Rudy Giuliani Takes Break From Secret Ukraine Back Channel For New VENEZUELAN Back Channel
Holy Logan Act, Batman! Rudy Giuliani keeps inventing new ways to be a crazy crimer! The Washington Post reports that he and former GOP congressman Pete Sessions decided that US policy in Venezuela was too important to be left to the government, so they took it upon themselves to negotiate President Nicolás Maduro's exit from power on their own. It was just their civic duty, really, since Rudy and Pete have so many pals in the oil and gas business who want in on the Venezuelan market. Surely the State Department won't mind, right?
Well, as it turns out, those crazy kids from Foggy Bottom did mind. And National Security Advisor John Bolton minded, too. A LOT. Because in 2018, the US position toward the Maduro regime was becoming increasingly hostile, with sanctions on Venezuelan officials and an outright ban on travel by US government officials to that country.
And yet, Rep. Sessions hopped on a plane to Caracas in the spring to meet with Maduro, emerging with an agreement that the Venezuelan president would leave power willingly and allow for fair elections. Only, the Post reports that US officials were highly skeptical that Maduro would live up to this agreement. And indeed, he "won" elections in May 2018 with 68 percent of the vote in polling that was widely regarded as rigged. ¡Qué sorpresa!
Undeterred, Sessions followed up with a September conference call to negotiate Maduro's exit strategy, and this time he included crazy Rudy. It's not entirely clear why Giuliani thought he was deputized to guarantee the US government wouldn't go after Maduro or try to seize his assets, but apparently being the president's personal lawyer means you get to speak for the federal government now. Swamp: DRAINED!
For his part, Sessions insists that he was working hand-in-glove with the State Department at all times. His spokesman Matt Mackowiak told the Post that Sessions's back-channel mission was "coordinated with the highest levels of the U.S. State Department," insisting that State approved the trip and even coordinated his accommodations in Venezuela. Which is rather surprising, since Sessions paid his own airfare and reportedly bunked at the lavish estate of media magnate Raúl Gorrín Belisario, rather than staying in an American facility. Just three months later, the Justice Department indicted Gorrín for involvement in a billion dollar bribery and money laundering scheme, and he's currently number one on ICE's most wanted list. But, okay, sure, the State Department was totally down to billet a US congressman with this guy. You bet!
Unsurprisingly, Sessions's account was contradicted by State Department and White House officials, with White House officials telling the Post, "It wasn't consistent with our policy goals. We saw it as a nuisance and a distraction." Wow! These brave patriots were so upset at this intervention by the president's personal lawyer, a possible violation of the Logan Act's prohibition on non-government actors carrying out freelance diplomacy, that they did ... exactly nothing. But they want you to know, they weren't happy about it!
National Security Advisor John Bolton, who later referred to Giuliani as a "hand grenade who's going to blow everybody up," was similarly unhappy with Sessions and Giuliani's adventure diplomacy.
Around the time of the phone call, Giuliani met with Bolton to discuss the off-the-books plan to ease Maduro from office — a plan Bolton vehemently rejected, two people familiar with the meeting said.
And that was before anyone realized that Rudy was bringing his good buddy Lev Parnas along for the ride. Because of course he did. But before we get into that, can we just take a tiny tangent back to Ukraine for a moment?
A Tiny Tangent Back to Ukraine
In October, the AP reported that Chucklefuckers Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and natural gas billionaire and GOP mega-donor Harry Sargeant III approached Andrey Favorov, a board member of Ukraine's state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz. They were proposing a scheme to displace the staunchly anti-corruption head of Naftogaz's board, put Favorov in his place, and then import a gazillion gallons of American natural gas to Ukraine. They just needed to get Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch out of the way, since she was such a stickler for her NO CORRUPTION platform, and then .... PROFIT!!!! Favorov declined the offer, but five minutes later, Parnas wrote a $25,000 check to Pete Sessions, Sessions wrote a nasty letter about Yovanovitch to Mike Pompeo, and Yovanovitch got the boot.
Well! The entire cast of characters from the Ukraine caper is here for the Venezuelan party, too! Guess they came for the arepas, and stayed for the corruption.
Sargeant, who has business interests in Venezuela, worked closely with Sessions, saying that he "supported the idea of a back channel based on my over 30 years of firsthand experience in Venezuela and my observation of the political dynamic going on in Caracas at the time." Now, the cynics among you may scoff that this was mere rent-seeking by an avaricious businessman. Au contraire mi hermano, he's doing it for the poor Venezuelan people! And to fight the Russians and Chinese!
"I believed then and now that an adversarial sanctions policy alone would have two profoundly negative effects," he added. "First, it would exacerbate Venezuela's humanitarian crisis. Second, I believed it would undermine key U.S. business interests in Venezuela to the benefit of American adversaries like the Russians and Chinese."
Oh, hey, the gang's all here!
Around that time, Giuliani, who had joined Trump's legal team months earlier, began talks with individuals who were part of the back channel to Maduro. In August, Giuliani met in New York with Parnas and two American business executives with investments in Venezuela to discuss the effort, according to people familiar with the gathering.
The meeting took place at a favorite Giuliani hangout, the Grand Havana Room cigar bar, blocks from Trump Tower in Manhattan. Over whiskey and cigars, Giuliani agreed to try to see whether there was a way to negotiate with Maduro and perhaps reach a diplomatic solution to the political chaos and economic collapse overtaking the country, one of the participants said.
And then Rudy picked up one of Raúl Gorrín Belisario's alleged co-conspirators, Alejandro Betancourt, as a paying client -- unlike Donald Trump -- and used his contacts at the Justice Department to urge Bill Barr to prettyplease not indict him for bribery and money-laundering.
In summary and in conclusion, there is nothing whatsoever to see here. It's just an amazing coincidence that the very same people working on the Venzuelan back channel were involved in the latest Ukraine fuckery. Rudy Giuliani violated neither the Foreign Agents Registration Act nor the Logan Act, and he never sold access to the Trump administration. Everything was totally on the up and up. NO COLLUSION!
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.