Two associates of Rudy Giuliani were charged with campaign finance violations Thursday, an abrupt development that sent shockwaves through Washington and put increased scrutiny on President Trump’s personal lawyer.
The Ukraine-born businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested late Wednesday at Dulles International Airport with one-way international tickets.
Parnas and Fruman, who are both U.S. citizens, are accused of orchestrating a straw donor scheme to circumvent campaign finance laws, partly by funneling $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC using a fake energy company they created.
Federal prosecutors also indicted American businessman David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, who was arrested in California. Correia has not been arrested.
The indictment makes no mention of Giuliani, nor does it indicate that he was aware of or involved in the alleged scheme. But the charges have put a renewed focus on Giuliani since Parnas and Fruman were helping him press Ukraine for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden.
Here are five things to know about the arrest, the charges and the immediate fallout.
Giuliani at the center of the storm
The arrests only widened the storm around Giuliani, who has been seen as leading the charge among Trump’s allies to push allegations of corruption against Biden and his son Hunter.
The president’s personal attorney was mentioned in Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the subsequent whistleblower complaint at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry into Trump. Giuliani has openly admitted to seeking out damaging information on the Bidens to aid Trump, and Parmas and Fruman allegedly played a key role in that effort.
The two men connected Giuliani with Ukrainian officials as he sought out damaging information on the Bidens. Their arrests do not appear to be directly connected to Giuliani’s efforts.
Giuliani declined to comment to The Hill on Thursday about the developments, but he told Fox News the timing of the arrests were “extremely suspicious.”
House Democrats have already targeted Giuliani with a subpoena seeking his communications related to Hunter Biden and any efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens.
Giuliani’s direct connection to Parnas and Fruman will likely intensify those demands, and may even expand the scope of what Democrats are seeking.
Added momentum for impeachment inquiry
Shortly after the charges were revealed on Thursday, three House committees subpoenaed Parnas and Fruman for documents and indicated they plan to call both as witnesses in their widening investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Democrats see both individuals as key witnesses in their impeachment probe into Trump’s efforts to encourage Ukraine to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against the Bidens. Parnas and Fruman were reportedly involved in Giuliani’s push for investigations in Ukraine, and the arrests only amplified their connections to Trump’s associates.
John Dowd, the attorney for Parnas and Fruman, wrote to the panel on Thursday saying his clients “assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump.”
“Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs,” Dowd wrote, asserting that some of the documents were protected under attorney-client privilege.
The White House announced earlier this week that the executive branch would not cooperate with House Democrats’ demands in the impeachment inquiry. And while that means Trump may have success blocking administration officials from testifying and providing documents, the executive branch has little latitude to prevent private witnesses like Parnas and Fruman from speaking with lawmakers.
Trump seeks to distance himself
The president on Thursday sought to distance himself from Parnas and Fruman.
“I don’t know those gentlemen. Now, it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.
“I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy’s. You’d have to ask Rudy,” Trump added.
A photograph of Trump smiling with Giuliani, Fruman and Parnas has been published by various news outlets and made the rounds Thursday following news of the arrests.
Another one of Trump’s personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow, issued a statement on Thursday highlighting that the indictment indicates neither the president nor the Trump campaign were aware of the allegations against Parnas and Fruman.
But the charges against them could still ensnare the president, particularly if Giuliani is implicated.
Asked if he’s concerned if Giuliani may get indicted, Trump told reporters Thursday, “I hope not.”
Focus on former GOP lawmaker and influence scheme
The indictment details an effort by Parnas and Fruman to use their political contributions to sway a then-sitting congressman to push for the removal of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who Trump eventually recalled in May.
The charging documents don’t identify the congressman by name, but the pattern of campaign contributions detailed by prosecutors matches with the donations that the two men gave to former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). Sessions lost his reelection bid last year to a Democrat but has announced that he’ll be running in another Texas district in 2020.
In May and June of 2018, Parnas and Fruman pledged $20,000 to Sessions’s campaign. At the behest of at least one Ukrainian government official, the two men asked Sessions to persuade Trump to recall Yovanovitch, who is scheduled to testify before congressional committees on Friday.
In June 2018, Fruman gave $2,700 — the legal limit for an election cycle — to Sessions’s campaign. He then allegedly gave another $2,700 to the campaign under Parnas’s name.
Sessions said that he had no knowledge of a foreign influence scheme and that he did not take any official actions as a result of his meetings with Parnas and Fruman.
“I was first approached by these individuals for a meeting about the strategic need for Ukraine to become energy independent,” Sessions said Thursday in a statement released by a spokesman. “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.”
Sessions wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May 2018 calling for Yovanovitch’s removal, but he said in the statement that he did so because he had heard that she had been disparaging Trump privately.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Parnas and Fruman were leaving the country
Parnas and Fruman were arrested Wednesday night at Dulles International Airport, where they were planning to board an international flight, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said at a news conference Thursday.
“Last night at the Washington Dulles International Airport, the FBI arrested Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman on campaign finance related charges as they attempted to leave the United States,” said William Sweeney, the assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office.
Another associate of theirs was taken into custody in San Francisco, he said, and a fourth man was not yet in custody as of Thursday afternoon.
The Wall Street Journal later reported that the Parnas and Fruman had lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel on Wednesday afternoon before heading to the airport.
The emerging details are likely to fuel scrutiny of their connection to the president’s personal attorney.
Giuliani has acknowledged working with Parnas and Fruman, but the fact that they were meeting just hours before the arrests will likely raise additional questions about the nature of their discussions and the fact that they were taking place amid the House impeachment inquiry.