Giuliani associates who aided Ukraine investigation arrested on campaign finance charges

Two men who aided efforts by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden were arrested on campaign finance violation charges Wednesday.

Federal authorities arrested Florida businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, alleging that they violated campaign finance laws in order to funnel money to numerous Republican committees, including a $325,000 contribution in May 2018 to a pro-Trump super PAC called America First Action.

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The charges allege that the two men participated in a straw donor scheme to provide money to political candidates. It does not appear that the allegations are related to the controversy over Giuliani's work in Ukraine.

Fruman and Parnas, both U.S. citizens who were born in Ukraine, are expected to appear in federal court Thursday in Virginia. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has been investigating both men.

After the arrests were announced on Thursday, a trio of House committees pursuing the impeachment inquiry against Trump issued subpoenas to the two men for documents related to their work with Ukrainian officials and political contributions in the U.S.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office said that Fruman and Parnas were arrested at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night. Another man named in the indictment, Andrey Kukushkin, was arrested in California. A fourth, an American businessman named David Correia, has not been arrested.

In March 2018, the indictment alleged, Fruman and Parnas “began attending political fundraising events in connection with federal elections and making substantial contributions to candidates, joint fundraising committees, and independent expenditure committees with the purpose of enhancing their influence in political circles and gaining access to politicians.”

They allegedly created a fake organization called Global Energy Producers to funnel contributions to political committees. According to campaign finance filings, the organization only made campaign donations to the America First Action as well as a $15,000 donation to a super PAC supporting Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s Republican attorney general.

The Campaign Legal Center, a transparency advocacy group, filed a Federal Elections Commission complaint about the super PAC donation in July 2018.

According to the indictment, the contributions “were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as 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 two men allegedly lobbied an unnamed, then-sitting congressman to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, who at the time was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. The career diplomat was recalled from that post in May.

The details outlined in the indictment of the two men's contributions to the unnamed congressmen align with campaign finance records of their donations to now-former Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTexas GOP rep predicts heavy Democratic presence in state ahead of 2020 Bottom Line The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - GOP snags mic with impeachment protest MORE (R-Texas).

In a statement released through a spokesman, Sessions denied any wrongdoing. He said that he had written to the State Department calling for Yovanovitch's removal, but not because Fruman and Parnas had asked him to.

"I was first approached by these individuals for a meeting about the strategic need for Ukraine to become energy independent," Sessions said. "There was no request in that meeting and I took no action. Over time, I recall that there were a couple additional meetings. Again, at no time did I take any official action after these meetings.
 

The two men allegedly dined with Trump himself in 2018 and later met with his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., at a Beverly Hills, Calif., fundraiser, according to reporting in The Wall Street Journal, which also was first to report on the indictments.

The two reportedly introduced Giuliani to several Ukrainian officials to discuss the dismissal of a prosecutor, which Trump has alleged without evidence was the result of Biden sabotaging an investigation into a company his son Hunter worked for. Trump’s attempts to encourage Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden led the House to open an impeachment inquiry.

Earlier this week, John Dowd, a former attorney for Trump who represents the two men, told the Miami Herald they would not cooperate with House requests for documents as part of the investigation. Parnas previously told the newspaper he “got certain information” about Biden “and I thought it was my duty to hand it over.”

The Hill has reached out to Dowd for comment.

Updated at 4:52 p.m.