Vienna Waits For You

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

This started as a simple string, A whistleblower and a phone call. Now it’s… well, tangled. Not the phone call part. Or the impeachment inquiry. But the Rudy angle. Where to begin?

So yesterday, the two Florida clowns, Giuliani associates Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, who were arrested at the airport before they could flee. They had lunch with Giuliani at the Trump Hotel in DC just before they made a break for it

It turns out that where they were going to is relevant.


But what we now know is that this reporter from The Atlantic was trying to schedule an interview with Rudy.

Side story: at one point, 3 p.m. Wednesday to be precise, after the two henchmen were arrested, she called Rudy again to schedule a lunch, but his communications director answered the phone, and the reporter heard Rudy in the background yelling “asshole”. The comm director said he was watching TV.

Aaaaanyway, at one point during an earlier phone call, Rudy told the reporter that he couldn’t meet because he had a business meeting in…. wait for it… Vienna:

Why were Parnas and Fruman bound for Vienna? Why was Giuliani—if what he told me was true—planning to be in the same city a day later?

Coincidence? Who knows?

But more than a few people are pointing out another possible non-coincidence (admittedly more remote, in my view). Vienna is home to Dmitry Firtash.

Who is Firtash?

He is a Ukrainian gas magnate who currently resides in Vienna pending extradition to the U.S. to face bribery charges.

But he’s got a history. Here is an article from November 2014:

In Russia, powerful friends helped him make a fortune. In the United States, officials want him extradited and put behind bars. In Austria, where he is currently free on bail of $155 million, authorities have yet to decide what to do with him.

He is Dmitry Firtash, a former fireman and soldier. In little more than a decade, the Ukrainian went from obscurity to wealth and renown, largely by buying gas from Russia and selling it in his home country. His success was built on remarkable sweetheart deals brokered by associates of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, at immense cost to Russian taxpayers, a Reuters investigation shows.

Russian government records reviewed for this article reveal for the first time the terms of recent deals between Firtash and Russia’s Gazprom, a giant gas company majority owned by the state.

According to Russian customs documents detailing the trades, Gazprom sold more than 20 billion cubic metres of gas well below market prices to Firtash over the past four years – about four times more than the Russian government has publicly acknowledged. The price Firtash paid was so low, Reuters calculates, that companies he controlled made more than $3 billion on the arrangement.

Over the same time period, other documents show, bankers close to Putin granted Firtash credit lines of up to $11 billion. That credit helped Firtash, who backed pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich’s successful 2010 bid to become Ukraine’s president, to buy a dominant position in the country’s chemical and fertiliser industry and expand his influence.

The Firtash story is more than one man’s grab for riches. It demonstrates how Putin uses Russian state assets to create streams of cash for political allies, and how he exported this model to Ukraine in an attempt to dominate his neighbour, which he sees as vital to Russia’s strategic interests. With the help of Firtash, Yanukovich won power and went on to rule Ukraine for four years. The relationship had great geopolitical value for Putin: Yanukovich ended up steering the nation of more than 44 million away from the West’s orbit and towards Moscow’s until he was overthrown in February.

“Firtash has always been an intermediary,” said Viktor Chumak, chairman of the anti-corruption committee in the previous Ukrainian parliament. “He is a political person representing Russia’s interests in Ukraine.”

A spokesman for Putin rejected claims that Firtash acted on behalf of Russia. “Firtash is an independent businessman and he pursues his own interests, I don’t believe he represents anyone else’s interests,” said Dmitry Peskov.

The findings are the latest in a Reuters examination of how elites favoured by the Kremlin profit from the state in the Putin era. In the wild years after the fall of the Soviet Union, state assets were seized or bought cheaply by the well connected. Today, resources and cash flows from public enterprises are diverted to private individuals with links to Putin, whether in Russia or abroad.

Putin’s system of comrade capitalism has had huge costs for the ordinary people of Russia: By granting special cheap deals to Firtash, Gazprom missed out on about $2 billion in revenue it could have made by selling that gas at market prices, according to European gas price data collected by Reuters. Four industry analysts said that Gazprom could have sold the gas at substantially higher prices to other customers in Europe.
At the same time, the citizens of both Russia and Ukraine have seen unelected oligarchs wield political influence.

Firtash, whose main company, Group DF, describes him as one of Ukraine’s leading entrepreneurs and philanthropists, was arrested in Austria on March 12 at the request of U.S. authorities. The Americans accuse him of bribery over a business deal in India unrelated to events examined in this article. Firtash denies those allegations and is currently free on bail.

Firtash imported the cheap Russian gas through a Cypriot company of which he is sole director, and a Swiss one set up by Group DF. He and Group DF declined to answer questions about those two companies and their gas dealings. A spokesman said Firtash was not available to discuss his business operations, and that Group DF did not wish to comment on “any of the questions you put forth.”

The Kremlin spokesman Peskov said Putin has met Firtash but that they are not close acquaintances. He said Russia supplied gas at “lower prices” to Ukraine because Yanukovich had asked for it and Russia wanted to help Ukraine’s petrochemical industry. Peskov said the deals were arranged through Firtash because “the Ukrainian government asked for it to be that way.”

Yanukovich, who fled to Russia in February after mass demonstrations against his government, could not be reached for comment.

Last week, it was reported in Politico with little notice that conservative lawyers and GOP operatives Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, popular on Fox and with the Trump Team, were retained to represent Firtash.

And in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall), this was also reported:

So…. one of Rudy’s henchmen is interpreter to Firtash. There are all linked!

I suspect that Rudy got DiGenova and Toensing to be Firtash’s counsel. They are all in bed together. Effectively, the President of the United States is sharing lawyers and (now-indicted) researcher/translators with Dmitry Firtash, a known Putin ally and propagandist.

It seems we may have a source for all of Rudy’s nonsense about Biden: Firtash.

Here’s how I come down on it:

UPDATE: An interesting side note about DiGenova and Toensing. It looks like they don’t take well to outsiders in their legal circle

The president’s decision to bulk up his legal team with former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy amid a widening impeachment inquiry is drawing criticism from one of his high-profile supporters.

On Wednesday morning, the day after news leaked that Gowdy was set to serve as outside counsel to the president, Victoria Toensing, a veteran Washington lawyer who has been working with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, expressed concern and disbelief that the onetime advocate for congressional oversight would be coming onboard.

“Trey Gowdy doesn’t know s***,” she said.

Toensing argued that Gowdy mishandled the select committee that investigated Democrat Hillary Clinton’s handling of the 2012 terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. She also took issue with comments Gowdy made last year in which he urged Trump to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign’s role in Russian attempts to intervene in the 2016 presidential race.

“He screwed up the Benghazi hearings, and he came out with the advice to Trump, ‘Well, if you’ve done nothing wrong, just talk to Bob Mueller.’”

Toensing and her husband, Joe diGenova, work with Giuliani though they are not officially on Trump’s legal team. The pair, who are close with the president, are regulars on the conservative cable network Fox News. Last month, the channel reported they were “working off the books” with Giuliani to help get opposition research on former Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently mounting a White House bid.

In March of last year, it was announced that Toensing and DiGenova were set to formally join the team of lawyers working for the president on the Mueller probe. However, days later, Jay Sekulow, who works as Trump’s personal attorney along with Giuliani, said the pair could not come onboard due to conflicts. “Those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters,” Sekulow said.

After issuing her scathing critique of Gowdy, Toensing went on to suggest that other lawyers working for the president shared her opinion.

“He’s not on the team. Trey Gowdy is not on the team. Who told you Trey Gowdy? Not to my knowledge, not to Rudy’s knowledge, not Joe’s knowledge,” said Toensing, who had not heard of the move at the time of her interview with Yahoo News on Wednesday morning. “I have to check that with Rudy because that would be a joke, because we all don’t think much of him,” she said of Gowdy, adding, “Are you kidding? … Trey is a joke among us.”

Yeah. He’s not part of the Vienna club.

In the video, which appeared to be filmed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer, says he “can’t wait to come back,” followed by Parnas saying, “See you in Ukraine soon.” The video was posted on the Facebook page of the Anatevka Jewish Refugee Community, the social media arm of a charity set up to help Ukrainian Jews fleeing violence in the eastern part of the country in 2018. Both Parnas and Fruman sit on the board of the charity. The three men also sent greetings to Rabbi Moshe Azman, the head of the organization.

UPDATE: Rudy is still trying to get the Biden scamdal message out. Nobody is listening now. He is doing bogus set-up interviews with the Daily Caller:

I guess today is “go on the offensive” day….

Why they are making this about the Bidens is beyond me. He isn’t even the nominee and it is uncertain that he will be.