WASHINGTON — The scandal-ridden campaign led by Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani to convince the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden, a scheme that triggered a full-blown impeachment investigation of the president, just took its strangest twist yet. And it’s about to make Trump and Giuliani’s lives even more miserable.
Two businessmen named Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas were arrested Wednesday and indicted by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York. Fruman and Parnas aren’t household names, but they’re key figures in Giuliani’s shadowy and bumbling plot to get the Ukrainian government to go after Joe Biden in an effort to help Trump in the 2020 election.
Several years ago, Fruman and Parnas, who are both American citizens born in Eastern Europe, emerged out of nowhere to make hundreds of thousands in donations to Republican congressman, a pro-Trump super PAC, and other GOP committees. Their donations got them access to Donald Trump Jr., senior Republican lawmakers, and President Trump.
Now, a Trump-approved federal prosecutor says they masked the true sources of their campaign cash, illegally funneled foreign money in U.S. politics, and lied to federal investigators when they were questioned about their sketchy donations.
The two men were booked in northern Virginia on Thursday morning:
— Rachel Weiner (@rachelweinerwp) October 10, 2019
The two are closely tied to Trump’s Ukrainian scandal that’s driving the impeachment inquiry. Fruman and Parnas helped connect Giuliani with key officials in Ukraine. And in July, Parnas joined Giuliani for a breakfast meeting with Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, at which Giuliani raised his desire to investigate Biden. By all indications, Fruman and Parnas were key collaborators on Giuliani’s anti-Biden crusade.
Prosecutors allege that Fruman and Parnas repeatedly lied about the true source of the campaign donations that unlocked all those doors in the upper reaches of the Republican Party. Prosecutors say the two men illegally used a shell corporation to funnel money to a pro-Trump political committee. They intentionally misspelled Fruman’s name to evade donation limits and give more money than was legally allowed. They also illegally funneled money from a foreign national to U.S. politicians as part of a scheme to start a recreational marijuana business. And when the nation’s election watchdog investigated their, the two men gave bogus answers in an effort to obstruct the investigation, prosecutors claim.
But the biggest revelation is this: According to the indictment, Fruman and Parnas donated to a sitting U.S. Congressman — identified only as “Congressman-1” — because they wanted the congressman’s help in pressuring the U.S. government to “remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” The efforts to remove this ambassador, an Obama appointee named Marie Yovanovitch whose term carried over into the Trump presidency, were carried out in part “at the request of one or more Ukrainian government official.”
Federal prosecutors say that the two men “sought to advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working,” the indictment reads.
The congressman isn’t named in the indictment, but reporting by the Daily Beast and others strongly suggests it was former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.). Sessions benefited from $3 million in support from the same pro-Trump PAC that the two Giuliani associates donated to. Several days after meeting with Fruman and Parnas, Sessions wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticizing Ambassador Yovanovitch — the same ambassador Fruman and Parnas wanted removed from her post.
If Yovanovitch’s name sounds familiar it’s because she appears in the whistleblower complaint filed by the anonymous intelligence analyst. Trump and his allies believed that Yovanovitch had tried to damage Trump’s campaign in 2016 and that she was somehow disloyal to Trump — suspicions that were stoked by officials in Ukraine who wanted to curry favor with Trump. At the urging of Giuliani and others, Trump recalled Yovanovitch and fired her this spring.
It’s tough to keep straight the rogue’s gallery of characters in the Trump-Ukraine controversy. The latest twist in the story boils down to this: Two associates of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, allegedly broke the law multiple times by making illegal donations and lying to the federal government about it. In at least one instance, the two men, Fruman and Parnas, were allegedly doing the bidding of a Ukrainian official who wanted to change American foreign policy — and the two men seem to have found a willing audience for that request in at least one sitting member of Congress (who remains unnamed). And if that wasn’t enough, Fruman and Parnas also helped a different foreigner — a Russian, according to the indictment — make illegal donations to U.S. politicians to grease some palms for a marijuana business
John Dowd, a lawyer for Fruman and Parnas, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Rudy Giuliani declined to comment when reached by text message.
On Thursday afternoon, the Democratic chairmen of the House intelligence, oversight, and foreign affairs committees announced that they’d subpoenaed Fruman and Parnas for documents as part of the House’s impeachment investigation. In a letter addressed to a lawyer for Fruman and Parnas, the chairmen wrote that the two men are not employees of the executive branch and “may not evade requests from Congress for documents and information necessary to conduct our inquiry. They are required by law to comply with the enclosed subpoenas. They are not exempted from this requirement merely because they happen to work with Mr. Giuliani, and they may not defy congressional subpoenas merely because President Trump has chosen the path of denial, defiance, and obstruction.”