Ar­rest of Gi­u­liani as­so­ciates en­snares ‘Con­gress­man 1’

The Saline Courier - - NEWS - As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON — Busi­ness­men with ties to Rudy Gi­u­liani lob­bied a U.S. con­gress­man in

2018 for help oust­ing the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador to Ukraine around the same time they com­mit­ted to rais­ing money for the law­maker.

An in­dict­ment un­sealed Thurs­day iden­ti­fied the law­maker only as “Con­gress­man 1.” But the do­na­tions de­scribed in the in­dict­ment match cam­paign fi­nance reports for former Rep. Pete Ses­sions, a Texas Repub­li­can who lost his re­elec­tion bid in Novem­ber 2018.

Ses­sions, 64, has de­nied wrong­do­ing. But the fed­eral in­dict­ment al­leges “Con­gress­man 1” was part of what pros­e­cu­tors de­scribed as a co­or­di­nated ef­fort to re­move Am­bas­sador Marie Yo­vanovitch at the be­hest of an un­named Ukrainian official.

Ses­sions, who has been weigh­ing a po­lit­i­cal come­back, now finds him­self en­tan­gled in the im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion cen­tered on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s deal­ings with Ukraine as well as Gi­u­liani’s re­la­tion­ships in the former Soviet repub­lic.

The in­dict­ment was made pub­lic Thurs­day fol­low­ing the ar­rest of two Florida busi­ness­men with ties to Gi­u­liani. It al­leges that Lev Par­nas and Igor Fru­man lever­aged a flurry of GOP po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions in a cam­paign to force Yo­vanovitch’s re­moval, an ef­fort pros­e­cu­tors say was aided by laun­dered for­eign money.

Par­nas and Fru­man’s out­sized po­lit­i­cal giv­ing al­lowed the two rel­a­tively un­known en­trepreneur­s to quickly win ac­cess to the high­est lev­els of the Repub­li­can Party — in­clud­ing face-to-face meet­ings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-lago.

On May 9, 2018, Par­nas posted a photo of him­self and his business part­ner David Cor­reia with Ses­sions in his Capi­tol Hill of­fice, with the cap­tion “Hard at work !!”

Par­nas and Fru­man were ar­rested Wed­nes­day evening as they at­tempted to board an over­seas flight at Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Wash­ing­ton. Cor­reia, and an­other man, a Ukraini­an­born U.S. cit­i­zen named An­drey Kukushkin, are also charged in the case.

Later that same day, Ses­sions sent a let­ter to

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State

Mike Pom­peo seek­ing Yo­vanovitch’s dis­missal be­cause he had “no­tice of con­crete ev­i­dence” that she had “spo­ken pri­vately and re­peat­edly about her dis­dain for the cur­rent Ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Cam­paign fi­nance records show Par­nas and Fru­man later con­trib­uted $2,700 apiece to Ses­sion’s cam­paign, the max­i­mum al­lowed in­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tion.

Ses­sions said Thurs­day that he will vig­or­ously de­fend him­self against any al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing.

“I was first ap­proached by these in­di­vid­u­als for a meet­ing about the strate­gic need for Ukraine to be­come en­ergy in­de­pen­dent,” Ses­sions said, ac­cord­ing to a writ­ten state­ment. “There was no re­quest in that meet­ing and I took no ac­tion.”

Ses­sions added that “sev­eral con­gres­sional col­leagues” were the source of the al­le­ga­tions in his let­ter claim­ing that Yo­vanovitch had dis­par­aged Trump, not Par­nas and Fru­man. He also sought to dis­tance him­self Gi­u­liani, who he de­scribed as a friend of more than 30 years.

“I do not know what his business or le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties in Ukraine have been,” the ex-con­gress­man said of the pres­i­dent’s personal lawyer.

Though Par­nas posted a May 2018 photo of him­self with a smil­ing Trump dur­ing a pri­vate din­ner at the White House also at­tended by Fru­man, the pres­i­dent de­nied hav­ing any idea who the two ar­rested men are.

“I don’t know those gen­tle­men,” said Trump, speak­ing on the South

Lawn of the White House. “Now it’s pos­si­ble that I have a pic­ture with them, be­cause I have a pic­ture with ev­ery­body...i don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do . ... Maybe they were clients of Rudy. You have to ask Rudy.”

A week af­ter Par­nas and Fru­man vis­ited Ses­sions in Wash­ing­ton, a com­pany con­trolled by the pair, Global En­ergy Pro­duc­ers, gave $325,000 to a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee sup­port­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re-elec­tion bid, ac­cord­ing to the com­mit­tee’s fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure reports.

The pair ob­tained the money for the con­tri­bu­tion through a pri­vate loan and then fun­neled it through a com­plex se­ries of wire trans­fers through mul­ti­ple bank ac­counts. Pros­e­cu­tors al­leged the trans­ac­tions were in­tended to il­le­gally con­ceal the true source of the funds.

Tax doc­u­ments filed by a non­profit wing of Amer­ica First Ac­tion in Novem­ber 2018 show a hand­ful of Trump al­lies held key po­si­tions at the group, in­clud­ing Texas GOP fundraiser Roy Bai­ley, a long­time Ses­sions po­lit­i­cal sup­porter who was the fi­nance cochair­man of Trump’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee. Bai­ley, a lob­by­ist, is also a long­time business part­ner of Gi­u­liani’s.

Also serv­ing in lead­er­ship roles at the Trumpalign­ed PAC were Tommy Hicks Jr., a Dal­las in­vestor and the cur­rent Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee cochair­man, as well as Nick Ay­ers, the former chief of staff to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence.

Four days af­ter the $325,000 do­na­tion, Par­nas posted a photo of him­self and Fru­man at an in­ti­mate “Power Break­fast!!!” with Hicks and Don­ald Trump Jr., the pres­i­dent’s el­dest son, at the Bev­erly Hills Polo Lounge.

Amer­ica First Ac­tion would go on to spend $3.1 mil­lion sup­port­ing Ses­sions failed re-elec­tion ef­fort.

U.S. laws al­low un­lim­ited do­na­tions by cor­po­rate en­ti­ties to so-called su­per PACS, po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees that are re­quired to act in­de­pen­dently from can­di­dates.

Columbia Univer­sity Law professor Richard Brif­fault told the AP that loop­holes in U.S. law make it harder to de­tect for­eign ac­tors try­ing to in­flu­ence the U.S. po­lit­i­cal sys­tem by fun­nel­ing money through shell com­pa­nies to su­per PACS. In this case, the money trail was re­vealed through a law­suit against Par­nas that forced the re­lease of trans­fers and bank­ing records ear­lier this year.

“What makes this so dra­matic is who these peo­ple are, their connection to Gi­u­liani,” said Brif­fault, who stud­ies cam­paign fi­nance. “I think it’s a bomb­shell be­cause of its connection to Ukraine and Trump.”

AP re­ported on Sun­day that Par­nas told as­so­ciates at two meet­ings in March that Trump planned to oust Yo­vanovitch, a ca­reer diplo­mat with a rep­u­ta­tion for fight­ing cor­rup­tion, with some­one more amenable to their business plans, ac­cord­ing to four peo­ple, three of whom spoke to the AP on con­di­tion of anonymity over con­cerns of re­tal­i­a­tion. At the time, Par­nas and Fru­man were pur­su­ing a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive deal to sell shiploads of liq­ue­fied natural gas from the United States to Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state-owned gas gi­ant.

In what ap­peared to be a co­or­di­nated media cam­paign early this year, con­ser­va­tive out­lets blitzed Yo­vanovitch with sto­ries claim­ing she had pro­tected Joe Bi­den and his son Hunter Bi­den from Ukrainian pros­e­cu­tors.

Copies of some of these sto­ries were later sent to the State De­part­ment stuffed in a manila en­ve­lope. Gi­u­liani told The

New York Times last week that the doc­u­ments, which were re­cently pro­vided to Congress by the State De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral, were pro­duced by a “pro­fes­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tor who works for my com­pany.”

Yo­vanovitch was re­called to Wash­ing­ton in May, months be­fore she had been sched­uled to leave her post in Kyiv.

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