L to R: Indicted businessman Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman with Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani (Miami Herald)
UPDATE 1100 GMT:
Eliana Plott points to a possible mission by Rudy Giuliani’s two associates, just before they were arrested on Wednesday night, and Donald Trump’s personal attorney
She noted on Thursday that Lev Parnas and Igor Furman were flying to the Austrian capital Vienna via Frankfurt, Germany.
Last night [Wednesday], when Rudy Giuliani told me he couldn’t get together for an interview, his reason made sense: As with many nights of late, he was due to appear on [Fox TV’s] Hannity. When I suggested this evening instead, his response was a bit more curious. We would have to aim for lunch, Giuliani told me, because he was planning to fly to Vienna, Austria, at night. He didn’t offer any details beyond that….
Giuliani, when confirming [Thursday] that Parnas and Fruman were heading to Vienna on matters “related to their business,” told the [Wall Street] Journal that he himself only had plans to meet with them when they returned to Washington. By this logic, Giuliani was also planning to fly to Vienna within roughly 24 hours of his business associates, but do no business with them while all three were there.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Two associates of Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani — both key figures in the Trump-Giuliani pressure on Ukraine to investigate Presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party — are arrested on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors accused Florida-based businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, of a plan to violate campaign finance laws.
Parnas and Fruman are executives of an energy company that donated $325,000 to a pro-Trump “Super PAC” in 2018, leading to the complaint to the Federal Election Commission. Just before the large donation, the men created Global Energy Products, which was used to funnel large contributions, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said Parnas, Fruman, and two other men indicted on Thursday — David Correia and Andriy Kukushkin –funneled money to state and federal candidates in exchange for potential influence.
The plan, which included an attempt to set up recreational marijuana businesses in Nevada and other states, was funded by “Foreign National-1” who had “Russian roots”.
The Ukraine Connection
The unsealed charges did not make any accusation against Trump, but they provided more information about the Trump-Giuliani campaign, in which Parnas and Fruman have been involved since November 2018.
The businessmen were part of the effort to remove US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump and Giuliani saw as a barrier to their efforts. Parnas and Fruman donated money and pledged to raise more funds for a Congressman if he joined the push for the Ambassador’s recall.
Campaign finance filings identified the legislator as former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas. Sessions, who was chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2018 that Yovanovitch should be fired for her private “disdain” for the Trump Administration.
Sessions said in a statement that he had no knowledge of the campaign finance scheme. He said that he met Parnas and Fruman to discuss Ukraine’s energy position and that he wrote Pompeo “after several congressional colleagues reported to me that the current US ambassador to Ukraine was disparaging President Trump to others as part of those official duties”.
Parnas was scheduled for questioning on Thursday by House investigators, but he and Fruman were arrested on Wednesday evening at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. They had one-way tickets to Frankfurt, Germany and then to Vienna, Austria.
At a hearing on Thursday in a Federal court in northern Virginia, bail was set at $1 million each after prosecutors argued that the men were flight risks.
On September 30, as they subpoenaed Giuliani, House committees also requested documents and depositions from Parnas, Igor Fruman, and another Giuliani associate Semyon Kislin. In addition to the claimed Trump-Giuliani campaign for investigations concerning Biden and Democratic National Committee matters, the committees also cited an attempt to prosecute Ukrainians who provided evidence against Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, now serving a 7 1/2-year sentence on tax and fraud charges.
Yovanovitch is due to appear Friday for a deposition to House investigators, but the Trump Administration — which has refused subpoenas for witnesses and documents, setting out the position in a letter on Tuesday to House committees — may try to block her testimony.
Giuliani’s Helpers in Ukraine
Giuliani used Parnas, a long-time friend, and Fruman to establish contacts in Ukraine. Parnas also advised Giuliani on energy deals in the region.
In the early spring, Parnas proposed a deal to the chief executive officer of the Ukraine State-owned gas company Naftogaz, and he advised Giuliani on a methane project in Uzbekistan for which the Trump attorney and his associates were to be paid at least $100,000.
The unsealed indictment said Parnas acted “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials”.
No official was named, but Ambassador Yovanovitch’s leading critic in the Ukrainian government was Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.
Criticized in Ukraine for his failure to address corruption, Lutsenko approached Giuliani in November 2018, according to “a law enforcement source familiar with the Giuliani-Lutsenko connection”.
The prosecutor allegedly invented a “don’t prosecute” list, which he claimed was given to him by Yovanovitch. The law enforcement official said ,“[Lutsenko] strongly needed some political ally, he believed that Giuliani could convey specific messages to Trump, and he created this message to become more interesting to the American establishment.”
Giuliani later told Fox News that he was approached by a “very significant distinguished investigator”, without naming Lutsenko.
The August 12 formal complaint by a CIA official who liaised with the White House, which sparked the furor over Trump-Ukraine and then the impeachment inquiry, said Giuliani met Lutsenko at least twice: in New York in January and in Warsaw the following month.
Giuliani subsequently claimed, with no evidence, that the “don’t prosecute” list was part of a liberal anti-Trump conspiracy including Yovanovitch and bankrolled by the philanthropist George Soros. The State Department said the list was an “outright fabrication”.
Trump: “I Don’t Know Those Gentlemen”
Trump fervently tried to distance himself from Parnas and Fruman on Thurday:
I don’t know those gentlemen. Now it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do. I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy.
Trump invited Fruman to a fundraiser in 2018 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The two men were photographed at the event, with Trump giving a thumbs-up sign.
Parnas posted a photo on Twitter this spring of himself with Trump. Wishing Trump a happy birthday, Parnas wrote, “I am honored to call you Mr. President!!! And my friend!!”
Last month, Giuliani said the campaign finance inquiry into Parnas and Fruman had bee resolved. On Thursday, he denigrated the indictment, “All I can tell you about this arrest is, it comes at a very suspicious time.”