When Trump’s Thugs Turn on Him

Lev Parnas has shown us Trumpism from the inside.

One good thing about surrounding yourself with tawdry gangsters and grifters is that if they flip on you, you can claim they have no credibility because they’re criminals.

Now that Lev Parnas, a key conspirator in Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s plot to shake down Ukraine, is singing, Trump’s defenders are pointing out that he is a disreputable person who can’t be trusted. “This is a man who is under indictment and who’s actually out on bail. This is a man who owns a company called Fraud Inc.,” the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said on Fox News, the only network on which she regularly appears. (Parnas’s company was actually called Fraud Guarantee, though that’s not any better.)

Grisham is obviously correct that he’s a shady character. He’s certainly not someone you’d want, say, threatening foreign officials on behalf of the president of the United States, as Parnas claimed he did during an extraordinary interview with Rachel Maddow that aired on Wednesday and Thursday on MSNBC.

Trumpists similarly dismissed Michael Cohen, who served as Trump’s personal lawyer before Giuliani did. The day Cohen testified to Congress that Trump is a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat,” a Trump campaign spokeswoman blasted him as “a felon, a disbarred lawyer and a convicted perjurer.” (Some of his felonies, of course, were things he did for Trump.) When Rick Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, testified against his former boss Paul Manafort, Manafort’s lawyer grilled him, asking, “After all the lies you’ve told and fraud you’ve committed, you expect this jury to believe you?”

Giuliani himself is under federal criminal investigation. In a 2018 text to Parnas recently released by the House Intelligence Committee, Giuliani seemed to joke, apropos of Robert Mueller, “I’m no rat,” but should the prospect of prison ever change his mind, expect Republicans to make a similar case against believing a crooked and paranoid barfly. A willingness to associate with Trump is a sign of moral turpitude, so most witnesses to his venal schemes will necessarily be compromised.

Thus nothing that Parnas said in the Maddow interview should be taken at face value. Important questions remain unanswered, including who was paying all of the bills. (Remember — he was paying Giuliani, not vice versa.) Parnas’s decision to go public in the first place is hard to fathom.

None of that, however, means that his dramatic interview on the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial shouldn’t be taken seriously. That’s because much of what he says has been corroborated, and because the very fact that a person like Parnas was carrying out high-level international missions for the president shows how mob-like this administration is.

You don’t have to take Parnas’s word that he was working at the president’s behest. Last fall, when House impeachment investigators asked for documents and testimony from Parnas and his associate, Igor Fruman, they were initially represented by John Dowd, formerly one of Trump’s defense lawyers in the Mueller inquiry. Dowd, in turn, wrote to Congress that Parnas and Fruman would not cooperate with the impeachment investigation because some of the information the House sought may have been privileged. “Be advised that Messers. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump,” the letter said. (Documents that Parnas later provided to the House Intelligence Committee show that Trump signed off on Dowd representing them.)

Some of the most disturbing and clarifying information Parnas has provided since turning on Trump involves the administration’s fixation on Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine. It’s true that people around Trump saw her as an obstacle to getting Ukraine’s government to open a politically motivated investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, but that doesn’t quite explain the scale of the animosity toward her.

Trump didn’t just fire her. He told Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, that she was going to “go through some things.” We learned this week that Robert Hyde, a deranged Trumpworld hanger-on and Republican congressional candidate, sent a series of messages to Parnas suggesting he was stalking Yovanovitch. (Ukraine has opened an investigation into Hyde’s activity, and on Thursday he was visited by the F.B.I.) A lawyer and Fox News regular named Victoria Toensing — who has represented a Kremlin-aligned Ukrainian oligarch who is, according to the Justice Department, an upper-echelon associate of Russian organized crime figures — texted Giuliani saying, “Is there absolute commitment for her to be gone this week?” Why the obsession with Yovanovitch?

Parnas added to the evidence that when it came to Yovanovitch, Trump and his crew willingly allowed themselves to be manipulated by Yuri Lutsenko, a disgraced former chief prosecutor of Ukraine who loathed her for her anti-corruption work. (As the State Department official George Kent said during the impeachment hearings, you can’t fight corruption “without pissing off corrupt people.”) In WhatsApp messages to Parnas, Lutsenko expressed fury that Yovanovitch hadn’t been fired yet. He spoke of all he’d done to push the spurious Biden scandal, adding, “And yet you can’t even get rid of one fool.”

“In that text message to you,” Maddow asked on Thursday, “is Mr. Lutsenko saying, in effect, listen, if you want me to make these Biden allegations, you’re going to have to get rid of this ambassador?” Parnas replied: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

A few months ago, I wrote a column arguing that when it comes to Ukraine, Trump is at once a con man and a mark, and the information Parnas has provided backs this up. Having promised Lutsenko that he’d get Yovanovitch fired, Parnas told Trump, falsely, that Yovanovitch had bad-mouthed him. His text messages show that he pushed Donald Trump Jr. to tweet about her.

Parnas was the vehicle through which a dirty Ukrainian politician pulled Trump’s strings to take revenge on an American official who’d tried to uphold the rule of law. She was threatened, smeared and fired in part because Trump is easily influenced by the goons and bottom feeders in his orbit.

By going public, Parnas has probably done nothing to sway Republicans toward removing Trump from office, not because they don’t believe him, but because they know Trump did what he’s accused of and don’t care. Writing to Politico’s John F. Harris, a Trump supporter recently described the president as “our O.J.,” an apt analogy for Republicans’ vengeful determination to give a guilty man impunity. (As it happens, Trump will be represented by one of O.J. Simpson’s old lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, at his Senate trial.)

But Parnas is worth paying attention to because he’s shown us, once again, what Trumpism looks like from the inside. It’s part “The Sopranos” and part, as he put it to Maddow, a “cult.” The qualities that discredit Parnas are the same ones that let him fit right in.

Republicans, the Real Chickens of Kiev

A bad day for the president, from Roger Stone’s criminal conviction to Marie Yovanovitch’s moral conviction.

When he was running in 2016, Donald Trump told me that he reminded himself of another presidential candidate — someone, Trump said, who was also tremendously good-looking, a former entertainer and a Democrat-turned-Republican.

The vainglorious Trump felt he was the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

It is true that, like Reagan, Trump has reshaped his party in his own image, fully inhabiting it. But Reagan’s great mission was to thwart the Evil Empire, taunting that he would put a Star Wars shield in the sky. He wanted democratic ideals to supersede authoritarian rule in the Soviet Union.

Trump’s more sinister and incomprehensible aim is to help the Russians whenever he can.

While Reagan’s legacy will be helping to tear down communism and that wall, Trump’s legacy will be turning Republican lawmakers into dupes assisting Russia as it undermines our democracy — and democracy around the world.

Privately, many Republicans say that they do not buy into all of Trump’s deeply disturbing, topsy-turvy policies toward authoritarian regimes. Trump began echoing the Kremlin talking points during his campaign, saying about Vladimir Putin’s Crimea annexation: “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

But G.O.P. pols go along publicly because they are recreants, slavishly trying to hold onto voters who are more intensely aligned with Trump than old-style Republicans.

Republicans may be winning the impeachment battle on Fox News but they are getting clobbered by the classy diplomats demonstrating true patriotism in the hearing room. Republican members of the Intelligence Committee risibly struggle to back up Trump on his demented conspiracy theory — belied by the consensus of the entire U.S. intelligence community — that it was Ukraine that meddled in the 2016 election to help Hillary, rather than Putin who meddled to help Trump.

Nancy Pelosi never spoke truer words than when she chided Trump, “With you, all roads lead to Putin.”

Reagan would be stunned to find Republican members of the House at war with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. — all to bolster Trump’s tender ego. Their preference seems to be to allow Russian meddling again if that’s what’s necessary for Trump to prevail a year from now.

Despite Republican efforts to throw up a smokescreen, despite their complaints that they are being muzzled even as they pose questions, it is clear that the president was putting his own political interests — looking for dirt on Hillary and the Bidens — above national security and using shady henchmen to do it.

It’s laughable that Donald Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine. Rather, the most corrupt president ever was determined to export his own corruption to Ukraine.

The longtime civil servants made clear that history in Ukraine is still being written, that soldiers are dying in the “hot war” between Russian and Ukraine and that subjugating U.S. policy to Trump’s petty, paranoid actions may yet deprive us of a valuable ally.

Alluding to Rudy Giuliani and his indicted cronies, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said: “Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador. How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign, corrupt interests could manipulate our government?”

Because Republicans are now dupes to dictators and sleazy foreign businessmen.

Republicans tried to minimize the former ambassador’s ordeal at the hands of her bosses, suggesting it was a matter for H.R. and noting that she now has a sweet gig at Georgetown University. Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley sarcastically riposted that Yovanovitch getting ousted at the pinnacle of her career no doubt felt “like a Hallmark movie.”

Trump told Ukrainian President Zelensky that “the woman was bad news” and added ominously that “she’s going to go through some things.” In another call, Trump introduced his favorite subjects — beauty pageants and Eastern European beauties — telling Zelensky: “When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people. Ukraine was always very well represented.”

In an aria of oblivious self-destruction, the president further intimidated Yovanovitch just at the very moment that she was testifying about how she had felt intimidated by the president.

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he tweeted, seemingly blaming her for Black Hawk Down. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”

In testimony Friday afternoon, another State Department aide said that he too overheard Trump on a call with Ambassador Gordon Sondland of the European Union pressing for investigations and that Trump was reassured by his man in Kiev that Zelensky “loves your ass” and would do what it takes. Oh, high-level diplomacy.

Democrats know Moscow Mitch will squelch them in the end but hope they’ll get through to enough independents and suburban Republicans to deny Trump a second term.

No matter how many decent Americans come forward to expose his sordid behavior, will Trump be hauled out of the White House kicking and screaming while a celebratory Baby Trump balloon flies overhead?

The answer to that: Nyet.

‘The Five’ on key takeaways from second public impeachment hearing

Republicans and Democrats spar again in the second public impeachment hearing. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified before the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing on President Trump. Reaction and analysis on “The Five.’

So this is why Trump doesn’t want officials to testify

Now we see why the Trump administration doesn’t want officials to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) released the first batch of transcripts Monday from the closed-door depositions, including that of Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed from her post by President Trump at the urging of his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

If this is a sign of what’s to come, Republicans will soon regret forcing Democrats to make impeachment proceedings public. Over 10 hours, the transcript shows, they stumbled about in search of a counter-narrative to her damning account.

Yovanovitch detailed a Hollywood-ready tale about how Giuliani and two of his now-indicted goons hijacked U.S. foreign policy as part of a clownish consortium that also included Sean Hannity and a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Their mission: to oust the tough-on-corruption U.S. ambassador who threatened to frustrate Giuliani’s plans to get Ukraine to come up with compromising material on Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

Mike Pompeo has a cameo as the feckless secretary of state who refuses to stand up for his diplomat out of fear of setting off an unstable Trump. It all culminated in a 1 a.m. call from State’s personnel director telling Yovanovitch to get on the next flight out of Kyiv. Why? “She said, ‘I don’t know, but this is about your security. You need to come home immediately.’ ”

Yovanovitch, overcome with emotion at one point in her testimony, said she later learned that the threat to her security was from none other than Trump, who, State officials feared, would attack her on Twitter if she didn’t flee Ukraine quickly.

Confronted with this Keystone Kops way of governing, Republicans didn’t really attempt to defend Trump’s actions. Instead, they pursued one conspiracy theory after another involving the Bidens, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration, deep state social-media “tracking” and mishandling classified information. They ate up a good chunk of time merely complaining that Yovanovitch’s opening statement had been made public (which under the rules was allowed).

“Ambassador,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) interjected, “are you aware of anyone connected to you that might have given that to The Washington Post?”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) interjected: “Did you talk to the State Department about the possibility of releasing your opening statement to the press?”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) jumped in: “Ambassador Yovanovitch, do you believe that it is appropriate for your opening statement to be provided to The Washington Post?”

But Trump will need more than complaints about leaks to counter the narrative that Yovanovitch — and others — have documented.

Ukrainian officials had told her to “watch [her] back” because Yuri Lutsenko, a Ukrainian prosecutor with an unsavory reputation, was “looking to hurt” her and had several meetings with Giuliani toward that end. Lutsenko “was not pleased” that she continued to push for cleaning up Lutsenko’s office, and he tried to meet with Trump’s Justice Department to spread misinformation about her — including the now-recanted falsehood that she had given him a “do-not-prosecute list.”

She testified that wary Ukrainian officials knew as early as January or February that Giuliani was seeking damaging information on the Bidens and the Democrats — perhaps in exchange for Trump’s endorsement of the then-president’s reelection.

When Yovanovitch was attacked by Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr., among others, she asked for Pompeo to make a statement supporting her, but he didn’t do it because it might be “undermined” by a presidential tweet. (Pompeo did, apparently, have a private conversation asking Hannity to cease his attack on her.) Instead of support, she got career advice: Tweet nice things about Trump.

Notably, Republicans didn’t respond to her testimony by trying to make Trump’s behavior look good; they probed for ways to make Yovanovitch look bad.

They suggested she was part of a diplomatic conspiracy to monitor Trump allies such as Laura Ingraham, Lou Dobbs and Sebastian Gorka. They probed for damaging details on the Bidens (“Were you aware of just how much money Hunter Biden was getting paid by Burisma?”) and for ways to damage her credibility (“What was the closest that you’ve worked with Vice President Biden?”). Maybe Ukraine really did try to help Hillary Clinton in 2016, they posited. Maybe Ukrainian officials were “trying to sabotage Trump.” They asked if she ever said anything that might have led somebody to “infer a negative connotation regarding” Trump.

Meadows, struggling mightily to prove some wrongdoing by Yovanovitch, found he couldn’t pronounce the names he had been given — so he spelled them out. “I’m sorry, I’m not Ukrainian,” he said.

“Neither am I,” she replied.

No, she’s what threatens Trump most: an honest American.

 

How two Soviet-born emigres made it into elite Trump circles — and the center of the impeachment storm

Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-born emigre, appeared at a dark time in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Less than a month before the election, major GOP donors had been spooked by the revelation that Trump boasted about grabbing women during a recording of the television show “Access Hollywood.”

Parnas had never been a player in national Republican politics. But the onetime stockbroker chose that moment to deliver a $50,000 donation to Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party, and it quickly opened doors.

The contribution helped propel Parnas and his business partner, Belarus-born Igor Fruman, on an extraordinarily rapid rise into the upper echelon of Trump allies — before they became central figures in the presidential impeachment inquiry.

By spring 2018, the two men had

  • dined with Trump,
  • breakfasted with his son and
  • attended exclusive events at Mar-a-Lago and the White House, all while
  • jetting around the world and spending lavishly, particularly at Trump hotels in New York and Washington. That May, a pro-Trump super PAC reported receiving a $325,000 donation from an energy company the duo had recently formed.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, left, has coffee with Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Sept. 20. (Reuters Staff/Reuters)
Rudolph W. Giuliani, left, has coffee with Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Sept. 20. (Reuters Staff/Reuters)

Where Parnas and Fruman got their money remains a mystery. When they were arrested Wednesday on allegations of campaign finance violations, prosecutors alleged that Parnas and Fruman were backed in part by an unnamed Russian national who used them to funnel donations to state and federal candidates.

This summer, Parnas had begun working as a translator for the legal team of Dmytro Firtash, an Ukrainian gas tycoon who faces bribery charges in the United States, according to Victoria Toensing, one of Firtash’s lawyers. The energy magnate has been accused by federal prosecutors of having ties to Russian organized crime and has been fighting extradition to the United States from Austria. Firtash has denied wrongdoing.

As they scaled the ranks of Trump’s Washington, Parnas and Fruman demonstrated a remarkable facility for capitalizing on their newfound connections, according to people who observed them. They also appeared to be constantly in pursuit of new business ventures — “always hustling,” in the words of one Trump ally who interacted with them.

Igor Fruman, left, and Lev Parnas were arrested at Dulles Airport on Wednesday. (Alexandria Sheriff/Handout Handout/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Igor Fruman, left, and Lev Parnas were arrested at Dulles Airport on Wednesday. (Alexandria Sheriff/Handout Handout/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

In 2018, they hired the president’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to serve as a consultant as they launched a security business — and then helped Giuliani, in turn, reach Ukrainian officials in his quest to find information damaging to Democrats.

During a visit to Israel last summer sponsored by a pro-Israel charity, Parnas and Fruman were “mega-dropping Rudy’s name” as they snapped photos with well-known figures, according to former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who was also on the trip.

“ ‘We’re best friends with Rudy Giuliani,’ ” Scaramucci said the two men told him. “ ‘We work with him on everything.’ ”

Giuliani’s ties to the duo are now under scrutiny by both federal prosecutors and congressional investigators seeking to unravel how two businessmen trailed by creditors and failed past ventures came to be at the center of an expanding international drama.

Giuliani has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing. He said Friday that he had seen the two men “quite often.”

“I have no reason to believe that they are anything other than decent guys,” he said.

Parnas and Fruman, who made a brief court appearance Thursday in Alexandria, have not entered a plea to the charges against them.

Their new lawyer, John Dowd — who also previously served as a personal attorney for Trump — declined to respond to a number of questions about the two men, writing only in an email, “You publish at your peril.”

Elite Trump circles

Parnas, 47, was born in Ukraine but moved with his family to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Brooklyn. He told The Washington Post in an interview conducted before his arrest that he got his start in real estate, selling Trump condos for Donald Trump’s father, Fred, then worked in shipping in the former Soviet Union before becoming a securities trader. He moved to Florida in the mid-1990s.

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People who encountered the two men in recent years said that Parnas did most of the talking and seemed to be the public face of their U.S. partnership. But Parnas told The Post that Fruman was the one with especially deep connections in Ukraine.

Born in Belarus, Fruman, 53, owns a luxury jewelry business, a luxury car dealership and a hotel in Odessa, the port city on the Black Sea. He also owns an import-export business based in New York.

Both men have been trailed by financial problems, including a lawsuit filed against them earlier this year claiming they had failed to repay a $100,000 loan in 2018. The suit has been settled.

Parnas told The Post that he got involved in the Trump campaign because he admired the real estate developer, whom he said he had met several times before the election.

“I was really passionate about the president,” he said. “I started really believing that he could really make a change and make it happen. Then I jumped on the campaign, donated money and became a really big believer.”

Now, Parnas said, “I think he’s going to go down as one of the greatest presidents ever, even with all this negativity.”

As for Giuliani, Parnas said he had met the former New York mayor during the campaign but that the relationship “bonded and built over time.”

We’re just very close,” he said, calling Giuliani “a very good friend.”

Giuliani said Friday that he recalls first meeting Parnas and Fruman in “mid-to-late 2018” after a lawyer who is a friend referred them to him.

At the time, Giuliani said, the men were ramping up a company called Fraud Guarantee, which would use specialized software to identify possible fraud in companies.

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I know a lot about cybersecurity,” he said. “So they wanted my advice.”

Giuliani said his security consulting firm did “intense” work for the two men in 2018 and 2019, providing paid advice on how to structure their company.

Around the same time, the two men began to appear regularly at elite Trump-related events and started to track their travels on Facebook and Instagram. Their posts have now been deleted, but were captured by BuzzFeed and other news organizations before they were taken down.

Fruman posted photos of himself at a Republican National Committee fundraiser at Trump’s estate Mar-a-Lago in March 2018. In one, he was standing in front of a Florida flag next to Trump, who offered two thumbs up for the camera.

That May, Parnas posted photos and videos on Facebook that he wrote were taken at the White House, including one of him beaming as he stood next to the president between two American flags, giving a thumbs-up. “Thank you President Trump !!!” he wrote, adding, “incredible dinner and even better conversation.”

Ten days later, Fruman told the Brooklyn-based Russian-language publication Jewish World that the two men had been part of a group of just eight people who met privately with the president and discussed the upcoming midterm elections. Fruman said he also had discussed Ukraine-U.S. relations at the dinner.

White House officials declined to comment on the event.

Later that month, Parnas posted a photo of himself and Fruman breakfasting at the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge with Donald Trump Jr. and Tommy Hicks Jr., a close friend of the president’s son and top RNC official. “#Trump2020,” he captioned the photo.

An attorney for Trump Jr. declined to comment. Hicks did not respond to requests for comment.

In an exchange with reporters outside the White House on Thursday, Trump said he doesn’t know Parnas and Fruman, dismissing the photos of himself with the two men.

“I don’t know those gentlemen,” Trump said. “Now, it’s possible I have a picture with them, because I have a picture with everybody. . . . I don’t know about them; I don’t know what they do. I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy.”

Parnas and Fruman were also patrons of the president’s hotel.

In one five-week period between September 2018 and October 2018, the two men racked up more than $13,000 in charges at the Trump hotels in New York and Washington, according to a person familiar with their finances, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private information.

In December, they attended a White House Hanukkah party, posting a photo on social media that includes Giuliani, Trump and Vice President Pence. A White House aide said the event was attended by hundreds of people.

The two men also began donating liberally to federal and state political committees, including a $325,000 contribution in May 2018 to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action.

All told, the two and their energy firm contributed at least $630,000 to federal GOP candidates and PACs since 2016, campaign finance filings show.

The money also flowed to candidates in Nevada, Texas, West Virginia and Florida. Prosecutors now allege the campaign contributions were part of an illegal scheme to funnel foreign money to “buy potential influence with candidates, campaigns and the candidates’ governments,” according to the indictment.

The two men, along with two other associates, are charged with laundering money through corporate bank accounts and using straw donors to obscure the source of their funds, including illegal foreign contributions.

Kelly Sadler, a spokeswoman for America First Action, said the super PAC is placing the contribution it received in a segregated bank account “until these matters are resolved. We take our legal obligations seriously and scrupulously comply with the law.”

Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Trump, said: “As the indictment states, neither the President nor the [Trump] campaign were aware of the allegations.”

Pitching a gas deal

Over the same period that they were cultivating political ties, Parnas and Fruman were involved with a dizzying array of business pursuits.

Apart from Fraud Guarantee, they planned to launch a recreational marijuana business in states such as Nevada with the Russian national, according to the indictment.

Parnas also received tens of thousands of dollars last year from the firm of Brian Ballard, a longtime Florida lobbyist who is close to Trump, according to a person familiar with Parnas’s finances. Another person familiar with the arrangement said Parnas was paid to refer possible clients, but none were connected to Ukraine.

In April 2018, the two men incorporated their new company, Global Energy Producers, which purportedly intended to sell liquefied natural gas. Quickly, the two began an effort to export American gas into Ukraine through Poland.

Efforts to bring more U.S. gas to Europe — particularly Ukraine, to reduce its dependence on Russian energy — have been a priority for the Trump administration.

Neither Parnas nor Fruman had any particular experience in the energy world, but at an energy conference in Houston in March, they made a pitch to Ukrainian state oil and gas giant Naftogaz.

Parnas and Fruman approached a top official at Naftogaz, Andrew Favorov, regarding their venture, according Dale W. Perry, an American businessman close to Favorov, as well as another a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition on anonymity to describe the private conversation.

Then, in a conversation first reported by the Associated Press, Parnas and Fruman pitched their LNG business and their hope to soon see new leadership at Naftogaz that would be receptive to their proposal. They asserted that U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who opposed replacing the company’s chief executive, would soon be gone.

By May, Yovanovitch had been abruptly recalled from her post on Trump’s orders.

The implication, according to the person familiar with the meeting, was that the men would help Favorov take the top job at Naftogaz and then begin selling LNG to the Ukrainian state gas conglomerate.

Favorov declined the offer, Perry said. He said the Naftogaz official, a former business partner, contacted him soon afterward and described the encounter, which Favorov told Perry made him deeply uncomfortable.

Favorov and Perry were particularly concerned by the efforts of private businessmen with personal motivations to push for the ouster of Yovanovitch, who they view as a conscientious public servant, Perry said.

If she can be removed, then anything is possible now,” Perry said. “Where is the rule of law? Where is the stability?” Favorov could not be reached for comment.

Parnas, speaking to The Post before his arrest, said nothing ultimately came of his efforts to launch the LNG venture in Ukraine, in part because of the attention he and Fruman received for their political activities with Giuliani.

Now everybody is scared to do business with us,” Parnas said.

Backing Giuliani’s efforts

The campaign against Yovanovitch was embraced by Giuliani as part of his broader effort to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations into Trump’s political rivals. Parnas and Fruman assisted him in that project.

They were helping me a lot in Ukraine,” Giuliani said Friday.

According to Parnas, he was sitting at lunch with Giuliani in late 2018 when the former New York mayor was approached by an American with information about Ukraine. On learning of Giuliani’s interest in Ukraine, Parnas said he then worked to connect Giuliani with people in Ukraine who had information he believed could assist the effort.

“Me just being next to him, me being Russian speaking and having business there and knowing the culture and also knowing a lot of individuals and having a lot of relationships somehow just basically steamrolled into me taking an active role as a patriotic duty,” Parnas said. “And here we are now.”

Parnas has said he helped set up a call for Giuliani in January 2019 with Viktor Shokin, a former Ukrainian prosecutor who has alleged that he was fired in 2016 for investigating a company whose board included former vice president Biden’s son Hunter. Parnas said he and Fruman also connected Giuliani with Yuriy Lutsenko, who served as Ukraine’s top prosecutor until August.

“We took it upon ourselves as our patriotic duty, basically, whatever information we could get, to pass it on and to basically validate it as best as we could,” Parnas said.

Among other topics, Parnas has said he and Giuliani discussed Yovanovich, who was removed from her position in May on Trump’s orders after a whisper campaign that she was disloyal to the president.

Prosecutors said Thursday that Parnas’s efforts to remove Yovanovich came “at least in part at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”

In recent months, Parnas has become even more financially entangled with Giuliani and his allies.

In an interview, Toensing said she and her husband, attorney Joe diGenova, retained Parnas this summer to work as a translator as they represent Firtash, who has been charged in Illinois with bribing Indian officials related to mining interests in that country. He is fighting extradition to the U.S. from Austria.

Firtash, who U.S. prosecutors have alleged in court documents is an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime, has denied wrongdoing. Earlier this year, he hired Toensing and diGenova, who appear frequently on Fox News and are close to Giuliani.

Toensing said she was “outraged” by the Justice Department charges against her client, adding that “the Indian government has investigated” the bribery claim and filed no charges in the case. She said Firtash’s Austrian extradition case included testimony from investigators who found that he had “no ties to organized crime.”

Toensing said she met Parnas through Giuliani and tapped him “to be our translator to review documents and to help with Ukraine,” noting that “he speaks Russian and our client does not speak English.”

Parnas and Fruman’s myriad political and business ventures came to an abrupt halt Wednesday.

The duo had lunched that day with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Hours later, they were at Dulles Airport, about to board a plane to Europe, when authorities in the hallway stopped them and asked to see their passports, according to a person who saw the encounter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Soon, the person said, about a dozen plainclothes investigators converged on the scene, and the two men were led away.

Two Giuliani Associates Who Helped Him on Ukraine Charged With Campaign-Finance Violations

Prosecutors say Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were part of a conspiracy to funnel a Russian donor’s money into President Trump’s campaign

WASHINGTON—Two Soviet-born donors to a pro- Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges of violating campaign finance rules, including funneling Russian money into President Trump’s campaign.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, have been under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, and are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later on Thursday, the people said. Both men were born in former Soviet republics.

House committees issued subpoenas for documents from the two men on Thursday.

Mr. Giuliani, President Trump’s private lawyer, identified the two men in May as his clients. Both men have donated to Republican campaigns including Mr. Trump’s, and in May 2018 gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through an LLC called Global Energy Producers, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The men were charged with four counts, including conspiracy, falsification of records and lying to the FEC about their political donations, according to the indictment that outlines a conspiracy to funnel a Russian donor’s money into U.S. elections.

This Facebook screen shot provided by the Campaign Legal Center shows President Trump with Lev Parnas at the White House on May 1, 2018. PHOTO: THE CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER /ASSOCIATED PRESS

The group concealed their work by laundering foreign money into U.S. elections by disguising the true origin of the money, the indictment says.

Beginning in about March of 2018, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Frurman began attending fundraising events and making substantial contributions “with the purpose of enhancing their influence in political circles and gaining access to politicians,” prosecutors wrote.

The indictment Thursday alleges that Mr. Fruman intentionally misspelled his name as to further evade FEC scrutiny. Fundraising records show that an “Igor Furman” who otherwise matches Mr. Fruman made additional campaign donations totaling almost $400,000, beginning in March 2018. That would bring the pair’s contributions to about $1 million.

John Dowd, who headed Mr. Trump’s legal team until spring 2018 and is a lawyer for the two men, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Giuliani said he hasn’t been contacted by Manhattan federal prosecutors.

Attorney General William Barr discussed the case on Thursday with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, where he was making a preplanned visit. A Justice Department official said Mr. Barr was supportive of their work on the case, on which he was first briefed shortly after being confirmed as attorney general in February. He was aware the pair would be charged and taken into custody last night, the official said.

The Campaign Legal Center, a transparency advocacy group, filed a complaint with the FEC in July 2018 calling on the commission to investigate whether Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had violated campaign-finance laws by using an LLC to disguise the source of their donations.

This Facebook screen shot provided by the Campaign Legal Center shows, from left, Donald Trump, Jr., Tommy Hicks, Jr., Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, posted on May 21, 2018. PHOTO: THE CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had dinner with the president in early May 2018, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured in a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They also met with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. , later that month at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, Calif., along with Tommy Hicks Jr. , a close friend of the younger Mr. Trump who at the time was heading America First Action. Mr. Parnas posted a photo of their breakfast four days after his LLC donated to the super PAC.

A spokeswoman for America First Action said the super PAC had placed the contribution in a segregated bank account following the complaint filed with the FEC. The donation “has not been used for any purpose and the funds will remain in this segregated account until these matters are resolved,” the spokeswoman said. “We take our legal obligations seriously and scrupulously comply with the law and any suggestion otherwise is false.”

Since late 2018, Mr. Fruman and Mr. Parnas have introduced Mr. Giuliani to several current and former senior Ukrainian prosecutors to discuss the Biden case.

Mr. Parnas in July accompanied Mr. Giuliani to a breakfast meeting with Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. “We had a long conversation about Ukraine,” Mr. Volker wrote in his testimony to House committees last week. During that breakfast, Mr. Giuliani mentioned the investigations he was pursuing into Mr. Biden and 2016 election interference.

House committees last month sought documents and depositions from Messrs. Parnas and Fruman related to their interactions with the Trump administration, Mr. Giuliani and Ukrainian officials. The initial notice from the committees set the dates for their depositions as Thursday and Friday.

Mr. Dowd wrote a letter to the House Intelligence Committee last week advising them that he was representing Messrs. Parnas and Fruman and noting that the two men had assisted Mr. Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump.” He said some of the documents sought by House Democrats last month were protected by attorney-client privilege and that a privilege review of those documents “cannot reasonably be conducted by Oct. 7,” the deadline lawmakers had set.

He also criticized the document requests as “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman also worked to oust the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Mr. Trump had removed from her post this spring.

In May 2018, Pete Sessions, at the time a GOP congressman from Texas, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for her removal, saying he had been told Ms. Yovanovitch was displaying a bias against the president in private conversations.

Mr. Sessions told the Journal his letter was in line with a broader concern among members of Congress that the administration wasn’t moving swiftly enough to put new ambassadors in place. He declined to say where his information about the ambassador came from but said he didn’t follow up on his letter and didn’t hear until months later about Mr. Trump’s interest in replacing her.

The indictment references a congressman, identifiable as Mr. Sessions, whose assistance Mr. Parnas sought in “causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” The indictment says those efforts were conducted “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.” Mr. Sessions didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in July that they told Mr. Sessions last year that Ms. Yovanovitch was “bad-mouthing” the president. They later donated to his campaign.

Mr. Trump moved to oust Ms. Yovanovitch this spring after Mr. Giuliani told him that she was undermining him abroad and hindering efforts to investigate Mr. Biden. House committees are seeking Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony.

Trump Ordered Ukraine Ambassador Removed After Complaints From Giuliani, Others

Marie Yovanovitch dismissed after Trump allies said she was blocking Biden probe and bad-mouthing president, people familiar with the matter say

President Trump ordered the removal of the ambassador to Ukraine after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the matter.

The recall of Marie Yovanovitch in the spring has become a key point of interest in the House impeachment inquiry. A whistleblower complaint by a CIA officer alleges the president solicited foreign interference in the 2020 elections by pressing Ukraine’s president in a July 25 call to pursue investigations, including into the activities of Mr. Biden, a Democrat who is running for president.

The complaint cites Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster as one of a series of events that paved the way for what the whistleblower alleges was an abuse of power by the president. Mr. Trump has described the call with his Ukrainian counterpart as “perfect” and the House inquiry as a “hoax.”

State Department officials were told this spring that Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal was a priority for the president, a person familiar with the matter said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supported the move, an administration official said. Ms. Yovanovitch was told by State Department officials that they couldn’t shield her from attacks by the president and his allies, according to people close to her.

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal that in the lead-up to Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal, he reminded the president of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations. In Mr. Giuliani’s view, she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter.

As vice president, Mr. Biden spearheaded an international anticorruption reform push in Ukraine, which included calling for the dismissal of a prosecutor the U.S. and its allies saw as soft on corruption. He had once investigated the Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden served on the board at a salary of $50,000 a month, according to one official with ties to the company. Mr. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption.

In May, Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.

When Ms. Yovanovitch left her post in May, the State Department said she was concluding her assignment “as planned,” and that her departure date aligned with the start of a new administration in Ukraine. She was recalled at least three months before the end of the customary three-year diplomatic tenure.

Mr. Giuliani told the Journal that when he mentioned the ambassador to the president this spring, Mr. Trump “remembered he had a problem with her earlier and thought she had been dismissed.” Mr. Giuliani said he subsequently received a call from a White House official—whom he declined to identify—asking him to list his concerns about the ambassador again.

Mr. Giuliani said he gave Mr. Pompeo a nine-page document dated March 28 that included a detailed timeline of the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine and allegations of impropriety against Ms. Yovanovitch, including that she was “very close” to Mr. Biden.

“He called me back and he said they were going to investigate,” Mr. Giuliani said of the secretary of state, saying Mr. Pompeo asked for additional documents to back up the allegations. “The reason I gave the information to the secretary was I believed that he should know that the president’s orders to fire her were being blocked by the State Department.

Neither the State Department nor the White House responded to requests for comment.

Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, said Mr. Biden has professional respect for Ms. Yovanovitch but that the two aren’t close. “She became our ambassador during the final 6 months of the administration,” he said. “This is standard Rudy Giuliani: noun, verb, lie about Joe Biden. ”

When asked about Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal Thursday, Mr. Trump told reporters: “I don’t know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her but I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time. Not good.”

Ms. Yovanovitch couldn’t be reached for comment. She is set to testify before House lawmakers on Oct. 11 as part of the impeachment inquiry. People close to her disputed that she did anything wrong and defended her work.

“She was doing everything by the book,” said a senior Ukraine government official who interacted with her. “Everything was blessed by State Department.”

Ms. Yovanovitch remains an employee of the State Department and is a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University.

A career diplomat, she first served as the second-ranking diplomat in Kyiv in 2001 under President George W. Bush and returned as ambassador under President Obama in 2016.

Prior to Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall from Kyiv, her relations with some senior Ukrainian officials were fraught. Ms. Yovanovitch openly criticized the office of Mr. Lutsenko, then the prosecutor general, for its poor anticorruption record. “Lutsenko hated her because she pushed for reforms, especially in the judiciary sector,” said a former Western diplomat in Ukraine.

Presidents have the authority to nominate and remove ambassadors. But some senior officials at the White House and State Department say they had been unaware of the president’s displeasure with Ms. Yovanovitch and surprised by her removal.

Mr. Giuliani’s role in pressing for the ambassador’s ouster is unusual given that he holds no formal government role. The president’s critics contend that, in his capacity representing the president’s personal interests as his attorney, he has exercised undue influence over administration policy and personnel.

Mr. Giuliani isn’t the only figure outside the administration to have expressed concerns about the ambassador. As early as the spring of 2018, Pete Sessions, at the time a GOP congressman from Texas, sent a letter to Mr. Pompeo asking for her removal, saying he had been told Ms. Yovanovitch was displaying a bias against the president in private conversations.

Mr. Sessions told the Journal he didn’t follow up on the matter and didn’t hear until months later about Mr. Trump’s interest in replacing her. He declined to say where his information about the ambassador came from but said his letter was in line with a broader concern among members of Congress that the administration wasn’t moving swiftly enough to put new ambassadors in place.

In a March 2019 interview with a columnist at The Hill, Mr. Lutsenko complained that the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv was obstructing corruption investigations, including by providing a “do not prosecute” list and restricting Ukrainian access to the U.S. Mr. Lutsenko’s claim is mentioned in the whistleblower complaint.

The U.S. State Department at the time called the untouchables list claim an “outright fabrication.” Mr. Lutsenko later retracted the allegation about the list and said had no evidence of Biden wrongdoing. He was dismissed in August.

In early 2019, Mr. Lutsenko met twice with Mr. Giuliani, who around the same time stepped up his quest to collect information he could use to persuade Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens. The men met in New York in January and in Warsaw in February.

Mr. Lutsenko couldn’t be reached for comment. Mr. Giuliani said he brought concerns about the ambassador to the president in the weeks following his meetings with Mr. Lutsenko. “It would have been a dereliction of my duty if I didn’t,” he said. He accused Ms. Yovanovitch of blocking his efforts to push Ukraine to investigate the Bidens: “I think she covered it up.”

The president’s supporters kept up criticism of Ms. Yovanovitch. In a March 22 interview on Fox News, Joe diGenova, a lawyer close to the president, accused Ms. Yovanovitch, without providing evidence, of having “bad-mouthed” Mr. Trump to Ukrainian officials and having told them “not to listen or worry about Trump policy because he’s going to be impeached.”

Mr. diGenova declined to comment. In the Fox interview, Mr. diGenova added: “The president has ordered her dismissal from her post.” The same month, Donald Trump Jr. , the president’s son, referred to the ambassador in a Twitter message as a “joker.”

After Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidency on April 21, State Department officials told their Ukrainian counterparts that they favored continuity at the embassy in Kyiv, rather than inserting a new ambassador, according to people familiar with the matter.

Instead, Ms. Yovanovitch was recalled about two weeks after the election. The State Department hasn’t named a successor.

In the July 25 call, Mr. Trump described Ms. Yovanovitch to Mr. Zelensky as “bad news.” Mr. Zelensky responded: ”It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%.”

Pompeo Acknowledges He Was on Trump-Zelensky Phone Call
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed for the first time Wednesday that he listened in on the phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a House impeachment inquiry.

In early May, a packet of materials was received by Mr. Pompeo’s office at the State Department, according to an account given Wednesday to House and Senate committee members by the State Department inspector general and later described by Democratic lawmakers. The inspector general told Congress he had information relevant to the impeachment investigation. The inspector general didn’t respond to requests for comment.

It contained several folders marked “Trump Hotel” containing notes and newspaper clippings Democratic lawmakers said were designed to smear Ms. Yovanovitch, packaged in an envelope marked “White House,” according to documents viewed by the Journal.

“It is a package of propaganda and disinformation and conspiracy theories,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.).

The nine-page document Mr. Giuliani said he gave to Mr. Pompeo dated March 28 was part of that packet, according to a person who saw the packet.