Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Pro-Kremlin proxy Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, proclaimed just before the election that if President-elect Trump won, Russia would ‘drink champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions on Syria and Ukraine,” noted the U.S. intelligence community’s official assessment of Russian intervention in the presidential election. Vladimir Putin’s regime had developed a clear preference for Donald Trump, including and perhaps especially “his Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine.”
Manafort is now in prison, but Rudy Giuilani appears to have taken on a successor role. He has collected half a million dollars from Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two shadowy figures with links to Russian organized crime. Parnas and Fruman may not be the ultimate source of Giuliani’s money; Reuters reports U.S. prosecutors charge an unidentified Russian businessman sent a million dollars to their accounts.
Giuliani’s work in Ukraine began with attempts to absolve Manafort of collecting illicit sums from Russia by smearing the Ukrainians who exposed his corruption, and absolving Russia of election hacking by promoting a conspiracy theory that blamed Ukraine for hacking Democratic emails. From there, he expanded his efforts to attacking Joe Biden.
But Giuliani, who was being paid by the Russians and representing Trump for free, advanced a policy agenda that benefited both. As the curtain behind the Ukraine scandal has been slowly pulled back, it has become increasingly clear that Trump stands almost alone within his own administration in his coldness toward Ukraine.
Trump had to turn over his Ukraine policy to an outside, Russian-paid lawyer because it repelled almost the entirety of his own administration’s foreign-policy staff. Trump’s refusal to support Kiev and release the military aid voted by Congress appalled and alarmed numerous White House advisers, many of whom saw the extortion play as not only misguided but outright criminal.