Two businessmen who are associates of President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani have been arrested on campaign finance violations. Is there a connection to the Trump-Ukraine scandal that has entangled the controversial, divisive president in impeachment proceedings by the House?
Here, compiled from Globe wire reports, is what we know so far about the story:
Who are the two men?
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are Florida-based executives of an energy company. Parnas, 47, a former stockbroker, was born in Ukraine and is a naturalized US citizen. Fruman was born in Belarus and is also a naturalized US citizen.
Parnas has told The Washington Post that Giuliani, Trump’s outspoken, combative lawyer, is a ‘‘very good friend’’ but their relationship is not longstanding. Parnas said he got to know Giuliani while fund-raising for Trump’s 2016 campaign. ‘‘The relationship bonded and built over time. We’re just very close,’’ he said.
In May, Giuliani tweeted that Parnas and Fruman were his ‘‘clients.” He recently said they had sought his advice on a business venture.
What did they do for Giuliani in Ukraine?
Parnas and Fruman have acted as emissaries in Ukraine for Giuliani. They helped him in his efforts to dig up information about, and encourage investigations into, Trump’s political rivals, including Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Parnas worked with Fruman to connect Giuliani to Ukrainian prosecutors who provided information to Giuliani, The New York Times has reported.
The Associated Press reported last week that Parnas and Fruman helped arrange a January meeting in New York between Ukraine’s former top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, and Giuliani, as well as other meetings with top government officials.
Lutsenko once cast doubt on Hunter Biden’s actions in Ukraine, an effort that drew Giuliani’s attention last year. Now Lutsenko says Biden “did not violate anything.”
What were they arrested for?
Parnas and Fruman face charges relating to federal campaign finance violations. Federal prosecutors allege, among other things, that Parnas and Fruman engaged in a scheme to secretly “funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and State office [to] buy potential influence with candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments.”
The donations were made ‘‘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 indictment charges.
Records indicate that, in one instance, Parnas and Fruman used wire transfers from a corporate entity they controlled to make a $325,000 donation in 2018 to the America First Action committee, the main pro-Trump super PAC.
They allegedly hid the fact that “they were the true source of the contribution,” Fruman having received the money from a “private lending transaction between Fruman and third parties,” prosecutors said. Prosecutors did not say who the third parties were.
The indictment also accuses Parnas, Fruman, and two other men of participating in a separate scheme to acquire retail marijuana licenses by donating to local and federal politicians in New York, Nevada, and other states.
Were Parnas and Fruman already on the House impeachment inquiry’s radar?
The two men, who were arrested Wednesday evening at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., with one-way tickets out of the country in their pockets, had roles in Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine to gin up an investigation of the Bidens. Trump’s attempt in a July phone call to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine into investigating the Bidens is at the core of the Trump-Ukraine scandal.
So the two men are believed to be important witnesses in the House’s impeachment inquiry. Parnas was slated to be deposed on Thursday and Fruman on Friday. Neither had been expected to show up, The New York Times reported.
Just hours after the two men were indicted, House Democrats subpoenaed Parnas and Fruman to appear for a deposition and hand over documents.
The whistle-blower complaint by an unnamed intelligence official that reported Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens refers to ‘‘associates’’ of Giuliani in Ukraine who were attempting to contact Zelensky’s team, but it’s not clear whether that refers to Parnas and Fruman.
How does the former US ambassador to the Ukraine come in to the story?
Prosecutors also alleged that Parnas urged a US congressman to seek the ouster of the US ambassador to Ukraine, at the request of Ukrainian government officials. That happened about the same time that Parnas and Fruman committed to raising more than $20,000 for the politician, the AP reported.
The congressman wasn’t identified by name in court papers, but the donations to ‘‘Congressman 1’’ in the indictment match campaign finance reports for former Republican US representative Pete Sessions. In May 2018, Parnas posted a photo of himself and an associate with Sessions in his Capitol Hill office, with the caption ‘‘Hard at work !!’’
John Dowd, an attorney for the men, hung up on an AP reporter calling about the case. Giuliani, who is not mentioned in the indictment, said he couldn’t comment on the case and that he didn’t represent the two men in campaign finance matters.
Sessions acknowledged in a statement that he had met Parnas and Fruman several times but said, “at no time did I take any official action after these meetings,” Bloomberg News reported.
Questions have swirled about the May recall of Marie Yovanovitch, who was serving as ambassador to Ukraine. Trump ordered her removal after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including from Giuliani, that she was undermining him and hampering efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, the Wall Street Journal has reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
President Trump also referred to her as ‘‘bad news’’ in the July phone call with Zelensky that sparked the whistle-blower complaint and the scandal.
Is there any connection to Trump?
By virtue of the $325,000 donations and a flurry of others, Parnas and Fruman, who were relatively unknown, gained access to the highest levels of the Republican Party, The Associated Press reports.
The Washington Post reports that previous social media posts and interviews with Parnas and Fruman indicate they interacted with Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr., and had attended events at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida and at the White House.
In a now-deleted Facebook post that was unearthed by BuzzFeed News and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Parnas displayed photos of himself and Trump at an event that apparently took place at the White House on May 1, 2018.
In an interview with a Russian-language publication later that month, Fruman said he and Parnas had attended a small group meeting with Trump in Washington the previous week and talked about the coming midterm elections.
On May 21, 2018, Parnas posted a photo online of himself and Fruman with Trump Jr. and Tommy Hicks, a Republican fund-raiser and close friend of the president’s son, at what he said was a breakfast in California.
Parnas has told The Post that he decided to get involved politically because he was a passionate supporter of Trump’s candidacy after growing up in New York and selling Trump condos in the city when Trump’s late father, Fred Trump, was still running the Trump Organization.
What does Trump say?
The indictments are the first criminal charges to be brought connected to the Ukraine controversy. They do not allege any wrongdoing by the president or his defender Giuliani, but they are likely to add fuel to the House’s impeachment probe.
Trump said Thursday he didn’t know either man. “Maybe they were clients of Rudy,” he added.
One of Trump’s outside attorneys, Jay Sekulow, said neither the president nor his campaign were aware of alleged improper contributions by the two men.
”As the indictment establishes, neither the president, nor the campaign, nor the PACs were aware of the financial issues involved,” Sekulow said.
Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.