History certainly felt like it was repeating itself. Hours after two associates who helped Rudy Giuliani dig up dirt on Joe Biden were arrested and charged with campaign-finance violations on behalf of at least one unnamed Ukrainian politician, President Donald Trump tepidly defended his personal attorney while distancing himself from what looked like an increasingly sticky legal situation. When asked by a reporter on the White House South Lawn if he thought Giuliani would face an indictment, Trump said he hoped not. On Twitter, he referred to Giuliani as a “great guy and wonderful lawyer,” and called the ongoing investigation into their interactions with Ukrainians a “witch hunt.” Later that day, the two broke bread at Trump’s golf club in Virginia in what was a public display of support at a private club that Trump owned and controlled. Giuliani contends that he has not committed any crimes, but the SDNY is now investigating whether his efforts in Ukraine may have run afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Over the last few weeks, Giuliani has said that he and the president are as close as ever and that there is no rift between them. But people around the president have grown increasingly wary of their relationship, as it becomes clearer that Giuliani was running what looks like a shadow State Department to deal with Ukraine, and use the power of the presidency to pressure Ukraine into pursuing investigations for political purposes that would benefit Trump.
If all of this sounds familiar, it is because it is nearly identical to the way Trump treated his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, after investigators from the SDNY opened a criminal investigation into what they determined were campaign-finance violations stemming from hush money payments made to women alleging affairs with Trump in the last days leading up to the 2016 election.
For a time, the invitations Cohen received to visit Mar-a-Lago, plus Trump’s public support—referring to him as a “good man” and the raid on his office as an “attack on our country”— kept Cohen on his side. It was a side Cohen had wanted to be on, having once told me he would take a bullet for the president. But he saw how Trump slowly started inching away from him and publicly disparaging him once the legal temperature crept higher. It wasn’t long before Cohen broke ranks. He spent more than 70 hours cooperating with the special counsel’s office in its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election; he spent tens of hours talking to the SDNY and ultimately pleaded guilty, though he did not become a formal cooperating witness. Later, he sat with several congressional committees over multiple days to answer their questions.
Cohen’s cooperation has continued since he surrendered to prison in May. A couple of times over the last few months, the New York attorney general’s office has made trips up to the federal penitentiary in Otisville, New York, where Cohen is serving his sentence, in order to gather information as part of its investigation into whether the Trump Organization violated any state laws in reimbursing Cohen for the hush money payments. Attorneys for Cohen have repeatedly contended that Cohen has not only fulsomely cooperated, but that he also has far more to give. “In my judgment, Michael Cohen is now even more valuable than before,” Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s attorneys, told me over the weekend. “First, in assisting the ongoing congressional impeachment investigation to interpret the Trump code words to lie, as in ‘no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo’ to the E.U. ambassador, when he knows the truth is exactly the opposite. And second, to assist ongoing investigations by state and federal prosecutors.”
And Cohen, according to people familiar with the situation, has information that could be pertinent to the SDNY’s investigation into Lev Parnas, one of the men who worked with Giuliani to dig up dirt on Trump’s political opponents. Parnas was taken into federal custody earlier this month, as he and Igor Fruman were about to board a plane outside of Washington, after having lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel a few blocks away from the White House, and charged with conspiracy, falsification of records, and lying to the Federal Election Commission about their political donations, which included a $325,000 donation through an LLC to support a super PAC created to support Trump’s candidacy. (Both men have pleaded not guilty.)
Parnas, according to these sources, contacted Cohen in the first few weeks after Trump took office. He introduced himself through text message and asked if he would be willing to set up a meeting with Trump, the purpose being that he wanted to propose a method to save the federal government money on fraud, waste, and abuse. Those who know Cohen also said that there was another occasion during which Parnas came in contact with Cohen that they said may be of interest to investigators looking into whether Parnas violated federal election laws. Cohen would be willing to communicate what he knows to investigators, it is said, and has added a new criminal-defense attorney, Robert D. Adler, to his legal team in recent months.
Cohen still hopes for a reduction in sentence. But so far, as much as Cohen has talked, prosecutors have declined to shorten his sentence using what is known as Rule 35—a sentence-reduction motion used if an individual has provided a substantial amount of useful information to prosecutors. In September, Cohen’s attorneys sent a letter to three Democratic committee chairs, urging them to ask U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III to cut the length of Cohen’s three-year prison term and allow him to finish his sentence at home in New York. In a copy of the letter, which I reviewed, his attorneys spelled out the extent of his cooperation thus far. The letter reads that Cohen provided the SDNY with detailed information about possible “insurance fraud committed by Donald Trump and the Trump foundation, illegal campaign contributions by donors, and possible obstruction of justice by certain attorneys,” along with information about “the Trump Joint Defense Agreement and about the financing of the Trump golf courses” and a “nuclear power plant project.”
The letter describes how, in March, Cohen’s lawyer wrote the SDNY with “fresh information, of additional possible crimes by Mr. Trump or his associates,” and asked SDNY prosecutors then to support a Rule 35 sentence-reduction motion based on this new information. According to the letter, prosecutors declined, as they did when the attorney asked them over the phone to interview Cohen, with no preconditions, to explain the new information in greater detail before he left for prison. (Earlier this year, Elijah Cummings, the former head of the House Oversight Committee who passed away last week, sent a letter to a deputy U.S. attorney in Manhattan saying that his committee was investigating whether the SDNY’s decision to only charge Cohen in the hush money scheme was politically motivated.)
The letter details Cohen’s cooperation with Congress, which included a public hearing and a number of private hearings, along with a meeting with staff of the House Judiciary Committee several days before he left for prison to “go through a thumb drive obtained from the SDNY that contained tens of thousands of documents and electronic records obtained from the April 2019 search of [his] home and law office.” His attorneys wrote that “he ran out of time to get very far,” but “remains willing to continue to do so.”
Thus far, his attorneys’ attempts to reduce his sentence or have him moved to home confinement have fallen on deaf ears. But the new information about Cohen’s contact with Parnas, who is potentially a big fish in another splashy Trump-adjacent pool, could change the equation—and possibly influence the fortunes of another one of Trump’s personal attorneys.
The post The President’s Former Attorney Offers Dirt on Giuliani Associate Lev Parnas appeared first on Vanity Fair.