The case contains the first criminal charges from a phone call in which President Donald Trump asked Ukraine's leader to dig up dirt on foe Joe Biden and his son. A look at the indictment and its implications.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Florida businessmen tied to President Donald Trump's lawyer and the Ukraine investigation were charged Thursday with federal campaign finance violations.
The indictment contained the first criminal charges stemming from a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukraine's leader to dig up dirt on Democratic foe Joe Biden and his son. The charges did not suggest wrongdoing by the president, but they are likely to add fuel to the House impeachment inquiry.
Trump has dismissed the inquiry as baseless and politically motivated.
A look at the indictment and its implications:
Who are these guys?
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were businessmen living in Florida. The U.S. citizens, both born in the former Soviet Union, had key roles in Rudy Giuliani's efforts to launch a Ukrainian corruption investigation against Biden and his son Hunter. They were arrested Wednesday night trying to leave country with one-way tickets from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, according to Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. No destination was disclosed.
Two other men, American-born David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, were also charged in the case. Correia remains at large. Kukushkin was arrested at his California home Wednesday and is being held pending a bail hearing to determine whether he is considered a flight risk.
Prosecutors allege that Parnas urged a U.S. congressman to seek the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, at the behest of Ukrainian government officials. That happened about the same time last year that Parnas and Fruman committed to raising more than $20,000 for the politician.
The congressman was not identified by name in court papers, but the donations to "Congressman 1" in the indictment match campaign finance reports for former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who lost his re-election bid in November 2018. In May 2018, Parnas posted a photo of himself and Correia, his business partner, with Sessions in his Capitol Hill office, with the caption "Hard at work!!"
Sessions said Thursday he could not confirm that he is "Congressman 1." He said the first meeting with the two men was to discuss energy independence in Ukraine.
The former congressman said the pair made no requests of him. He said he's been friends with Giuliani for 30 years but does not know about his business or legal activities in Ukraine.
In 2016, Russia used hacking and social media campaigns to try to influence the U.S. presidential election. Thursday's indictment shows a different approach. The businessmen are accused of making illegal political contributions, and they attended fundraisers and political events to help their scheme.
Land of opportunity
According to the indictment, the businessmen saw opportunities in a booming American economy to make a lot of money. Far afield from their efforts to influence U.S. politicians to benefit Ukrainian politicians and interests, they were also willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to gain a foothold in the fledgling U.S. recreational marijuana trade.
Hiding in plain sight
The businessmen were not hiding in the shadows while making secretive deals. They were basking in the limelight. One spoke with reporters, others posted photos on Facebook and touted their relationship with the president's lawyer. The Associated Press reported last week that Parnas and Fruman helped arrange a January meeting in New York between Ukraine's former top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, and Giuliani, as well as other meetings with top government officials.
Following the money
Records show that Parnas and Fruman used wire transfers from a corporate entity they controlled to make a $325,000 donation to the America First Action committee in 2018, a pro-Trump PAC. But wire-transfer records that became public through a lawsuit show it was not the true source of the money.
The indictment alleges the men created a corporation, Global Energy Producers, and then made political contributions in that name instead of their own. They are also accused of making contributions to candidates for state and federal office, joint fundraising committees and independent expenditure committees in the names of other people.
The commitment to raise more than $20,000 for the congressman was made in May and June 2018. The lawmaker also received about $3 million in independent expenditures from a super political action committee that Parnas and Fruman had been funding.
The House inquiry
Federal prosecutors say the case is still being investigated. Meanwhile, the implications are growing for the House impeachment inquiry .
House Democrats subpoenaed Parnas and Fruman on Thursday for documents they have so far refused to produce to three committees. The panels have also subpoenaed Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer.
A whistleblower complaint by an unnamed intelligence official refers to "associates" of Giuliani in Ukraine who were attempting to contact President Zelenskiy's team, though it's not clear that refers to Parnas and Fruman. That could put the two men squarely in the middle of the investigation into Giuliani's activities.
Neumeister reported from New York City. Associated Press Writer Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.
President Donald Trump's phone call encouraging the president of Ukraine to help investigate political rival Joe Biden is just the beginning.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The phone call is just a start.
A whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump's dealings with the new president of Ukraine lays out concerns about multiple actions taken by the Trump White House and its allies that suggest the president was using his office "to solicit interference from a foreign country" to boost his reelection prospects. The complaint, written by an unidentified member of the U.S. intelligence community, was released Thursday. The House Intelligence Committee grilled the acting U.S. spy chief on details of the redacted complaint.
A few key takeaways from the complaint and the hearing:
It's about far more than just that call
The complaint discusses a July 25 phone call in which Trump prodded Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with Trump's attorney general, William Barr, and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, to dig up dirt on the son of Democratic rival Joe Biden.
But it goes well beyond the call. For example, the complaint details how Ukrainian leaders met with the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations and others on how to "navigate" the demands made by Trump. Giuliani met with Ukraine advisers in August as a "direct follow-up" to the call.
A cover-up is alleged
The complaint says that in the days after the July 25 phone call , the whistleblower learned that senior White House officials had intervened to "lock down" all records of the call, especially the rough transcript produced by note-takers in the White House Situation Room.
White House officials told the whistleblower they were "directed" by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system where such records are typically stored.
"This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call," the report said.
The officials raised concerns that the transcript was moved to a separate computer system. White House officials told the whistleblower that "this was 'not the first time' under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information," the complaint said.
Rudy, Rudy, Rudy
"The President's personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort."
The report says that many U.S. officials told the whistleblower that they were deeply concerned about Giuliani's efforts to circumvent the national security decision-making process to engage Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth.
In the call, Trump prodded Zelenskiy to work with Giuliani and Barr to investigate Biden and said that Giuliani would be calling him.
The whistleblower said in the complaint that Giuliani traveled to Spain in early August to meet with one of Zelenskiy's advisers and that U.S. officials characterized the meeting to the whistleblower as a "direct follow-up" to Trump's call.
The complaint also states that several U.S. officials told the whistleblower that Giuliani had privately reached out to other advisers to the Ukrainian leader.
In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Giuliani said that he had spoken to a Ukrainian official at the request of Trump's State Department.
Can't explain the money
The whistleblower said the National Security Council and Office of Management and Budget didn't know why Trump held up millions of dollars in aid for Ukraine.
A few days before his call with Zelenskiy, Trump ordered his staff to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine. The president said he did so to fight corruption and urge European nations to do more to help Ukraine.
The whistleblower alleges in the complaint that in two separate meetings in July, OMB officials said Trump had personally directed the money to be frozen but that they "were unaware of a policy rationale" for the decision.
The whistleblower must be protected
Joseph Maguire, the acting national intelligence director, repeatedly defended the whistleblower during Thursday's hearing and insisted the person would be protected if that person wanted to appear before Congress. Maguire said he does not know the whistleblower's identity.
It was a stark contrast from Trump's characterization in a tweet last week that the person was "highly partisan."
Maguire said the U.S. "must protect those who demonstrate courage to report alleged wrongdoing."
"I think the whistleblower did the right thing," he said at one point.
Maguire also told members of the House committee that he was working with the whistleblower's lawyers to ensure they could appear before Congress and he pledged not to take any action to block their testimony.
Pick your spin
The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and other Democrats played up the urgency of the complaint and allegations that Maguire delayed it by going first to the White House and Justice Department before handing it over to Congress. Schiff said the account of Trump's conversation with Ukraine's leader detailed by the whistleblower "reads like a classic organized crime shakedown."
Republicans zeroed in the fact that that whistleblower's account was based on secondhand information from other White House and administration officials. They dismissed Democrats' concerns as conspiracy theories.
Trump tweeted his own review after the hearing: "Adam Schiff has zero credibility. Another fantasy to hurt the Republican Party!"