USA: Trump denied knowing two arrested Ukrainians, despite having dinner with them

Mike Pence, Igor fruman, Lev Parnas, President Trump, and Rudy Giuliani are pictured in an image captured by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
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  • Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman assisted Rudy Giuliani’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate his theory about the 2016 elections and were his clients
  • They are both Soviet-born American citizens and donated $325,000 to pro-Trump super PAC through an LLC
  • They were arrested Wednesday evening at Dulles Airport, VA, before boarding a flight to Vienna with one-way tickets
  • Accused of breaking campaign finance laws and concealing foreign donations – with prosecutors saying the money came from a mystery Russian businessman
  • Pair also accused of getting then GOP Rep. Pete Sessions to push for the firing of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who Trump later got rid of
  • They are now being held until they post $1 million bail each and then will be subject to home confinement while they await trial
  • Case is being brought by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who previously jailed Michael Cohen for campaign finance violations
  • The men were arrested hours after lunching with Giuliani at the Trump Hotel D.C.; Giuliani uncharacteristically is declining to comment
  • Parnas boasted about dining at the White House with Trump and posted ‘Feeling fantastic’ on Facebook with a picture with the president and his dinner setting
  • Trump claimed that the White House does not know either man, including his dining companion
  • A third man is in custody as part of the plot and a fourth is on the run; another aspect of the alleged plot is alleged bribery to get a marijuana license

A pair of Florida businessmen who worked with Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to promote politically-charged investigations in Ukraine were arrested on federal campaign finance charges as they tried to flee the country, it was revealed Thursday.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were each born in former Soviet republics, assisted Giuliani’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate his theory about the 2016 elections, and also help Giuliani’s effort to dig up dirt on a company tied to the Bidens in Ukraine.

They were arrested at Dulles Airport just before getting on a plane to Vienna, Austria – and a few hours after they were seen lunching with Giuliani at the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C.

At a federal court hearing in Alexandria, VA, Thursday afternoon federal prosecutors said the pair were a flight risk.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were arrested and charged with campaign finance crimes in an indictment unsealed Thursday

U.S. Judge Michael Nachmanoff ordered Parnas and Fruman to post $1 million each in bail, surrender their passports and be subject to home detention, among other conditions, before they can be released from jail.

The two men cultivated ties with a series of top Republican officials. They had dinner with President Trump at the White House and dined with Donald Trump Jr. in 2018.

Parnas, who ran a company called Fraud Guarantee, bragged about dining with the president at the White House that year.

At the White House Trump denied knowing either man, including his White House dining companion Parnas.

Giuliani has said both are clients of his. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the president, told Reuters that ‘neither the president nor the campaign was aware ‘of the defendants’ alleged scheme.

While they were sitting in Alexandria Sheriff’s Office cells, the Soviet-born duo were also hit with subpoenas by the House Intelligence Committee.

In an indictment unsealed Thursday in the Southern District of New York, the men are accused of funneling $325,000 from a mystery Russian businessman into America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC in violation of U.S. campaign laws banning foreign donations and efforts to conceal campaign funds.

Flight risk: U.S. Judge Michael Nachmanoff ordered Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to post $1 million each in bail, surrender their passports and be subject to home detention, among other conditions, before they can be released from jail

In addition to helping Trump, the same super PAC spent millions to boost former Texas GOP Rep Pete Sessions, who wrote a letter calling for the firing of former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich, who Trump trashed on his infamous July call with the Ukrainian president and who House Democrats want to interview Friday as part of their impeachment probe.

The House Intelligence Committee wants both men to testify about their work with Giuliani in Ukraine as part of its impeachment probe into Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.

Their lawyer John Dowd – Trump’s former attorney – has said they won’t provide the information. Amid the standoff, three House committees issued subpoenas for interviews and information.

Dowd hung up on an Associated Press reporter seeking comment. He had previously replied to the Democrat-controlled committee rejecting the subpoenas and writing in comic sans font. He had also accused the Democrats of harassing his clients.

The men were arrested late Wednesday at Dulles airport in Virginia as they were about to fly abroad with one-way tickets to Vienna, according to prosecutors.

The pair donated $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through an LLC, prosecutors say.

Although the indictment mentions only an alleged scheme to violate campaign finance laws, the two men are also connected to the sprawling Ukraine matter that has President Trump now facing a ramped-up House Democratic impeachment effort.

The Associated Press reported that the two men sought to use their connections to Giuliani to get the Ukrainian state gas company, Naftogaz, to replace members of their board of directors.

U.S. President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, U.S. September 20, 2019. Giuliani said both Parnas and Fruman were his clients. They assisted his Ukraine investigation

The indictment doesn’t mention Giuliani, whose association with Parnas and Fruman was part of his effort to amass potential dirt on Trump political rival Joe Biden.

The pair dined with Donald Trump Jr. in May 2018, along with Tommy Hicks Jr., according to a Facebook post that captured the event. Hicks was leading the pro-Trump super PAC at the time and now has a position as co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

This Facebook screen shot provided by The Campaign Legal Center, shows from left, Donald Trump, Jr., Tommy Hicks, Jr., Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, posted on May 21, 2018

They also had dinner with President Trump, and images Parnas posted on Twitter in May thanks the president for an ‘incredible dinner and even better conversation’ at the White House.

He also wrote: ‘!!!! Making America Great!!!!!!!’ and tagged ‘#TRUMP2020.’

An image posted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project shows them pictured with Vice President Mike Pence, Trump, and Giuliani.

They also donated to Florida Sen. Rick Scott and hosted fundraisers for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis headlined by Donald Trump Jr., the Miami Herald reported.

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announced that the FBI arrested Parnas and Fruman at Dulles International airport in Virginia

The men are being represented by John Dowd, who served as Donald Trump’s lawyer during part of the Mueller probe.

Their company, Global Energy Producers LLC, has been accused of violating campaign finance laws for its six-figure donations to the super PAC.

Deja vu: The two Soviet-born Americans have hired Kevin Downing as an attorney. He previously represented Paul Manafort who is now serving seven and a half years in prison and facing another trial in New York under state law

U.S. election law prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions to U.S. political campaigns, as well as efforts to shield the origins of campaign donations.

Those laws are in part to protect U.S. elections from ‘illegal foreign financial influence,’ according to the indictment unsealed Thursday.

Said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman at a press conference in New York: ‘Protecting the integrity of our elections and protecting our elections from unlawful fore influence are core functions of our Campaign finance laws. And as this office has made clear, we will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute those who engage in criminal conduct that draws into question the integrity of our political process.’

Berman added: ‘And I want to add that this investigation is continuing.’

The men ‘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 the indictment.

The indictment says they concealed the effort from the campaigns themselves and laundered the contributions through LLCs and through the use of ‘straw contributors.’

Parnas was born in Ukraine and Fruman was born in Belarus.

Although the indictment doesn’t mention Trump or the pro-Trump super PAC by name, it says: ‘Specifically, in or about May 2018, to obtain access to exclusive political events and gain influence with politicians, LEV PARNAS and IGOR FRUMAN, the defendants, made a $325,000 contribution. to an independent expenditure committee (Committee-1) and a $15,000 contribution to a second independent expenditure committee Despite the fact that the FEC forms for these contributions required PARNAS and FRUMAN to disclose the true donor of the funds, they falsely reported that the contributions came from GEP, a purported liquefied natural gas import-export business that was incorporated by FRUMAN and PARNAS around the time the contributions were made.’

But in truth and fact, the funds came ‘from a private lending transaction between FRUMAN and third parties, and never passed through a GEP account,’ it says. They took the actions ‘deliberately’ in order to evade reporting requirements, according to the indictment.

Also indicted are David Correia, who is described as a businessman born in the U.S., and Andrey Kukushkin, a businessman and U.S. citizen who was born in Ukraine.

Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco, and Correia is not yet in custody, prosecutors said.

Giuliani said he couldn’t comment at this point when contacted by a Buzzfeed reporter.

Parnas told BuzzFeed he met with President Trump ‘many times.’ He was working in 2018 to help introduce Giuliani to Ukrainians as he explored his unproven theory that Ukraine carried out election interference by pushing out information on now-jailed Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Among his efforts was putting together a Skype call between Giuliani and Viktor Shokin, the former Ukrainian prosecutor whose firing Vice President Joe Biden demanded in 2016, according to the publication.

On May 9, 2018, days after his White House visit, Parnas also posted images of himself meeting Rep. Sessions, the former chair of the House Rules Committee, who was in a tough reelection fight, along with David Correia, who was also charged in the indictment.

Just two days later, Sessions wrote Secretary of Mike Pompeo, telling the nation’s top diplomat: ‘I have received notice from close companions that Ambassador Yovanovitch has spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current administration,’ the Daily Beast reported. Days later, Global Energy Producers made its donation to the America First PAC.

According to the indictment, Parnas and Frumon agreed in May and June 2018 to raise $20,000 or more for a ‘then-sitting congressman’ identified only as ‘Congressman-1’ who had been the beneficiary of $3 million in independent expenditures by the PAC.

They also sought the lawmaker’s assistance to ‘remove and recall’ the then-U.S. ambassador.

The indictment says Fruman made an individual $2,700 maximum campaign contribution, then did another in Parnas’ name. It also identifies a not-stealthy effort to ‘conceal’ contributions by putting his name as ‘Furman’ rather than the correct spelling.

The overall scheme was designed to allow the conspirators to ‘gain influence with candidates,’ the government charged.

They made contributions in their own name instead of in the name of ‘Foreign National-1.’

The took steps to hide the person’s involvement due to what Kukushkin called the person’s ‘Russian roots and current political paranoia about it.’

They also planned to use his funds to make contributions to state and federal officials in an effort to obtain a license for their recreational marijuana business. To fund their efforts to ‘gain influence’ and the ‘appearance of influence’ with politicians, the unnamed foreign national arranged for two separate $500,000 wire transfers to an account controlled by Fruman.

They attended a campaign rally with ‘Candidate-1’ in Nevada on October 20, 2018, the same day Trump held a rally in Elko, Nevada.

That was a rally where Trump campaigned for Rep. Mark Amodei.

Homestate Republican Senator Dean Heller said at the event in Nevada’s gold country: ‘Mr. President, you know a little bit about gold. In fact, I think that everything you touch turns to gold.’

Offstage, Trump told traveling reporters the U.S. would be pulling out of the 1987 intermediate-range nuclear missile treaty with the former Soviet Union.

On Nov. 1, a $10,000 contribution went to the candidate in Fruman’s name, but it was actually funded by the foreign national, according to the indictment.

Three House committees on Thursday subpoenaed Parnas and Fruman, who had not complied with an earlier request for documents.

‘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,’ the chairmen wrote their attorney, John Dowd.

‘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.’

Dowd had responded to the initial request by saying the two men by saying they ‘assisted’ Giuliani in his representation of President Trump. But he also wrote that Parnas and Fruman ‘have also been represented’ by Giuliani, making the case that attorney-client privilege could come into play.

Parnas told Reuters last month while he was under investigation that he didn’t do anything wrong. ‘I don’t know what the FBI wants. I’m not going to comment, what they are doing. What they did,’ he said.

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Michael Onas
Africa - Online Founder & Senior Editor Africa - Online.Com was founded by Michael Onas in 1997, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in African news sector, with millions of readers around the world and followers on social media.