruption.
BERNSTEIN: A particular focus for Yovanovitch was corrupt and ineffective prosecutors. She'd been calling them out publicly. Her consul denied a visa to one former prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, based on what Yovanovitch described as his “known corrupt activities.”
So she was surprised when she learned that Shokin and others had been talking with Rudy Giuliani, and that Giuliani had gone to the White House to try to overturn the Shokin visa decision. [PAUSE] He was not successful. Shokin has blamed his problems on Joe Biden.
[SLOW, SERIOUS MUSIC PLAYS]
MARRITZ: Yovanovitch knew that Giuliani had business going back a decade in Ukraine. She'd seen him at a dinner with one of the oligarchs, at breakfast with another. And there were those meetings with the questionable prosecutors.
BERNSTEIN: In her testimony, she was asked, “Was it your understanding that they believed that Rudy Giuliani spoke on behalf of, or for, the President?”
[AS YOVANOVITCH] “Yes. Everybody knew that.”
“What do they know?”
[AS YOVANOVITCH] “That he was the President's personal lawyer.”
MARRITZ: The prosecutors Giuliani was talking with had their own motives. One of them, she believed, was hoping to keep his own job by offering false information to Giuliani: dirt on the Bidens to curry favor with Trump.
BERNSTEIN: Giuliani’s business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, helped set up these meetings. They also had their own angle. At the same time they were working with Giuliani, they said they wanted to go into the energy business in Ukraine. They wanted to replace the Director of the Board of Ukraine’s state-owned gas company. Just swap out an anti-corruption director for a friendlier face.
MARRITZ: During Yovanovitch’s deposition, New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney asked her if Parnas and Fruman acted like she was in their way.
BERNSTEIN: She answered, “That appears to be the case.”
MARRITZ: Again, he asked —
BERNSTEIN: “You are in the way, at least in the minds of Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump and Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman. You were an obstacle, it seems, to President Trump's political interests, and the financial interests of Mr. Giuliani's now-indicted associates. Is that the sum and substance of your testimony today?”
“Well, that appears to be how events have unfolded,” Yovanovitch said.
[MUSIC PLAYS FOR A MOMENT, THEN SILENCE]
MARRITZ: As the attacks on the Ambassador became increasingly public, she decided to go public with her own statement of purpose: a speech. There’s a recording of it.
YOVANOVITCH: in the energy sector where venal interests have long profited, hard-won achievements to fight those interests by establishing a real energy market are now under attack in the courts.
BERNSTEIN: She called for the firing of the special anti-corruption prosecutor who had been caught on a wiretap helping corruption suspects. Under a Ukrainian warrant, a bug had been placed on this prosecutor's fish tank. The prosecutor acknowledged the tapes were authentic, but said they were taken out of context.
YOVANOVITCH: Nobody who has been recorded coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges can be trusted to prosecute those very same cases. Those responsible for corruption should be investigated, prosecuted, and, if guilty, go to jail.
BERNSTEIN: This is one of the prosecutors who was passing information to President Trump via Rudy Giuliani.
YOVANOVITCH: The U.S. stands firmly alongside the Ukrainian people in demanding that individuals be held accountable for their actions, for corruption, and that the court systems be independent, transparent, and serve the Ukrainian peoples.
[HEAVY, QUIET MUSIC PLAYS UNDERNEATH]
MARRITZ: The next month, the Ambassador got a call in Kiev at 1:00 AM from the State Department. She was told she needed to come back to the U.S. immediately, for her own security. She arrive in Washington the next day. Her State Department colleagues told her the order came from Trump.
BERNSTEIN: They were worried if she stayed in Ukraine that there would be, quote, “some sort of public, either Tweet, or something else from the White House, which could actually put her in danger.”
She was asked, “What did you say?”
[AS YOVANOVITCH] “Well, you know, I express my dismay and my disappointment. I asked what this meant for our policy, what the message that —“ [PAUSE] She was overcome.
“Do you want to take a minute?” she was asked.
When they came back on the record, she told the committee what she said to the State Department official in Washington who told her she'd lost her job. Yovanovitch said, “I told him I thought this was a dangerous precedent. That, as far as I could tell, since I didn't have any other explanation, that private interests and people who don't like a particular American ambassador could combine to, you know, find somebody who was more suitable for their interests.”
BERNSTEIN: Yovanovitch was removed from her post. The corrupt prosecutor she talked about in her Kiev speech — the one with the bug on his fish tank — still has his job.
[ANOTHER PAUSE, THEN XYLOPHONE MUSIC]
MARRITZ: Act Two: Meet the Machers. Let's leave the Kiev Embassy and spend some time now with Rudy Giuliani, beginning in 2018, that year brought highs and lows for him. His wife, Judy, filed for divorce in April. That same month, the President of the United States asked Giuliani to be his lawyer in the Mueller probe. And Giuliani made two new friends that year. By now, you know them: Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, Americans who were both born in the Soviet Union.
From the photos they posted online, this looks like an intense, magical friendship. Giuliani took one of his new friends to George H.W. Bush's funeral and to a Yankees game. They went to a 9/11 memorial dinner. They hung out in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
MEN: [A MIX OF THE THREE MEN SPEAKING OVER EACH OTHER] Hi, Moshe! Moshe! How are you, baby? [LAUGHTER]
MARRITZ: In this 2018 video, Giuliani is beaming, a necktie hangs loose over his shoulders. Lev Parnas has a hand on Giuliani's arm. They're sitting in plush chairs.
RUDY GIULIANI: I can't wait to come back and see you and Ukraine soon. Yeah!
MARRITZ: It’s a video postcard for a prominent Kiev rabbi, Moshe Reuven Azman. The camera pans left to Igor Fruman, who extends an index finger to say his bit.
IGOR FRUMAN: And — and Anatevka is the best place in the world.
GIULIANI: We love you.
FRUMAN: We love you!
MARRITZ: Anatevka. Yes. That Anatevka — [THE SONG “TRADITION” FROM FIDDLER ON THE ROOF PLAYS] — the mythical shtetl from Fiddler on the Roof. Anatevka is real. In a minute, I'll explain.
[MUSIC SHIFTS TO QUIET PIANO MUSIC]
First, a brief sketch of Giuliani's new friends: Lev Parnas, Ukraine to Brighton Beach to Florida, started a number of businesses, left a trail of bad debts; Igor Fruman, Belarus to New York, import-export, restaurants and clubs in Odessa, Kiev, Soho.
Because they seem to show up in Giuliani's life out of nowhere, we at Trump, Inc., and a lot of reporters have been trying to learn more. Here's what we've got: as they're getting to be friends with Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman — who had never really been big political donors before — embark on a mad cap political giving spree, directing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump's PAC and other Republican campaigns and causes.
In short order, they’re getting their picture with Donald Trump Jr. and President Trump himself. They've joined the ranks of Republican money-men. But their contributions were criminal, prosecutors say. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has charged Parnas and Fruman with campaign finance violations, quote, “to advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.” This official is not named. They have pleaded not guilty.
Their other ventures also seem questionable — Lev Parnas has a Florida business called “Fraud Guarantee.”
JOE PALAZZOLO: As far as we can tell, um, it doesn't do anything.
MARRITZ: This is Joe Palazzolo from The Wall Street Journal.
PALAZZOLO: What we found was essentially that people have been putting money into this company since its inception in 2013. Um, nobody's gotten any money back. And, uh, and there are no customers — no customers that we could identify, at least. And we've certainly tried. We tried hard. It really does not seem to be a thing.
MARRITZ: Still, the company paid Giuliani half a million dollars. Igor Fruman has a business called the “Otrada Luxury Group.” It sells expensive things rich people can put their money into.
KATIE ZAVADSKI: According to this brochure I found on their website —
MARRITZ: This is Katie from ProPublica.
ZAVADSKI: It specializes in dealing in jewelry and timepieces and yachts, speed boats, submarines, private jets, helicopters, high-end real estate, and, um, amphibious vehicles. [QUICK PIVOT] But also, you know, your everyday needs, like dairy products and coffee and baby food.
MARRITZ: And this seems to be, like, a going business enterprise?
ZAVADSKI: Yeah, definitely. So there is certainly a jewelry store in Ukraine, and a hotel. It's a little unclear how the car dealerships and the amphibious vehicles and helicopters fit into this.
[THE SOUNDS OF ZAVADSKI ENTERING AN OFFICE PLAY QUIETLY UNDER NARRATION]
MARRITZ: We went to the address listed on this prospectus. It's a rent-by-the-hour office. No one there seemed to know a Fruman or Otrada.
ZAVADSKI: So Fruman has this one other business. That's very interesting to me. And it's a nonprofit, called the “American Friends of Anatevka.”
[REPLAYING THE EARLIER CLIP]
FRUMAN: Yeah. And — and Anatevka is the best place in the world. We love you.
GIULIANI: We love you!
MARRITZ: Its mission, to gather support in America for a new Jewish community just outside the Ukrainian capital, established for refugees from the war in the East of Ukraine. There's a lot we don't understand about what Anatevka amounts to, but because Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman all were involved while they were on their disinformation campaign, and because there's money flowing through it right now, we wanted to learn more.
MARRITZ: Do you think this is it?
MARRITZ: I went there in September.
MARRITZ: Hi. [SPEAKING UKRAINIAN] Good morning. Ilya. Okay.
MARRITZ: My guide? Aaron “Tevye” Kogenofsky, a bearded young dad who lights a cigarette as he takes me around the village.
AARON KOGENOFSKY: So this is the building it was built for refugees …
MARRITZ: Parts of it are still a construction site.
KOGENOFSKY Every — every family got the apartments. This building — this building is a school for girls.
KOGENOFSKY: It’s a girls school.
MARRITZ: That’s being built right now.
MARRITZ: Even under heavy gray clouds, Anatevka is pastel and new. Hebrew letters alongside Cyrillic. About 150 people live here now, in an all-Jewish environment, that’s unique in Ukraine.
KOGENOFSKY: This is the medical center.
MARRITZ: The — this yellow building here?
KOGENOFKSY: Yeah, the yellow building is medical center, uh, with — with the newest machines.
MARRITZ: This place really has everything!
KOGENOFSKY: Yes. Thanks, donors.
MARRITZ: Thank donors, yeah.
KOGENOFSKY: One of them present us the soccer field.
MARRITZ: [REPEATING BACK] Made a present to you of the soccer field, I see.
MARRITZ: Last spring, as Giuliani's campaign for dirt on the Bidens was reaching its high point, Ukraine elected a new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and Giuliani planned a trip to Kiev to meet with Zelensky.
On Facebook, Anatevka’s founder, Rabbi Azman, told the world that his community — and American Friends of Anatevka — invited the mayor. Giuliani told The New York Times he was going to make a paid speech to a Jewish group. Kogenofsky told me plenty of Americans come here.
KOGENOFSKY: They just want to see such village. You know, there is no any project like this in the world that, uh … [FADES UNDER]
MARRITZ: In the end, Giuliani canceled the trip. Instead he flew to Paris. There, he met the Ukrainian prosecutor involved in the fish tank case, and, as BuzzFeed notes, Rabbi Azman, and presented him with a key, making him Anatevka’s honorary mayor.
Here's what we don't know. Was Giuliani paid for the speech he didn't make? Who was paying Giuliani's travel expenses, generally? Why was Giuliani important to Anatevka? He didn't answer our questions. Rabbi Azman didn't either.
When I got back to the States, I went to the Brooklyn office of the American Friends of Anatevka, just to have a look around. It's above an Italian social club. The mailman hadn't heard of them. ProPublica’s Katie Zavadski called their Brooklyn accountant. He didn't want to speak, but, as Katie points out, the group is active. Right now, they’re offering a $1 million matching gift to encourage people to donate to the settlement.
ZAVADSKI: And we don't know anything about where the money for the match is coming from.
MARRITZ: American Friends of Anatevka does not show up in the online register of New York charities, even though it appears to be receiving donations in the state. Igor Fruman, the co-founder of American Friends of Anatevka, did not answer our questions, but we spoke with someone who spent a week with him in Ukraine just a couple of years ago.
MICHAEL BERNARDI: Lots of vodka. A lot of mens standing and toasting and then drinking and sitting down. Literally three seconds later, standing and toasting and drinking.
MARRITZ: Michael Bernardi is an actor who played Tevye in the 2015 revival of Fiddler on Broadway. He was the youngest Tevye ever.
BERNARDI: And saying the line that Fruman [LAUGHS] says — Igor says — in the videos, “Anatevka is the best place ever. Anatevka is the best place ever. The best! The best! The best!” You know? [LAUGHS]
MARRITZ: Bernardi says Fruman was soft-spoken — maybe even a little shy. He wore a black skipper cap and had a gold belt buckle in the shape of a dinosaur skull.
BERNARDI: When Igor invited us to the Buddha Bar, and he said, [IMITATING HIS ACCENT] “No, this is my place.” And it was, I think, the biggest bar I'd ever walked inside of. Um, and yeah, I — I had an idea that maybe this guy, okay — he was — he was wealthy. Alright.
MARRITZ: Also, he had connections. One of the musicians from Fiddler was worried about getting their instrument through border security at the airport.
BERNARDI: I think they just mentioned it to Igor, right, that this was a concern. [ALMOST HUSHED] Next thing we know, we went back to the United States with diplomatic clearance. Like, we were ushered in — we didn't even go through security.
MARRITZ: Did Igor do that for you?
BERNARDI: Yes. [A BEAT, THEN, SINGING “IF I WERE A RICH MAN” FROM FIDDLER ON THE ROOF] If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum. If I were a wealthy man, I wouldn’t have to work hard … [FADING UNDER]
MARRITZ: We’ll be right back.
BERNSTEIN: We’re back.
Act Three: the Oligarch.
Now we come to a powerful, mysterious person who only just recently emerged as a figure in this story. To understand how he fits in, we turned to a journalist who began covering this man over a decade ago: Simon Shuster, of Time magazine.
SIMON SHUSTER: Well, it was the dead of winter, December 2005, and, essentially, Russia and Ukraine got into a very serious dispute over the price of natural gas.
BERNSTEIN: Russia’s state-owned gas company had a deal with Ukraine's state-owned gas company to sell gas at a certain price. And Russia wanted to raise that price.
SHUSTER: The dispute, uh, culminated on New Year's Eve with Russia essentially turning off the tap and leaving not only Ukrainian citizens short of fuel, but also many, many Europeans.
BERNSTEIN: It turned out there was a third party involved, a middleman.
SHUSTER: A lot of people started asking, “What is with this middleman? Who is the middleman? Why does this middleman function even exist?” And as the scrutiny on that question kind of intensified, Dmitry Firtash was forced to come out of the shadows as the man behind that middleman company.
BERNSTEIN: Dmitry Firtash.
[A MAN SPEAKING RUSSIAN]
BERNSTEIN: Firtash is in his fifties. He wears his graying hair brushed back, his white beard neatly trimmed to a five o'clock shadow. Shuster interviewed him.
SHUSTER: He strikes me as the kinds of guy I knew from my Russian neighborhood in San Francisco, from the ‘90s, you know? Just a kind of scrappy guy. [LAUGHS]
BERNSTEIN: Is there a word in Russian for that kind of guy?
SHUSTER: [SPEAKS IN RUSSIAN] Blotnoy. Uh, it's — it’s hard to translate. I guess wise — wise guy would probably be the closest one.
BERNSTEIN: He’d gotten his start as a businessman after the fall of the Soviet Union.
SHUSTER: Just trying to, you know, trade powdered milk for natural gas in Turkmenistan, as one does in the ‘90s.
BERNSTEIN: By the time of the gas shut down, Firtash had grown rich from collecting his own fees as the fuel crossed the border. He bought a TV channel —
SHUSTER: and that is, of course, you know, [LAUGHS] the most, like, “straight out of central casting” oligarch thing that he could do, because that is just a straight channel to political influence.
[PLUCKY GUITAR MUSIC PLAYS]
BERNSTEIN: If Firtash’s TV channel got behind the corrupt strong man president, Viktor Yanukovych. You know that name. He's the oligarch-friendly Ukrainian president Paul Manafort squired to power, before Manafort went to work for Trump. In 2014, Yannukovych was overthrown in a popular uprising. He fled by helicopter to Russia.
Weeks later, Russian troops took over Crimea, and not long after that, Firtash was arrested in Vienna. He was wanted by federal prosecutors in Illinois on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, which he has denied. He's been in Austria fighting extradition ever since.
Here’s another detail from Firtash’s biography worth mentioning. In 2008, the Ambassador to Ukraine at the time, Bill Taylor, wrote in a cable that Firtash acknowledged ties to Semion Mogilevich, a high-level Russian gangster who was once on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Firtash later said he and Mogilevich were never in business together.
BERNSTEIN: In the spring of 2014, Vice President Joe Biden led a delegation to Ukraine.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Ukrainians have also made clear that after an era of staggering public theft — not debt, public theft — that they will no longer accept corruption from public officials.
BERNSTEIN: President Obama's administration was backing the new post-Yanukovych government. Biden was the point-man.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I’m of the view that Ukrainians east, west, north, and south are just sick and tired of the corruption.
BERNSTEIN: Biden was pushing for reforms that cut into Firtash’s profits.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: The judiciary should be overhauled. The energy sector needs to be competitive, ruled by market principles, not sweetheart deals.
BERNSTEIN: Four years later Firtash was still steaming about this speech. He told The Daily Beast, “I was ashamed just to look at this, it was so repulsive.” He said of Biden. “He was behaving as the boss, the owner, the chief. It was just horrible.”
BERNSTEIN: So he doesn't like Joe Biden.
SHUSTER: Oh, he’s — he’s got quite a beef with Joe Biden, yes.
BERNSTEIN: Firtash has said the prosecution against him was politically motivated. Obama and Biden, he claimed, wanted him out of Ukrainian politics. This June, Firtash lost his case in Austria against extradition.
Almost right away, his legal team appealed, saying there was new information to consider. His case went back to a lower court. He remained in Vienna. Then he hired new lawyers.
SHUSTER: Right around the end of June of this year, 2019, um, I started getting the sense that there were some — some big changes happening in that legal team.
BERNSTEIN: How did you get that sense?
SHUSTER: Um, essentially all of my requests, you know, just to have a coffee or a meeting or a conversation on the phone with, uh, Firtash’s lawyers or his advisors began to be channeled to someone new — someone I had never heard of — Mark Corallo.
BERNSTEIN: Corallo had previously been the spokesman for Trump's legal team during the Mueller probe.
SHUSTER: So how is it that someone who has [LAUGHS] just recently been a spokesman for Donald Trump's legal team is now acting as a spokesman for Dmitry Firtash?
BERNSTEIN: Corallo didn't respond to our questions. He told Shuster that Firtash’s old lawyers were no longer on the team.
SHUSTER: He says, “Well, we have these two new lawyers coming on board,” and those lawyers were Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova.
[MUSIC CHANGES TONE]
MARRITZ: Act Four: the Diplomat, the Machers, the Oligarch, and the President. Dimitri Firtash’s new legal team, Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, are a married couple. They often appear together on Fox News. They’re some of Donald Trump’s most vociferous advocates.
JOE DIGENOVA: This President is acting stellar in the face of incredible leftover lawless, right?
VICTORIA TOENSING: It’s a plot to frame Donald Trump.
DIGENOVA: What the Democrats are trying to do is embarrass people. This is a vindictive investigation by Nadler. People should resist it.
MARRITZ: Before Trump engaged to Giuliani last year for the Mueller probe, Trump considered hiring them.
TOENSING: Well, Mueller and his gang have weaponized the criminal justice system. These no, not great … [FADES OUT]
MARRITZ: It didn't work out. And this year they went to work for Dimitri Firtash.
TOENSING: The Obama administration treated Ukraine like a candy store. They went in and got … [FADES OUT]
BERNSTEIN: This is where the business relationships become eye-crossingly, intriguingly tangled. Firtash has hired Toensing and diGenova. Toensing and diGenova, in turn, have hired Lev Parnas — they say as a translator.
According to CNN, Parnas has been telling people since last summer that Firtash is paying his expenses. Of course, Parnas, the debt-burdened serial entrepreneur who does translations, also had hired Rudy Giuliani — through Parnas’ company, “Fraud Guarantee.” Giuliani, while representing President Trump, had also been a lawyer for Parnas. And all of them have something else in common.
[A MONTAGE OF TOENSING, DIGENOVA, MAKING ACCUSATIONS ABOUT JOE BIDEN, WHICH THEN FADES OUT, ECHOING]
MARRITZ: So now Trump's interests are aligned with the interests of a Ukrainian oligarch who, if convicted, would face 50 years in prison in the United States. Trump and Firtash are turning to some of the same people and the same documents for support.
In September, Toensing and diGenova obtained an affidavit in Firtash’s case. It's a statement from Viktor Shokin — he's the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden got fired. Shokin’s affidavit made two key claims. The first supported Firtash’s legal defense. It said that, as Vice President, Joe Biden interfered in Firtash’s case for political reasons. The other claim supported Rudy Giuliani's baseless assertion that Biden intervened in Ukraine to help his son Hunter. Giuliani brought the affidavit with him to a TV appearance.
GIULIANI: I also support everything I say with affidavits. I have an affidavit here that's been online for six months that nobody bothered to read from the gentlemen who was fired, Viktor Shokin, the so-called “corrupt prosecutor.”
MARRITZ: The affidavit was filed earlier that month.
GIULIANI: The Biden people say that he wasn't investigating Hunter Biden at the time. He says under oath that he was.
[PLUCKY STRING MUSIC PLAYS]
MARRITZ: Victoria Toensing picked up the ball.
TOENSING: The mainstream media ignored it. And only when Rudy Giuliani came out and said, “Here it is, I've got Shokin’s statement” — now they don't ignore it, because they can't. So now they attack the — the Prosecutor General and Rudy … [FADES UNDER]
MARRITZ: She did not say this evidence was an affidavit filed in Firtash’s case, and that he is her client. Toensing and diGenova did not respond to our questions.
BERNSTEIN: Everyone might have gotten what they wanted: Firtash, Trump, Toensing, and diGenova, Parnas, Fruman. But then came the whistleblower report, and the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call and the impeachment investigation.
MARRITZ: On October 8th, Parnas and Fruman flew by charter jet from Florida to Washington. The next day, they had lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel. Then they went to Dallas Airport for a flight to Vienna.
According to CNN, they were going to Vienna to arrange an interview between Viktor Shokin, the author of the new affidavit, and Sean Hannity.
U.S. ATTORNEY GEOFF BERMAN: [IN ONE CLIP] I think that would be quite a coup, at least for Giuliani's efforts to attack and discredit Joe Biden. But it never happened, because Parnas and Fruman were arrested at the airport.
U.S. ATTORNEY BERMAN: [IN ANOTHER CLIP] Good afternoon. I'm Geoff Berman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Today we unseal an indictment charging Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, and two co-defendants for their alleged participation in schemes to violate the federal campaign finance laws by repeatedly using straw donors and foreign money.
U.S. ATTORNEY BERMAN: [IN THE SECOND CLIP] Parnas and Fruman were arrested around 6:00 PM last night at Dulles Airport as they were about to board an international flight with one-way tickets. As alleged in the indictment, the defendants broke the law to gain political influence while avoiding disclosure of who was actually making the donations and where the money was coming from. They sought political influence — not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official, a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.
BERNSTEIN: Giuliani’s new friends were indicted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Once that was Giuliani's job. His framed photo still hangs in the building.
MARRITZ: On the day of his arraignment, Lev Parnas enters the courtroom smiling. A few minutes later, Igor Fruman shows up, looking dour. They both have American flag lapel pins. These men face felony charges in the Southern District of New York: conspiracy, alleged illegal campaign contributions, filing false records. Prosecutors say there'll be examining 50 bank accounts and a dozen phone numbers, among other records. Parnas enters a plea of “not guilty.” Then Fruman does the same. Their lawyers agree to bail terms and a date for the next conference. Judge Paul Oetken asks, “Is there anything else to be addressed today?”
BERNSTEIN: “If I may, your honor.”
MARRITZ: Lev Parnas’ lawyer, Edward McMahon, raises his hand.
BERNSTEIN: [AS MCMAHON] “What’s not apparent from this indictment is that there is a lot of attorney-client — and maybe even some executive — privilege issues that are raised by the information that's already been seized.”
MARRITZ: He explains that his client earlier engaged Giuliani as a lawyer while Giuliani was also working as the President's lawyer, a situation that —
BERNSTEIN: [AS MCMAHON] “— makes this very complicated. And I just wanted you to be aware of that, your honor.”
MARRITZ: Judge Oetken seems confused. [AS JUDGE OETKEN] “I understand the attorney-client privilege, but when you say ‘executive privilege,’ you're not suggesting that your client worked for the President, are you?”
BERNSTEIN: [AS MCMAHON] “He did not work for the United States government. He worked for Mr. Giuliani in his capacity.”
MARRITZ: [AS JUDGE OETKEN] “So he worked for Mr. Giuliani, and Mr. Giuliani also worked for him?”
BERNSTEIN: “Was working for the President of the United States,” is how McMahon answers. Parnas worked for Giuliani. Giuliani worked for Parnas. Giuliani worked for Trump. The judge is puzzled. The prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed to discuss this at another time.
MARRITZ: A few minutes later, Lev Parnas is outside the court with a piece of paper in his hands, facing more mics and cameras than you can count. [CAMERAS CLICK SOFTLY IN THE BACKGROUND] We know so very little about him. A naturalized American with a patchy career in business, at best. Somehow, since 2018, he's had his picture taken with the President, worked closely with the President's lawyer overseas, and worked for the legal team of an exiled, indicted Ukrainian oligarch.
Lev Parnas reads from a statement.
LEV PARNAS: Many false things have been said about me and my family in the press and media recently. I look forward to defending myself vigorously in court, and I'm certain that in the time, truth will be revealed, and I will be vindicated. In the end, I put my faith in God. Thank you.
[A REPORTER BEGINS TO ASK A QUESTION AS AUDIO FADES OUT]
[CREDITS MUSIC PLAYS]
BERNSTEIN: This episode was produced by Katherine Sullivan with help from Alice Wilder. The executive producer is Meg Cramer. Our engineers were Isaac Jones and Jared Paul.
MARRITZ: Special thanks to Olga Golovina, Stacy Lazo, Aubrey Belford, Tania Kozyreva, Joyce Vance, Zephyr Teachout, Ken McCallion, and Joe Palazzolo. And to ProPublica's Will Young, Katie Zavadski, Mike Spies, David McSwane, and Jake Pearson.
BERNSTEIN: Thanks to reporting from BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Daily Beast, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Jewish Insider, and many more.
MARRITZ: Our editors this episode where Nick Varchaver, Eric Umansky, and Robin Fields.
BERNSTEIN: Stephen Engelberg is the Editor-in-Chief of ProPublica, and Emily Botein is the Vice President of Original Programming at WNYC. The original music is by Isaac Jones, Jared Paul, and Hannis Brown.
BERNARDI: [SINGING] Anatevka, Anatevka, Anatevka!