Indicted on campaign finance, conspiracy and fraud-related charges, Ukrainian-Floridian former GOP fundraising wunderkind Lev Parnas has become something of unlikely focal point in the ongoing impeachment inquiry as of late. And now he’s making demands.
In a three-page letter released late Monday afternoon, Parnas’s legal team demanded that Attorney General Bill Barr recuse himself from the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) prosecution of their client.
“We are counsel to Lev Parnas regarding the Federal Election Act charges for which he is under indictment in the Southern District of New York and the investigation of his alleged involvement in the subject matter of the Presidential impeachment,” the letter begins.
Then comes the innuendo-dripping ask:
[D]ue to the conflict of interest of your being involved in these matters as Attorney General, and in an effort to preserve the public trust in the rule of law, we request that you recuse yourself and allow the appointment of a special prosecutor from outside the Department of Justice to handle this case.
“The public record is replete with requests for your recusal, the reasons for that request, and public outcry that you have not,” the letter continues. “Federal ethics guidelines bar federal employees from participating in matters in which their impartiality could be questioned, including matters in which they were personally involved or about which they have personal knowledge.”
Parnas–by way of his attorney Joseph Bondy–goes on to detail a laundry list of concerns that intimately implicate the attorney general in various aspects of the impeachment process.
The letter cites Barr’s direct role in the Ukraine affair:
The July 25, 2019 transcript of President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky contains multiple references to you, alone and in conjunction with the President’s attorney, Rudolf [sic] Giuliani, as being the point person for the Zelensky administration to work with in commencing an investigation into the President’s chief political rival, Joe Biden.
“In the August 12, 2019, whistleblower complaint, you were personally named as a participant in the President’s abuse of the power of his office to solicit interference with the government of Ukraine in connection with the 2020 election, including pressuring Ukraine to investigate one of the President’s political opponents, Joe Biden,” the letter goes on.
As Law&Crime previously reported, Parnas’s reference here has already been made by several legal experts and commentators due to Donald Trump personally referencing Barr’s role as the primary point person for the alleged quid pro quo over Ukraine military aid and the Biden investigation.
Parnas previously attempted to draw Barr’s credibility into the thresher during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week.
“Mr. Barr had to have known everything,” Parnas said. “Victoria [Toensing], Joe [DiGenova], they were all best friends. Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.”
Parnas’s letter also makes an explicit reference to the Toensing and DiGenova connection–as well as a link to Giuliani himself–and spins all that and more into a presumed plot seen as detrimental to the defendant’s legal interests.
The Parnas letter notes:
In addition to harmful perceptions, this conflict of interest appears to have caused actual harm to Mr. Parnas who, given delays in the production of discovery in his federal case, was rendered unable to comply with a duly-issued congressional subpoena in time for congressional investigators to make complete use of his materials or properly assess Mr. Parnas as a potential witness. Furthermore, prosecutors have, thus far, refused to meet with Mr. Parnas and to receive his information regarding the President, Mssrs. Giuliani, Toensing, diGenova and others—all of which would potentially benefit Mr. Parnas if he were ever to be convicted and sentenced in his criminal case.
“Here, the issues involved concern the apparent conflict of interest in your being tasked with investigating the President, certain members of his administration, and your long- term colleagues and friends, and the appearance of such conduct as undermining the public’s interest in due administration and trust in the rule of law,” the letter says later on.
This isn’t the first time Barr’s been asked to recuse himself from the Ukraine matter.
In October, the New York City Barr Association made the same request—absent any reference to Parnas, of course. (Parnas’s letter, however, does reference that earlier recusal request.)
Citing statutory authority on the appointment of a special counsel and Department of Justice regulations, Parnas and Bondy make the case that Barr should not only recuse himself but that appear to be saying that his replacement should be named by the former acting attorney general.
The letter concludes: “Given the totality of the circumstances, we believe it is appropriate for you to recuse yourself from the ongoing investigation and pending prosecution of Mr. Parnas, and to allow the then-Acting Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor from outside the Department of Justice, so as to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest and to preserve the public trust in the rule of law.”
Notably, as Courthouse News’s Adam Klasfeld noted, a courtesy copy was also provided to U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken:
To be clear, the request is to AG Barr in a letter, and Bondy informed SDNY Judge Oetken of his request in a separate letter. pic.twitter.com/rs1L88qJpm
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) January 20, 2020
It’s a demand that demands an invocation of the time-honored Ron Burgundy truism: “Well, that escalated quickly.”
Read the full letter below:
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]