Two foreign-born businessmen with ties to President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani were arrested on campaign finance charges at an airport with one-way tickets out of the country, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
The two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on Wednesday night “as they were about to board an international flight,” Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a press conference Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Parnas and Fruman had lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel hours before they attempted to leave the country, citing a person who saw the three together at the Washington hotel.
Andrey Kukushkin, another defendant in the federal case, was arrested shortly afterward in San Francisco, said Bill Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of FBI’s New York office. A fourth defendant, David Correia, is still at large, Sweeney said.
Berman said the investigation is still ongoing. A federal magistrate judge in Virginia granted the release of Parnas and Fruman at a bail hearing Thursday afternoon, pending secured bonds of $1 million each, NBC News reported. Once the bonds are secured, the men will be allowed to stay under house arrest at their Florida homes with GPS monitoring, according to NBC.
The two men, who gave money to a political action committee supporting Trump, “conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and State office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments,” according to an indictment in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
House Democrats leading an impeachment inquiry into Trump issued subpoenas to Parnas and Fruman on Thursday. The businessmen were ordered by the leaders of three House committees to provide documents and appear to testify as part of the impeachment probe into Trump.
President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, September 20, 2019.
Aram Roston | Reuters
The two men, both born in the former Soviet Union and currently working in Florida’s real estate market, were reportedly at the center of a plan to install a friendlier management team at the helm of Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz.
Giuliani denied to the Associated Press that he had any business dealings in Ukraine. But Giuliani previously said that he had worked with the two men as part of his efforts in Ukraine to push an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, NBC reported.
Parnas and Fruman were arrested and charged with conspiracy, lying to the Federal Election Commission and falsifying records.
“They sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official, a Ukrainian government official, who sought the dismissal of the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine,” Berman said at the Thursday afternoon press conference.
The indictment also alleges Parnas and Fruman made illegal donations to a then-sitting U.S. congressman “in order to evade federal contribution limits” and that Parnas had asked that congressman for assistance in getting the U.S. to remove its ambassador to Ukraine. NBC reported, citing multiple senior law enforcement officials, that that congressman is former Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions.
“Today there was information about an indictment released by SDNY and I have read it,” Sessions said in a statement later Thursday. “There has been a suggestion that I am ‘Congressman One’, which I cannot confirm. However, I will vigorously defend myself against any allegations of wrongdoing.”
Giuliani is named as a central figure in a whistleblower complaint that raised alarms about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the U.S. president himself asked Zelensky to “look into” the Bidens.
That call is at the center of an impeachment inquiry announced by House Democrats in late September. As part of that probe, House Democrats had asked for Parnas and Fruman to appear for depositions and provide documents. But their lawyer, John Dowd, who formerly represented Trump, told the Miami Herald this week that the two men would not comply with the Democrats’ requests.
Dowd did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the arrests and indictment of his clients.
A federal grand jury charges in the indictment that Parnas and Fruman made a $325,000 contribution in May 2018 to a political committee, named in the filing as “Committee-1,” in order to “obtain access to exclusive political events and gain influence with politicians.”
NBC reported that that contribution was made to a pro-Trump super PAC.
Parnas and Fruman falsely reported on Federal Election Commission forms that the donation came from a purported natural gas company they had incorporated around the time the money was sent, the indictment alleges.
Parnas and Fruman also allegedly sent a $15,000 contribution to a second committee and reported it using the same false source.
Pro-Trump super PAC America First confirmed the donation in a statement to NBC on Thursday, saying it “has not been used … for any purpose.”
The Campaign Legal Center said Thursday in a release by its president, Trevor Potter, that the organization had uncovered the donations and flagged them for the authorities last year.
“Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate Biden was helped by two Soviet-born business partners who bought access with big political contributions illegally laundered through a shell corporation,” said Brendan Fischer, the CLC’s director of federal reform. “As the indictment states, these contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.”
The subpoenas from the Democrats — House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel — were issued less than two days after the White House said it would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. The Trump administration blocked a key witness in the probe, U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, from appearing for a deposition earlier this week.
In a letter to Dowd, the chairmen wrote: “Your clients are private citizens who are not employees of the Executive Branch. They 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.”
Source: Alexandria Sheriff’s Office
Source: Alexandria Sheriff’s Office