Sunday, November 24, 2019


Drawing by Alfredo Martirena.

At the risk of being boring, because I spent a bunch of time on it, I'd like to work back through the timeline of Ukraine Quid Pro Quo no. 1, about which I think we know quite a bit more than we did a few weeks ago. In fact the story as we first imagined it, as a kind of prequel to Quid Pro Quo no. 2, in which Trump gives Ukraine the missiles in return for Ukraine dropping their cooperation with the Mueller investigation, falls apart entirely, but there are some jewels we can pick out of the rubble.

This comes in the first place from the testimony of Catherine Croft, the NSC veteran who served as Kurt Volker's deputy in the special envoy to Ukraine department, to the House Intelligence Committee. Her main function was to talk about the crazy vendetta against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch (led by lobbyist Bob "I'm Not a Lobbyist" Livingston, formerly the seniormost congressman who was an implacable supporter of the Clinton impeachment and almost became Speaker before his own fervent adulterousness was revealed by Larry Flynt, ha ha ha, and who now may be facing criminal charges for his pains), but Democratic counsel Dan Goldman asked her about the military aid, with particular attention to the long months in 2017 when Trump was unwilling to yield to the pressure from McMaster, Mattis, and Tillerson to let Ukraine have the $47 million worth of military aid, including 210 Javelin antitank missiles and 37 launchers as well as nonlethal communications equipment, armored vehicles, and radar that are actually much more important than the missiles to the Ukrainian soldiers in their day-to-day tasks.

Not for the boring reasons the Obama administration had chosen—that giving them the weapons might lead Russia to escalate the conflict in Russia—but at least officially because he just doesn't like foreign aid:

Trump said that Ukraine should pay for the weapons itself. The U.S. president said that Ukraine was capable of being a wealthy country if it wasn’t for corruption.
Plus no doubt the fact that he just doesn't like Ukraine:
“We could never quite understand it,” a former senior White House official said of Trump’s view of the former Soviet republic, also saying that much of it stemmed from the president’s embrace of conspiracy theories. “There were accusations that they had somehow worked with the Clinton campaign. There were accusations they’d hurt him. He just hated Ukraine.”
(Let's just note that some of these accusations were reported as fact by the respected reporters Kenneth Vogel and David Stern in Politico, a little over a week before the inauguration, and they weren't without foundation: many Ukrainians had been deeply spooked by Trump during the campaign, by his association with the Yanukovych henchman Paul Manafort, and the bizarre action of the campaign in forcing an alteration to the party platform on the Ukraine subject, and his suggestion in July 2016 that he could recognize Russia's seizure of Crimea and lift sanctions if he became president, and his general tone of enthusiasm for Russian president Vladimir Putin. And some people said something about how spooked they were in public. But Vogel and Stern went too far in claiming that the Poroshenko government tried to "sabotage" the Trump campaign, or that what they did do was in any way comparable to the large-scale secret war Russian intelligence services waged on Trump's behalf.)

Anyway, Trump finally did give in, in November:
Current and former officials told Foreign Policy that only when aides persuaded Trump of the business case to give Ukraine the Javelins did he sign off on the decision. They successfully argued that if the United States provided the missiles first as aid paid for by a U.S. grant, then the Ukrainians would come back later to buy more out of their own pockets. 
Though there was a bizarre hiccup in the process before it started becoming reality, as reported in Catherine Croft's testimony:
Other than the president, the only source of objection to the decision came from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, led by Mick Mulvaney. Croft told lawmakers that Mulvaney had held up the decision by about two weeks [in late November–early December] out of concern as to how Russia would react. The Ukraine specialist testified that it was unusual for the Office of Management and Budget to raise issues about foreign policy that weren’t purely grounded in budgetary concerns.
Michael Carpenter, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Eurasia under Obama, said that it was “unprecedented” for the Office of Management and Budget to question foreign-policy making, especially when the State Department, Department of Defense, and the National Security Council were on the same page about an issue.
Mulvaney being, of course, the official who successfully held up the aid in Quid Pro Quo no. 2 in 2019. Using, at least in the case of Quid Pro Quo no, 1, not Trump's dumbass argument against it but the argument the Obama administration had used in the first place. And Mulvaney may have delayed it for "a week or two" but it took five weeks to get from Trump's consent (14 November) to the State Department's issuing of an export license for the Javelins (22 December). And four months to deliver the stuff after that (to around 30 April 2018), though Croft didn't think that was an unusually long time to get such a project together, and she knows that kind of thing for a living.

Nor did she know of any other kind of hold on the project after the first one by OMB, though there are a few odd moments when the Croft testimony veers into classified territory, one when she's talking about the OMB hold itself:

That was an unnamed OMB staffer.

And I found one other thing that went on around the same time as the Mulvaney hold: an unusual density of phone calls between Trump and Putin, on 21 November, 14 December, and 17 December. I'll get back to that.

What did not go on at the same time as the Mulvaney hold was any effort on the part of the Trump administration to get Ukrainians to stop cooperating with the Mueller investigation, because they never even started cooperating with it, and another line of evidence indicates that they hadn't even thought of it yet.

That was part of an internal spat between the then prosecutor general of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, who we will think of as a bad guy, and a special prosecutor in charge of crimes committed during the exceedingly corrrupt Yanukovych regime, Serhiy Horbatiuk, who we will think of (on less evidence) as a good guy. Horbatiuk had a load of 3000 cases, of which four involved Yanukovych's chief political advisor, the American Paul Manafort, as we learn from Euromaidan Press:
  1. where the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice purchased services from the company Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates to prepare a report in the case “Tymoshenko against Ukraine,” in which UAH 8.6mn ($1.08 mn) were stolen from the state budget. The GPU noted that an indictment had been issued in this case and it is now being heard in court, and that the connections of former Ukrainian high-ranking officials with foreign citizens, including Manafort, had been studied during the pre-trial investigation;
  2. where facts of dirty financing of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions were being investigated, including payments from its “secret ledger” uncovered in 2014 which were designated for Paul Manafort;
  3. where $750,000 were transferred to the account of the company Davis Manafort, of which Paul Manafort was a representative;
  4. a pre-trial investigation of an accusation of the Ukrainian ex-Minister of Justice in siphoning off UAH 2.5mn ($312,000) from the state budget to a certain European Legal Group LLC and other entrepreneurs.
In mid-December 2017, Lutsenko decided to turn these over, along with 30 other cases involving Yanukovych officials accused of committing financial crimes after the Euromaidan revolution, to a relatively new agency, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) under a Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP),
to the disagreement of Horbatiuk’s department. And then a game of ping-pong began: the prosecutors at SAP decided to turn the cases back to the GPU, Lutsenko canceled this decision and returned them to NABU, then, SAP wrote a memorandum stating the cases should be given back to Horbatiuk’s department at the GPU, which had been working on them from 2014.
“Of course, this is legal and logical, because we started the investigation. Generally, the investigator can only be changed if the investigation is ineffective,” Mr. Horbatiuk commented on the SAP’s decision.
After the latest ping-pong episode, GPU’s leadership agreed that Horbatiuk could investigate the 30 cases involving former Ukrainian officials once again. But the four cases involving Manafort were singled out with the intention of handing them back to NABU. Horbatiuk’s department wrote a letter to the GPU management insisting to be authorized to continue investigating the Manafort cases again. They argued that these cases are connected to the investigation of Yanukovych’s criminal group and the secret ledger of the Party of Regions, and can’t be investigated separately from the others. This letter was written in early April 2018 but has received no answer. Therefore, the department can’t continue the investigation on them.
The connection to the Mueller investigation appears to have been a skirmish within this bureaucratic war: after Manafort's second indictment on 22 February 2018, Horbatiuk sent Mueller a letter offering to cooperate with the Special Counsel's investigation, evidently in the hope that a response would help him assert a territorial claim over the cases, but that was long after the delivery of the missiles was in motion, and Mueller never responded in any case.

And that's the whole story, as the Ukrainian press saw it. Andrew Kramer's New York Times story of 2 May 2018 got it wrong: there had never been any cooperation with the Mueller investigation for Ukraine to drop, whether in return for the missiles or any other reason. Which is why Catherine Croft, for one, had never heard of it:

But there's a bit more to it than that: as Horbatiuk himself complained, the investigation of Manafort's Ukrainian crimes really had been effectively stopped in Ukraine, and since they'd been committed in conjunction with Ukrainian officials in the Yanukovych government, those crooks too were getting off. And if you read Kramer's reporting in the light of what we're just learning, it's clear that the blocking of the investigation was pretty well known in Kiyiv and a matter of real public interest, connected in people's minds as a possible quid pro quo for Trump in return for the missiles, without any reference to Mueller.

And then, finally, is when Rodolfo Giuliani, popeyed man of mystery, enters the picture. Because we're all familiar with Giuliani and his friends interacting with Prosecutor Lutsenko from late 2018, inciting him to the investigation of Hunter Biden and eventually getting him to accuse Ambassador Yovanovitch of ordering him not to prosecute a list of criminals (in a John Solomon interview of March 2019), a lie he later walked back; but Rudy met Lutsenko for the first time on 8 June 2017, around the time Trump was beginning to stew over the question of whether to give Ukraine the missiles or not.

This was when Rudy was launching his own business venture in Kharkiv (a legitimate-sounding effort to improve the city's emergency services, but at least partially paid by a Russia-connected Ukrainian oligarch, Pavel Fuks, who was directly involved with Trump in negotiations over Trump's Moscow project between 2004 and 2010 and who seems to have gotten ripped off for $200,000 in an effort to get tickets for Trump's inauguration). The context was his first meeting with President Petro Poroshenko, though Poroshenko doesn't remember Lutsenko was there, or is conceivably hiding his memory.

Giuliani met Poroshenko for a second time in Kiev on 22 November 2017, when they discussed his Kharkiv contract, "the course of reforms in Ukraine", and "ways to overcome Russian aggression against Ukraine", which begins at this point to sound like secret code for "prosecutions" and "missiles". Nobody suggests that he saw Lutsenko on that trip, but I don't think anybody's asked before either. This is also during the window of time during which the Mulvaney hold took place, and all those Putin calls, though, so it's interesting in its own right.

The whole thing removes the melodramatic Kramer headline but reinforces the general picture of a Trump unable to think beyond his immediate personal needs and desires and torn between two overwhelming influences: Putin, wanting him to take sides against Ukraine altogether, and Giuliani, drawing him into little "dealing" opportunities where everybody down to Lev and Igor gets a cut, extending through the 2019 story of Zelenskyy, when Giuliani has introduced Biden into the equation and Trump can't resist, and Mulvaney (and Barr) carrying out his wishes, and making up sensible-sounding reasons for it if needed—I think if Zelenskyy had gone on TV to announce the "investigations" Trump would have reneged and kept the hold on the Javelins, as Ambassador Taylor feared:
[9/8/19, 12:37:28 PM] Bill Taylor: The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.) 
In both Quid Pro Quo no. 1 and Quid Pro Quo no. 2, Trump was clearly doing both of the things alleged, shaking down the Ukrainian president for personal benefit and playing games with the military aid, but it's not clear that he was doing them together, in a coordinated effort; we've got the quid and the quo, so to speak, but we're not perfectly clear on the pro. Does that make a difference?

To me, it's the same thing in the Russia matter itself: we know that the Trump campaign enjoyed Russia's active measures and rooted for them, and we know that Trump did everything he could to delay or minimize economic sanctions on Russia, but we don't know that he agreed to them at any particular moment, as a package. It just got done. Does that make a difference?
Racketeering is a criminal activity in which a person or organization engages in a “racket.” A racket is when the criminal creates a problem for others for the purpose of solving that problem by some type of extortion. The person or organization who engages in the racket is called a racketeer. Racketeering has always been associated with the mob and organized crime, beginning back in the early days of the 1920s.
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)—also called the Organized Crime Act of 1970—was passed to try to eliminate organized crime. This federal law helped law enforcement corrected a problem that prosecutors had when trying to charge crime bosses. They could charge the person in the racket who committed the crime, but they couldn’t charge the crime boss since he did not actually commit the crime. (The Balance)
Well, now they can.

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