WASHINGTON - Two associates of Rudy Giuliani pressed the then-president of Ukraine in February to announce investigations into former vice president Joe Biden’s son and purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election in exchange for a state visit, and a lawyer for one of the associates said Friday that they were doing so because Giuliani - acting on President Donald Trump’s behalf - asked them to.
The Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, met with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv, said Edward MacMahon Jr., a lawyer for Parnas. He said they were working on behalf of Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was operating on orders from Trump.
‘‘There isn’t anything that Parnas did in the Ukraine relative to the Bidens or the 2016 election that he wasn’t asked to do by Giuliani, who was acting on the direction of the president,’’ MacMahon said.
The February meeting - first reported by the Wall Street Journal - shows how Trump’s lawyer and those working for him were attempting to spur investigations that would help Trump politically months before the president pressed his Ukrainian counterpart in a controversial phone call to conduct such probes.
That July call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, who succeeded Poroshenko, would become the subject of a whistleblower complaint, and eventually lead House Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s conduct.
Parnas and Fruman, both clients of Giuliani who aided in his efforts to spur various Ukrainian investigations, were arrested last month on campaign finance charges brought by federal prosecutors in New York. They are accused of trying to funnel money to U.S. politicians while attempting to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations. Both pleaded not guilty.
The Journal reported that Robert Costello, Giuliani’s attorney, said his client had no knowledge of the February meeting. Costello did not return a message seeking comment from The Post. The White House did not immediately comment.
Reached Friday night on his cellphone, Giuliani, who is also under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York, said repeatedly, ‘‘I am not going to answer any questions about a pending case.’’ He said he was still representing Trump.
At the time of the February meeting, Poroshenko was seeking reelection, and wanting an official visit to Washington. He ultimately lost, and never announced the investigations that Parnas and Fruman asked about, nor did he get the Washington visit he wanted.
The February meeting was also attended by Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, MacMahon said. Lutsenko said in March he was investigating the Bidens, only to reverse course months later. Parnas, Fruman, Giuliani and Lutsenko also met in January.
Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman would continue their own work in Ukraine after Poroshenko’s loss, culminating with the president’s request of Zelensky in July.
Zelensky also sought a White House meeting, though the president was uninterested, according to congressional testimony given by U.S. officials in the impeachment inquiry. The officials have testified that they were led to believe such a meeting would only be granted if Zelensky announced the investigations the president wanted.
House Republicans have contemplated shielding Trump from impeachment by focusing on the work of those underneath him, including Giuliani, and asserting that they might have acted independently in their dealings with Ukraine.
Giuliani, though, has said previously that he kept the president aware of what he was doing, and Parnas’s lawyer made clear his client was not willing to be a ‘‘fall guy’’ for Trump.
‘‘It’s not a very good strategy because you actually need actors to play the fall guy, and Mr. Parnas is not even going to audition for the role,’’ MacMahon said of House Republicans’ plan.
Asked whether he felt he was being thrown under the bus, Giuliani laughed.
‘‘I’ve been thrown under the bus often enough,’’ he said, adding: ‘‘If I was thrown under a bus, I would need a paramedic, not you.’’