In recent days it has become increasingly clear that a Turkish-Iranian businessman named Reza Zarrab, charged with crimes tied to a gold-for-oil sanctions-busting racket, has made a deal with federal prosecutors. It seems likely or at least quite plausible that one element of his agreement is to provide information about General Mike Flynn, President Trump’s disgraced former National Security Advisor. As I noted yesterday, published reports allege that Flynn attempted to negotiate payment from the Turks not only to kidnap a legal US resident (Fethullah Gülen) and deliver him to Turkey but also to arrange leniency for Zarrab. For whatever reason, Mike Flynn was in deep with the Erdogan government in the second half of 2016, notwithstanding the fact he was publicly attacking Erdogan’s regime for creeping Islamism as late as July.
When I was looking into this Monday and Tuesday, I read something I barely remembered. Earlier this year, Zarrab hired Rudy Giuliani and Michael Mukasey as part of his legal team. But they were engaged for a special kind of lawyering. They weren’t focused on the courtroom. They were supposed to negotiate a prisoner swap with the Turks – presumably for some American or foreign national the US cares a lot about who is imprisoned in Turkey. In other words, Zarrab was looking for what amounts to extra-judicial assistance to get out of US custody. Indeed, the two men visited Turkey for a secret visit with President Erdogan in late February, just after Flynn was fired. This was a very, very high-level engagement.
Katie Zavadski, who’s been all over this story for The Daily Beast and appears to be reporting Zarrab’s legal proceeding from the courtroom here in Manhattan, just reported that Zarrab confirmed in testimony that he hired Giuliani and Mukasey to arrange a prisoner exchange “within the legal limits”. But they failed.
I don’t think there is something specifically illegal about hiring attorneys to negotiate a prisoner swap. But it is needless to say highly irregular. US Attorney Joon H. Kim, who took over as acting US Attorney after President Trump fired Preet Bharara, clearly wasn’t happy about it. Zarrab’s lead lawyer, Benjamin Brafman told the trial judge that Giuliani and Mukasey’s efforts to arrange a diplomatic swap for Zarrab were “quite frankly … none of the Government’s business.” In essence, it amounts to trying to circumvent a judicial process. But there’s something more specific here. Giuliani and Mukasey aren’t just any lawyers. They are both, of course, high profile political figures. But since their retirements from the NYC mayoralty and Justice Department they’ve both become part of a tight nexus of men from the New York City area who are both major legal power players and major players in a particularly ideological variant of GOP politics.
You know about Giuliani’s longtime ties to Trump. Giuliani’s law firm is registered as a foreign agent for Turkey (at least they’re more by the book than Flynn.) After firing Bharara, Mukasey’s son Marc was one of Trump’s first rumored picks to replace him. Marc too is a major player in the NYC/GOP legal political crew I’m talking about here. Marc is a protege of Giuliani’s. He was also the personal lawyer for Roger Ailes. None of that is illegal. My point in noting these connections is to illustrate how tightly bound together these guys are in the Rudy/Trump/Ailes/Mukasey NYC GOP world.
Rudy’s role in all this was already known. There were various reports about it in the Spring. Here’s a June 1st report when the judge in the Zarrab case ruled that Giuliani and Mukasey could represent him.
What we didn’t know at the time how was Flynn was tied to this. Now we can see that Giuliani/Mukasey and Flynn were both hired by the same people (broadly, the Turkish government) to accomplish the same aim: to get Zarrab out of US custody and back to Turkey. Flynn did it in a way that was at least inappropriate and quite likely illegal. It’s not clear that Giuliani and Mukasey broke any laws or even acted inappropriately in any way. But the two are so closely bound together. Both have such deep ties to Donald Trump. It’s hard to imagine the two efforts did not cross wires in ways that would be at least highly problematic. Add to the fact that Trump fired Bharara in March for reasons that have never been totally clear or explained. And further, add to the mix that published reports now suggest that Zarrab had information that would be damaging to Mike Flynn. Let’s remember another thing. It was right around the time that Flynn was fired and Giuliani and Mukasey were entering the case that Trump made his now notorious ask of James Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn. Those are all very dicey connections and potential conflicts that now seem well within the scope of Bob Mueller’s investigation because of his close scrutiny of Mike Flynn.
For now, all we can do is piece together what’s publicly known and read what tea leaves that are available. But keep a close eye on this. It sounds dirty and with at least conflicts that lead right to Flynn and right to Donald Trump.
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