A group of President Trump‘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 Giuliani while trying to funnel lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, two people with knowledge of the plans told the outlet.
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 Biden and his son Hunter Biden is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry launched last month.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry 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.
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 8:05 a.m.