Adjourning the trial of key impeachment figures will delay the next spate of embarrassing headlines for President Trump’s re-election campaign.
MANHATTAN (CN) — President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign averted a public relations miasma Wednesday as the trial of two Rudy Giuliani associates was postponed until 2021 over the coronavirus.
Charged with campaign-finance violations in an indictment that dovetailed with Trump’s impeachment, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman had been slated to stand trial with co-defendants David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin on Oct. 5, roughly a month before the presidential election.
That trial will now be held on Feb. 1 next year.
“It would have been presumably in the news is the weeks leading up to the election, and now it won’t be,” Jennifer Rodgers, a former prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, said in a phone interview.
Ahead of their indictment, Parnas and Fruman were major Republican and Trump donors who had a knack for appearing in photographs with key Capitol Hill officials including the president and prominent GOP congressmen.
Parnas had once been Giuliani’s translator in Ukraine, and his cooperation with the House Intelligence Committee last year ultimately shined a light on an administration plot to oust former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Over the course of the impeachment inquiry, the images, documents and text messages that Parnas provided to Congress offered intimate detail about how Yovanovitch’s anti-corruption record stood in the way of Trump’s designs for Ukraine.
Prosecutors even touch on Trump’s Ukraine scandal in the Parnas and Fruman’s charges by describing their efforts to have then-Representative Pete Sessions push for Yovanovitch’s removal, while maxing out on donations for the Texas Republican’s unsuccessful reelection bid in 2018.
The pair allegedly hid donations like these through Global Energy Partners, and Fruman is accused of intentionally misspelled his surname as “Furman” to throw off regulators. The donations padded the coffers of dozens of Republican lawmakers, many of whom eventually voted against Trump’s impeachment and removal.
Since a trial could produce new revelations, Rodgers said: “I think press about Lev Parnas and his criminal activities and the criminal activities of Fruman and the other people who were closely associated with some of the president’s closest folks — Giuliani and others — is only going to hurt the president.”
“How much?” she continued. “Who knows. But it can’t help him. So, I do think that it helps the president in the sense of keeping away from media attention that would have been negative in the in the weeks leading up to the election.”
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, trial delays have become routine as courts across the country have shuttered and attorneys have adjusted to an age of physical distancing. This reality has led to an extraordinary phenomenon — from the standpoint of judicial procedure — of prosecutors requesting trial delays.
“Prosecutors as you know virtually never ask for a delay of trial,” Rodgers said.
In his request to delay the Parnas-Fruman trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind noted that extraordinary times interfered with an ongoing investigation.
“Among other things, the government has informed the defendants that its timeline for seeking a superseding indictment has been pushed back due to issues involving the availability of witnesses and grand jurors given the pandemic-related travel and social-distancing restrictions,” Zolkind wrote.
Speculation continues to rage about what a new indictment could hold. The Southern District was reportedly investigating Giuliani’s role in the scheme months ago, and another impeachment figure received a grand jury subpoena in the case last month: Robert Hyde, a GOP congressional candidate who exchanged WhatsApp messages with Parnas appearing to track Yovanovitch’s movements.
Facing unrelated charges of stalking another woman, Hyde posted what appeared to an exchange with an FBI agent about that subpoena in March, in which he claimed not to be able to appear because he was sick during the coronavirus scare. The screenshots of the exchange suggested that Hyde was granted an adjournment until April 10.
Rodgers, the former prosecutor, splashed cold water on those expecting other October surprises in this case, pointing out that Justice Department guidance discourages pre-election political bombshells and that Attorney General Bill Barr is a Trump loyalist.
“Prosecutors don’t act on those things,” Rodgers said, referring to political timing. “So, they wouldn’t have considered that at all in terms of the date. If anything, they try to avoid bringing cases and bringing charges at times that would potentially impact an election.”
Additional information could be coming, however, from the defense attorneys.
U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken set an Oct. 5 deadline for pretrial motions.