Trump associates pressured Ukraine over gas firm in order to benefit allies: report

A group of President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE's associates pressed Ukraine to install new management at the top of the country's massive state gas company last spring in order to benefit some of their allies, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

The businessmen and Republican donors touted connections to Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiFormer NYC police commissioner to testify before Jan. 6 committee, demands apology Midterms are coming: Will we get answers on Jan. 6 before it's too late? Subpoenas show Jan. 6 panel's focus on Trump's plans MORE while trying to funnel lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, two people with knowledge of the plans told the outlet.

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The plan was derailed by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's loss in the 2019 election to Volodymyr Zelensky, whose conversation with Trump about former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Five House members meet with Taiwanese president despite Chinese objections Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist MORE and his son Hunter Biden is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry launched last month.

Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans eager to take on Spanberger in Virginia Republicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party College football move rocks Texas legislature MORE took up efforts to install a new management team at the helm of the gas company after Zelensky's win, according to the AP.

It is unclear whether Perry’s attempt to replace board members at Naftogaz was coordinated with the Giuliani allies pushing for a similar outcome, the AP reported.

Perry's spokesperson told The Hill Monday that Perry did not "advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company" when calling for the "modernization and reform of Kiev's business and energy sector."

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.

 

The report could raise concerns that Trump allies may have been mixing business and politics when calling for the investigation into Hunter Biden, who served five years on the board of another Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

According to the AP, the associates attempting to change leadership at the state gas company might have had inside knowledge of the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine. For example, they appeared to know well in advance that Trump would recall the U.S. ambassador there.

Three businessmen were at center of the Naftogaz operation, according to the AP: two Soviet-born Florida real estate entrepreneurs, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and an oil magnate from Boca Raton, Fla., named Harry Sargeant III.

Parnas and Fruman, two influential Republican donors, have reportedly gained access to top levels of the Republican Party, including meetings with Trump.

Along with Sargeant, another major donor, they were reportedly pushing a plan to replace Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev with another senior executive at the company, Andrew Favorov. 

They met Favorov while the Ukrainian executive was attending an energy industry conference in Texas to support efforts to import American natural gas into Ukraine.

John Dowd, a former Trump attorney who now represents Parnas and Fruman, told the AP it was actually the Naftogaz executives who approached his clients about making a deal.

Sargeant’s attorney, Christopher Kise, told The Hill Monday that his client “conducts no business of any kind in the Ukraine and has not visited Ukraine, even as a tourist, in well over a decade.”

“Mr. Sargeant was asked to attend an informal dinner with Andrew Favorov, Igor Fruman, and Lev Parnas, and to offer his views on the global oil and gas industry,” Kise, referring to the Texas energy conference meeting.

“Mr. Sargeant never discussed any role or participation in any Ukraine venture, nor any specifics regarding the potential business ventures of the other dinner participants.”

Trump reportedly told House Republicans on Friday that Perry prompted the phone call with Zelensky.

"The only reason I made the call was because Rick asked me to. Something about an LNG [liquified natural gas] plant," Trump reportedly said.

Perry's spokesperson told The Hill on Sunday that Perry told Trump to make the call "to discuss matters related to their energy security and economic development."

Updated on Oct. 7 at 2:29 p.m.