Today’s round-up of news from the Trump Freak Show

Investigation of Giuliani’s two thug associates has gone far beyond campaign finance violations

The investigation into two associates of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has expanded significantly, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday.

“A federal grand jury investigating activities surrounding Rudy Giuliani’s back-channel campaign in Ukraine has demanded legal documents that include records of extravagant spending at Trump hotels and millions of dollars in financial transfers by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two key operatives who carried out the plan,” BuzzFeed reported, based on a source familiar with the subpoena.

“The documents requested by a subpoena that was issued in Florida last week could shed light on whether other people, including foreign nationals, were trying to influence the top levels of government and impact the 2020 presidential campaign,” BuzzFeed explained. “The subpoena also shows the investigation has extended beyond campaign finance violations — the current charges against two of the defendants in the shadow campaign — and may examine more serious financial crimes.”

Prosecutors are examining more than $3 million in wire transfers.

“The subpoena, which was served on a source who requested anonymity, led to the release of information that included records detailing bank statements for several corporations controlled by Parnas, his wife, and Fruman, dating back at least three years,” BuzzFeed reported. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars were transferred among the partners last year — in some cases back and forth — while some of the funds were sent to family members in patterns not consistent with normal business transactions, the experts said.”

The report also details lavish spending, including spending nearly $7,200 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC and $6,240 at Wynn Las Vegas, which is owned by Steve Wynn, who was Trump’s finance chairman for the Republican National Committee from 2017 to 2018.

Buzzfeed interviewed Florida attorney Scott Chapman, who says Parnas owes him a debt involving a 1995 Ferrari 456 GT that has grown to $122,000.

“Whether he is just a front man for another powerful person, I just don’t know,” Chapman said. Someone is paying for it.”

Republicans are clearly spooked as Ambassador Taylor lays bare Trump’s criminal behavior

Ever since texts from the behind-the-scenes State Department efforts to induce Ukraine into investigating President Donald Trump’s political opponents were released, it’s been clear that the House’s impeachment inquiry desperately needed to hear from acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor.

While much of what is publicly known about the Trump administration’s machinations with Ukraine is already impeachable, texts sent by Taylor, first provided to the House by U.S. envoy Kurt Volker, showed an even darker scheme at work. And they also suggested that Taylor, of all the people involved in the efforts, was most alarmed about and willing to speak out with regard to Trump’s wrongdoing. In one particularly memorable text, Taylor told another official of Trump’s Ukraine plot: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” This implicated the president directly in criminal, and undoubtedly impeachable, activity.

With Taylor set to appear at a closed session of Congress on Tuesday, expectations for his testimony were high. And while his comments have not yet been made public as of this writing, Democrats were already sending strong indications that his testimony was explosive, with one lawmaker calling it “incredibly damaging to the president.”

Republicans, too, were sending corresponding signals of panic for their own side — though these indications were far more muted.

Perhaps most significant of all, the Trump administration tried to stop Taylor’s testimony from moving forward on Tuesday, just as it has tried to stop other hearings from proceeding, according to CNN’s Manu Raju. Democrats in Congress responded by issuing a subpoena, and Taylor agreed to testify. But the efforts to block his appearance show that Republicans are worried about what he has to say. If they thought his testimony would actually explain away his texts as less damning than they appear, Republicans would have been delighted to have the hearings move forward.

And as the hearings proceeded Tuesday and Democrats made clear in various vague public comments that Taylor’s testimony was a trainwreck for the president, Republicans’ vigorous defenses of the president were nowhere to be found.

Instead, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio — typically a strong defender of the president willing to twist every trivial detail of a proceeding into a vindication for Trump — only praised the GOP counsel in the hearings, according to Politico’s Kyle Cheney. Cheney described the Republicans in the hearing as “tight-lipped.” He reported that New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin said that Democrats who think Taylor’s testimony is damning must have missed the previous depositions — suggesting that he took the testimony of other witnesses, some of whom were, from all appearances, complicit in Trump’s schemes, at face value.

But these meager defenses just showed the even Republicans recognized that Taylor’s testimony was as damaging to Trump as the Democrats claimed and that they’re struggling to find some way to spin the facts in the president’s favor.

Evidence against Trump is so overwhelming, he would be smart to take a plea deal

Former U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley broke down the overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing that has come to light in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s solicitation of election assistance from foreign governments.

Kelley, who ran the Southern District of New York office of federal prosecutors, was interviewed by MSNBC chief legal correspondent Ari Melber — who had once worked for Kelly.

The two discussed the testimony from Ambassador Bill Taylor.

“Lots of cases don’t go to trial in a criminal case because the evidence is overwhelming or sufficient enough to have a conviction. I doubt this is a case that would really go to trial,” Kelley explained. “When confronted with all the evidence, a reasonable defendant would likely take a plea.”

“This is pretty damning evidence,” Kelley added.

“Damning, slam-dunk evidence?” Melber asked.

“Yeah,” he replied.

The three really, really big deals in today’s blockbuster testimony by Ambassador Taylor

A pivotal witness in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry described several conversations among top administration officials this summer in which President Trump’s Ukraine quid pro quo was explicitly discussed.

Sept. 1: Ukraine is told military aid is being withheld for probes

Taylor’s prepared statement described the frenzied weeks after Trump placed a hold on military aid to Ukraine that had been authorized by Congress.

Even after Politico broke the news of the freeze on Aug. 28, it wasn’t Taylor’s understanding that the hold was connected to Trump’s demands that Ukraine open a Biden-related probe and a probe into conspiracy theories about the 2016 election.

The connection was only made for him four days later, during a Sept. 1 conversation with a National Security Council official, Taylor testified.

 

Sept. 7: Trump wants Zelensky to announce probes into ‘Biden’ and the 2016 election

Taylor spoke to Morrison several more times after the Sept. 1 phone call. During a Sept. 7 phone call, Morrison recalled to Taylor a conversation that Sondland said he had had with President Trump.

According to the account, Trump had denied to Sondland that there was a quid pro quo.

“But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference,” Taylor said of Morrison’s account of the Sondland-Trump call.

 

Sept 8: Frozen aid is at a “stalemate” unless Zelensky announces probes

Taylor went to Sondland again, who discussed on the phone with Taylor his conversations with Trump and top Ukrainian officials, according to Taylor’s testimony.

Again denying the quid pro quo, Trump still wanted Zelensky to “clear things up and do it in public,” Sondland allegedly told Taylor.

Sondland told Taylor that he delivered the message to Zelensky and his aide Yermak, telling them there would be a “stalemate” unless Zelensky “cleared things up”

Zelensky agreed to do an interview on CNN announcing the probes, according to Taylor’s account of what Sonland told him.