House Democrats conducting the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump have issued three more subpoenas. None of them is for Rudy Giuliani. Yet the president’s personal lawyer might have cause to be worried by this latest development. To understand why, first we must get to know T. Ulrich Brechbuhl. T. Ulrich Brechbuhl is counsellor to Mike Pompeo at the State Department and one of the subpoenas is for him (T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, not Pompeo).
Brechbuhl has known Pompeo since they were at West Point together, class of ’86. There, his college yearbook recorded: ‘A staunch Republican, Ulrich would probably be president someday except for his anathema towards politicians and the fact he was born in Switzerland.’ The yearbook said that Ulrich ‘expects nothing but excellence from himself. Respected by everyone, he could always be counted on for anything.’ He was also captain of the lacrosse team and was a member of the Scoutmaster’s Council.
After service in the Gulf War, study at Harvard Business School, and some time at Bain — the management consultancy once run by Mitt Romney — Brechbuhl went on to found Thayer Aerospace with Pompeo. All this led to the job at State, where the press office told Politico that Brechbuhl’s role was to ‘conduct special diplomatic assignments as directed by the secretary’. Politico noted that the State Department flack ‘did not elaborate further’ as to what those assignments might be. House impeachment investigators think they have an idea — and it’s not good for Brechbuhl, Giuliani or the president. They seem to think that Brechbuhl — the Swiss Boy Scout — may have been feeding the august machinery of the State Department some of the crazy conspiracy theories that Giuliani got from various Ukrainian crooks and chancers. They got this idea from the State Department’s Inspector General, Steve Linick.
According to the Associated Press, Linick, asked for an ‘urgent’ meeting to brief staff from the several committees associated with the impeachment inquiry. During this private meeting, the AP reported, Linick said that Brechbuhl had given him ‘a packet of materials’ about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election campaign. A Democratic congressman, Jamie Raskin, later told reporters that the package contained information from ‘debunked conspiracy theories’ about Ukraine — not Russia — being behind the hacking of Democrats during the campaign. It was unclear where the package originated, but it was in a White House envelope and apparently included folders from Trump hotels. One anonymous source quoted by the AP said the White House had sent the envelope to Pompeo and that it contained notes from interviews with various Ukrainians in Giuliani’s New York office. Pompeo apparently gave the envelope to his trusted counsellor, Brechbuhl, who — as his West Point yearbook said — could ‘always be counted on for anything’.
But what was this Ukrainian material? What might these ‘debunked conspiracy theories’ be? Here, we should return to the founding document of the Ukrainian Affair, the transcript — or notes — of the call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine. Trump told him: ‘I would like to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike …I guess you have one of your wealthy people…The server, they say Ukraine has it.’ Here, in characteristically inarticulate fashion, Trump is alluding to a conspiracy theory popular on the further reaches of the internet. It is that Ukraine was behind the hacking of Democrats in 2016 but cunningly blamed it on Russia — causing the investigation into whether the Trump campaign had conspired with the Kremlin. And the evidence is on the Democrats’ server! And it’s hidden in Ukraine!!
CrowdStrike was the internet security company called in by the Democratic National Committee after their emails were stolen by hackers. Wired magazine has carefully debunked the Ukrainian conspiracy theory. There’s no Ukrainian owner of Crowdstrike; one of its founders was born in Russia (but brought up in the US). There’s no evidence of a ‘hidden server’ in Ukraine — and even the Democrats’ computers were hidden in a Kiev basement, it wouldn’t matter. The FBI took images — copies — of all the servers and still has them. One source who advises the US government on cyber-security tells Cockburn that America’s intelligence agencies — and those of its allies — had already identified Russia as behind the hacks by tracking internet traffic: the server was not needed. It was this that allowed Robert Mueller to name and charge the actual, specific Russians behind the hacking. But Donald Trump stubbornly refuses to believe it.
It is this stubborn belief that might finally get him impeached. House Democrats say that all those handling the material ‘proving’ the Ukraine-Crowdstrike conspiracy — Pompeo, Brechbuhl, Giuliani and Trump — are guilty of abusing the power of the presidency. That’s because while Trump was pressing the Ukrainian president to investigate the claims unearthed by Giuliani, he was using the awesome powers of his office to withhold military aid to Ukraine. Trump denies it, saying the call with Zelensky was ‘perfect’. He reiterated that recently in a press conference with the president of Finland. ‘This is a hoax.’ He also repeated his statement that he is a ‘very stable genius’ — one who always watches what he says in conversations.
Giuliani is already the proud owner of his own subpoena, one demanding that he hand over all the documents from the Ukrainian interviews. And the president’s personal lawyer has another problem, one that presses on him directly…and personally. It is (apparently) that the FBI is investigating him for illegal lobbying for foreign — Ukrainian — interests, the charge they got Paul Manafort on, among others. As they did with Manafort, will the FBI try to flip Giuliani by holding over him the threat of a jail sentence for illegal lobbying?