As luck would have it for at least a generation, nearly every
ethical dustup afflicting the White House, even one involving the warring countries of Russia and Ukraine, reaches out at some point and snares individuals in remote little Arkansas, so close to God but so far from Moscow and Kyiv.
So it was with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s cabal
with President Trump to block crucial U.S. military aid to Ukraine and a vital White House photo event in order to extort the leader of the former satellite on the border of menacing Russia into publicly proclaiming that Ukraine was investigating Vice President Joe Biden and his son over connections with a Ukrainian gas company. The announcement was supposed to damage Joe, President Trump’s most feared opponent in the 2020 election. Instead, the whole thing has brought Trump to the precipice of the third presidential impeachment in U.S. history.
Trump’s and Giuliani’s intrigues against Ukraine had to be
baffling for Arkansans, who were already confused by their hero Trump’s strange affair with Russia and Vladimir Putin. Then Talking Points Memo (TPM), a liberal web-based journal, reported last month that more than a year ago—before most of us had heard of the Ukrainian business—Harry E. “Bud” Cummins, a Little Rock lawyer who had once been the U. S. attorney for the eastern district of
Arkansas until his patron George W. Bush had him fired, had tried to get the FBI and federal prosecutors in New York to open an investigation into rumored corruption involving the Bidens and the gas company and also the absurd yarn that a few Ukrainian yokels had stolen a Democratic server and emails in Washington in 2016 and, in order to hurt Trump and elect Hillary Clinton president, had made it look like Putin’s agents did it to help Trump.
While TPM was reporting Cummins’s attempts to start a federal probe of the Bidens by trying to hook up the New York prosecutor with the prosecutor general of Ukraine, Giuliani was sending a letter to Trump’s most loyal supporter in the Senate, Lindsey Graham, saying that an unidentified former U.S. attorney—subsequently identified as Cummins—could supply the Senate with emails and other documents urging a Biden probe.
Back in Little Rock, Bud Cummins said yes, he had, indeed,
tried to get the New York prosecutor interested in investigating the Bidens and in in trying to prove that the “black ledger” that revealed Trump’s 2016 campaign manager as a crook was itself the real fraud.
But, Cummins said, he had no clue about whether anything he told either the New York prosecutor or Giuliani or his friends was true. He just accepted it all at face value without investigating. It was the New York prosecutor’s task to see if any of it was true. But he thought the prosecutor and the FBI should investigate the stuff, even if it seemed to be only a smear, because they were investigating his patron Donald Trump on the basis of dubious evidence.
As the political cognoscenti in Arkansas know, Bud Cummins
was Trump’s Arkansas campaign chairman in 2016, his whip at the Republican convention and then a member of his inaugural and transition team. He joined a Washington lobbying firm set up to give people—needy Ukrainians and Russians among them—leverage in the new Republican government.
TPM’s revelation of Cummins’s tiny role in the Trump-Ukrainian imbroglio, particularly his connections with Giuliani, seemed to be a tiny bit embarrassing. Cummins emphasized that he knew nothing about the veracity of Giuliani’s allegations or anything else and, perhaps to show his bona-fides as a Russia-Putin antagonist, he had a Washington public-relations firm issue a news release announcing that he was investigating a couple of Russian bankers, friends of Putin, who might have used some U.S. banks to help scam investors of hundreds of millions of dollars. Much of the news release was lifted from year-old legal documents in lawsuits and criminal charges
against the Russians or on year-old reporting by Forbes magazine.
The TPM article also disclosed that Cummins happened to be
the registered lobbyist for Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister of Ukraine and failed candidate for the job again in March. The attractive Tymoshenko, better known as “the gas princess,” made a fortune with a company marketing Russian gas to Ukrainian farmers. She was charged with giving kickbacks to a Russian for her stranglehold on Russian gas supplies for Ukraine and imprisoned for a while. Trump’s now-imprisoned campaign manager, Paul Manafort, helped a corrupt Ukrainian official prepare a 187-page report justifying her jailing. Manafort’s indictment by the U.S. Justice Department last year said Manafort used off-shore accounts to pay for the report on Tymoshenko, who at that point was considered antagonistic to Russian (and Trump’s) interests.
Sorting out all the Russian-Ukrainian intrigues seems to be
beyond any westerner’s ken, including Bud Cummins’s. [Editor’s note: Talking Points Memo has added today another Cummins connection to Ukraine scandal figures.]
But Cummins needn’t worry. No one should suspect that he
would do anything dishonest to help undermine the impeachment case against Trump for using the instruments of government to bribe Ukraine into helping re-elect the president. No one should better understand the abuse of power for political purposes than Bud, who was one of the victims in the scandal called Attorneygate, which would have gotten President George W. Bush impeached in an atmosphere so charged as today’s. As it was, an independent
investigation in Bush’s Justice Department concluded that the firing of Cummins and eight other U.S. attorneys for political reasons was not criminal, but only unethical, dishonest and a violation of the Justice Department code.
Let’s refresh your memory. In 2006, President Bush told his
attorney general that a bunch of the Republican U.S. attorneys had not pursued voter fraud suspicions against Democrats, a key GOP strategy that year, and they should be fired. Nine of them, including Cummins, were fired, although it would turn out, through the discovery of White House and Justice Department emails sent through the private Republican National Committee email server, that Cummins was fired mainly to make way for an aide to White House
political adviser Karl Rove—Tim Griffin, Arkansas’s present lieutenant governor—who needed to build his résumé for a political career in Arkansas. Included in the emails investigators found on the private server used by the White House and many executive agencies were notes from Griffin to Rove buttering him up. (Eventually, the administration destroyed 22 million emails on official business that were on the Republican party server, but Democrats never insisted that people be jailed for it.)
One of Griffin’s emails told his boss Rove: “Btw my wife is
pregnant. We are thinking about naming him karl. Lol.” Griffin wanted to take a holiday in St. John before Cummins was dismissed and he could assume the job in Little Rock. Griffin quit after a few months as U.S. attorney, but it catapulted him to Congress and the lite governor’s office and, if he can beat Sarah Huckabee Sanders in
2022, to the real governor’s office.
The special counsel who looked into all the firings said
Cummins was fired for political reasons, not for poor performance as the attorney general said, and the same for the other eight Republican prosecutors, who were said to be “loyal Bushies” even if they did not pursue the Republican agenda of accusing Democrats of election fraud.
You might divine how Cummins in 2016 would jump on the
Trump bandwagon when it first seemed that another Bush, Jeb, was about to become the party’s nominee.
Politicizing foreign policy and jeopardizing national security by using a $400 million defense appropriation for extortion and bribery of an ally may, indeed, be a lower level of misconduct than firing a federal prosecutor to launch a political career for an ambitious gadfly.
Someone other than Bud Cummins, maybe the American people, will get to decide that.