a tangled web
October 22, 2019

While working on a bribery case against Ukrainian gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash, federal prosecutors in Chicago came across Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, business associates of Rudy Giuliani who were later arrested on charges of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. elections, The Washington Post reports.

Two people familiar with the matter told the Post that when Parnas and Fruman were arrested earlier this month, the Chicago prosecutors called their New York counterparts to offer assistance, as they believe there may be a deeper relationship between Firtash, Parnas, and Fruman. In 2013, the Chicago prosecutors charged Firtash with bribing officials in India in order to mine in the country. Prosecutors say Firtash, who now lives in Austria and is fighting extradition to the United States, has ties to the Russian mob; he denies this.

In July, Firtash hired Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, two conservative lawyers known for defending President Trump on television, to represent him in the United States. He did this on Parnas' recommendation, the Post reports, and Parnas served as their interpreter. Not long after Firtash hired Toensing and diGenova, the attorneys were able to get a coveted in-person meeting with Attorney General William Barr and other Justice Department officials to argue against the charges, three people with knowledge of the matter told the Post, but Barr chose not to intercede.

Parnas and Fruman had a close relationship with Giuliani, and they worked together in Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on Democrats. Prosecutors are now looking to see if Firtash played a "shadow role" in this effort, the Post reports, something his lawyers deny. Last week, Giuliani told the Post that Firtash is an "interesting person" but he doesn't know him personally. For more on Firtash, and how Parnas and Fruman dropped his name while trying to drum up business, visit The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

February 11, 2019

American Media Inc., the National Enquirer's parent company, had so many contacts with Saudi Arabia over the last several years that it asked the Justice Department in 2018 if it should register as a foreign agent, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, anyone who represents the interests of a foreign power in a "political or quasi-political capacity" must let the government know about this relationship. AMI sought money from Saudi investors to fund acquisitions, wanting to purchase Time, Fortune, Money, and Sports Illustrated, and it produced 200,000 copies of a 97-page glossy magazine titled The New Kingdom, which praised Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Because of these contacts, AMI approached the Justice Department, asking whether it should register as a foreign agent, the Journal reports.

The Justice Department responded that it determined the company was not "an agent of a foreign principal" under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the Journal says. A person familiar with the matter told the newspaper that the New Kingdom issue fawning over Prince Mohammed was "done to kiss his ass when he came to visit in the hopes he'd invest in the company and it didn't work. There was nothing more to it than that."

Last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accused AMI of trying to blackmail him, using intimate photos and texts as leverage to get him to drop an investigation into how the National Enquirer accessed earlier texts he sent during an extramarital affair. Bezos said that the "Saudi angle" of the investigation "seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve." For more on the connections between AMI and Saudi Arabia, visit The Wall Street Journal. Catherine Garcia

November 27, 2018

Conservative author Jerome Corsi revealed Tuesday that he told a federal grand jury he helped Roger Stone come up with a "cover story" for a tweet Stone sent out in August 2016 that predicted WikiLeaks' release of stolen Democratic emails.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow, including whether any Trump associates knew in advance about the WikiLeaks document dump. On Aug. 21, Stone, one of President Trump's longtime advisers, tweeted: "Trust me, it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel." John Podesta was Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, and his emails were released by WikiLeaks several weeks later.

Corsi, a witness in the Mueller investigation, told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Stone called him on Aug. 30, 2016, and asked him to come up with an "alternative explanation" for the tweet. Corsi began writing a memo for Stone describing the business dealings of John Podesta and his brother, Tony, and Corsi and Stone would later say this is what Stone's tweet was about, even though the memo was written after the fact.

"What I construct, and what I testified to the grand jury, was I believed I was creating a cover story for Roger, because Roger wanted to explain this tweet," Corsi told the Journal. "By the way, the special counsel knew this. They can virtually tell my keystrokes on that computer." Stone, who denies knowing about the hacked emails in advance, told the Journal that Corsi is contradicting him because he's being "squeezed" by the special counsel. Catherine Garcia

August 1, 2018

After several former Ohio State wrestlers came forward saying their former assistant coach, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), failed to do anything about alleged sexual abuse by the team doctor, they were contacted by retired Ohio State wrestling coach Russ Hellickson, who urged them to recant, the men told NBC News.

Hellickson texted Dunyasha Yetts and Mike DiSabato, who showed the messages to NBC News. On July 3, NBC News published a report stating that several wrestlers were inappropriately touched by the team doctor, Richard Strauss, who died by suicide in 2005. Yetts said he'd told Jordan that he went to Strauss with a thumb injury, and Strauss tried to pull down his pants. Several wrestlers said Strauss' behavior was discussed often in the locker room and Jordan turned a blind eye to the alleged sexual abuse; Jordan, who served as assistant coach from 1986 to 1994, has denied ever hearing formal abuse accusations.

Hellickson texted and called Yetts on July 4, saying he was under pressure from Jordan and his supporters to make "a bold statement to defend Jimmy," NBC News reports. He also suggested that if Yetts thought "the story got told wrong about Jim, you could probably write a statement for release that tells your story and corrects what you feel bad about." Yetts, DiSabato, and three other wrestlers said they respect Hellickson and believe he's been put in a tough spot. "Jordan got some bad advice up front to deny knowing anything and wasn't going to change when he got confronted by wrestlers saying that's not true," one wrestler told NBC News. DiSabato came forward with the allegations against Strauss in April, and an investigation is underway. Catherine Garcia

March 14, 2018

Adult film star Stormy Daniels is slowly getting to know every member of President Trump's legal team, with new documents showing that last month, a Trump Organization lawyer signed papers trying to keep Daniels quiet.

Days before the 2016 election, Daniels signed a nondisclosure agreement with Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in exchange for $130,000. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, sued Trump this month, saying because he didn't sign the NDA, it's invalid, and she's free to discuss the "intimate relationship" they had. Cohen obtained a secret restraining order in private arbitration against Daniels last month, and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, on Wednesday produced two legal papers linked to the order that were signed by Jill A. Martin, an assistant general counsel at the Trump Organization.

Avenatti said Martin's participation in the matter is further proof that Trump knew about the $130,000 payment and nondisclosure agreement. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said that as far as she knows, Trump was never aware of Cohen's deal with Daniels, and Cohen released a statement in February saying "neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly." Catherine Garcia

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