Federal prosecutors unsealed charges on Thursday against two men who have aided President Trump’s efforts to gather damaging information in Ukraine about his political opponents, a criminal case that signaled growing legal exposure for the president’s allies as Mr. Trump tries to blunt an impeachment inquiry in Congress.
The indictment of the two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, sketched a complex scheme to violate campaign finance laws and did not accuse Mr. Trump of wrongdoing. But it revealed new details about the push to pressure Ukraine: a campaign encouraged by Mr. Trump, led by his private lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and assisted by obscure figures like Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman.
The accusation is that the two used shell companies to launder Russian money into the campaign coffers of a U.S. Congressman. That congressman wrote a letter to Mike Pompeo complaining about the U.S. ambassador who had criticized the prosecutor who had once looked into Burisma, the company on whose board Hunter Biden had sat.
Parnas and Fruman had lunch the day before their arrest with — ta da! — Rudy Giuliani. Another interesting tidbit about these folks and Giuliani concerns their parallel and totally unrelated impending trips to Vienna. The feds had not planned to arrest Parnas and Fruman this early, but they had one-way tickets to Frankfurt, Germany, and were in the airport when taken into custody. The Wall Street Journal has reported that their ultimate destination was Vienna. Giuliani was also headed there the next day, but supposedly had no plans to meet with them there. As the Atlantic wryly observes: “By this logic, Giuliani was also planning to fly to Vienna within roughly 24 hours of his business associates, but do no business with them while all three were there.” Totally believable!
Trump denies knowing these guys. Naturally there is a photo of him with both of them and Giuliani. But, as Trump says, he is photographed with a lot of people. He also had dinner with Parnas at least once at the White House, but I guess he also has dinner with a lot of people at the White House. After all: who among us hasn’t eaten dinner with Trump at the White House?
Lost in the stories about the indictment is a significant fact: Parnas and Fruman were pursuing a liquefied gas venture in Ukraine, and thus could have benefited financially from an investigation of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas company. In this connection, I think it’s worth quoting at length from a post I wrote on October 2, nine days ago:
It’s good to see that Trump superfans are totally concerned about people with ties to the U.S. government using those ties to further their personal interests, or the interests of people they represent. That’s how I know Trump superfans will totally be Very Concerned about this:
The hunt by President Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani for material in Ukraine damaging to Democrats has put a spotlight on business ties he has had in the former Soviet republic for at least a decade, work that has introduced him to high-level Ukrainian financial and political circles.
Giuliani has said he has been working for free solely to benefit his client, Trump, as he has sought information from Ukrainian officials — an effort that has spurred a House impeachment inquiry into whether the president abused his power.
However, House investigators are now seeking records about Giuliani’s past clientele in Ukraine, including Pavel Fuks, a wealthy developer who financed consulting work Giuliani did in 2017 for the city of Kharkiv. That same year, according to court filings, Fuks said he was banned from entering the United States for five years. The documents do not specify why.
House committees have also requested documents and depositions from two of Giuliani’s current clients, Florida-based businessmen who have been pursuing opportunities in Ukraine for a new liquefied natural gas venture.
The men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have been assisting Giuliani’s push to get Ukrainian officials to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son and Giuliani’s claim that Democrats conspired with Ukrainians in the 2016 campaign.
A new liquefied natural gas venture. Hmmmmmmm. Does that sound familiar, Trump superfans?
Oooh! I know. Burisma is a natural gas company. In fact, the largest one in Ukraine.
And Rudy represents their competitors. Competitors who would stand to gain a lot if Burisma were criminally investigated in Ukraine.
In this quotation I added extra emphasis to the name “Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman” — the folks whose indictment was unsealed yesterday.
The only mention I see of Parnas and Fruman’s natural gas ambitions in the New York Times story appears in the 21st paragraph, which states:
The work the two men did in Ukraine for Mr. Giuliani seems to have been a mixture of business and politics. Mr. Parnas advised Mr. Giuliani on energy deals in the region and pursued his own in Ukraine even as he portrayed himself as a representative of Mr. Giuliani on the Trump-related matters.
That seems to leave out a lot of context.
I have to believe that someone will notice this connection, and that we will be hearing a lot more about it.
[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]