Federal agents have just arrested two of Rudy Giuliani’s close associates on felony campaign finance violations, both of whom are allegedly key players in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine into giving him political assistance in the 2020 election. (indictment embedded below)
Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York arrested the men as they attempted to flee the country, according to NBC News.
Two Soviet-born U.S. citizens and South Florida residents, Igor Fruman of Belarus and Lev Parnas of Ukraine, appeared today in a Virginia federal court, and now stand accused of making an illegal $325,000 straw donation for a foreign person to Trump’s top SuperPAC, America First Action, then lying to the FEC in a weak attempt to cover up their crimes.
Both Fruman and Parnas fell under the national media microscope after they were discovered to have been the middlemen in connecting Rudy Giuliani with former Ukranian prosecutors in late 2018 as part of his efforts to gin up a fake scandal against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
In addition, the men met with and donated to “Congressman-1,” who is most likely former Texas Representative and America First Action beneficiary Pete Sessions, in exchange for his support in removing the career diplomat Ambassador to Ukraine who Giuliani accused of standing in the way of Trump’s foreign election collusion scheme.
Reporters at the Wall Street Journal broke the story of their arrest and the news that their links to Trump are direct:
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had dinner with the president in early May 2018, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured in a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
They also met with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., later that month at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, Calif., along with Tommy Hicks Jr. , a close friend of the younger Mr. Trump who at the time was heading America First Action. Mr. Parnas posted a photo of their breakfast four days after his LLC donated to the super PAC.
However, the crux of the crime is that the two men created a fake import-export company purporting to trade Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) in order to funnel donations on behalf of an unnamed foreign national who put up the cash.
Just last week, President Trump threw Energy Secretary Rick Perry under the bus for encouraging him to make the July 25th quid pro quo phone call with Ukraine’s president, which he told House Republicans he made because of Perry’s LNG deal. It’s unknown if there is a tie between Perry’s LNG advocacy and Giuliani’s newly arrested associates, but the AP reports that Fruman, Parnas and Perry schemed to pack the board of Ukraine’s vast, state-owned gas company with their allies.
House investigators are keen to learn more about Parnas and Fruman’s role in the privately motivated May 2019 removal of Ambassador Mary Yovanovich, which was allegedly engineered by Rudy Giuliani because she was “was undermining him abroad and hindering efforts to investigate Mr. Biden.”
Just last week, Fruman and Parnas stonewalled the House impeachment inquiry into their role as Trump’s operatives in Ukraine, which they announced with the President’s former criminal defense lawyer (in Comic Sans font) by refusing to deliver documents or testimony.
Now that they’re in custody, it seems more likely that the House will get to depose the men promptly.
A group of journalists including Pulitzer-prize winning Miami Herald reporter Nick Nehamas first revealed the two men’s identities and residency in South Florida, soon after they were cited in the whistleblower’s complaint that touched of the House impeachment inquiry. It’s a bizarre echo of Watergate, in which four Miami men known as the “plumbers” became Nixon’s political operatives after they got caught breaking into DNC headquarters.
Today’s arrest signals a major turning point in the impeachment inquiry because the criminal conduct federal prosecutors allege against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman directly relates to their efforts in Ukraine to support Trump’s 2020 re-election bid.
Original reporting by Aruna Viswanatha, Rebecca Ballhaus and Sadie Gurman at the Wall Street Journal.
Here’s the complete indictment of Trump’s henchmen:
Grant Stern is an Editor-At-Large for OccupyDemocrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report. Find out more at grantstern.com.