Two associates of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to federal charges of seeking to buy political influence in the U.S. with money they got from foreign sources.
And one of them — Lev Parnas — sought to link Trump directly to the case. One of his lawyers told the Manhattan federal judge that the White House might invoke executive privilege to block use of some evidence gathered in the investigation, reports the New York Times.
The lawyer, Edward MacMahon, stated in court “that the potential for the White House to invoke executive privilege stemmed from the fact that Mr. Parnas had used Mr. Giuliani as his own lawyer at the same time Mr. Giuliani was working as Mr. Trump’s lawyer,” the Times says.
MacMahon asked that the government use a special team of prosecutors to review the evidence, “saying Mr. Parnas’s relationship with Mr. Giuliani indicates some of the materials may be protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege,” the Times says.
Federal prosecutors say Parnas and Igor Fruman “schemed to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions from foreign donors to U.S. government officials and political action committees,” reports USA Today.
Also on Wednesday, a federal grand jury in New York “demanded legal documents that include records of extravagant spending at Trump hotels and millions of dollars in financial transfers” by Fruman and Parnas.
“The documents requested by a subpoena that was issued in Florida last week could shed light on whether other people, including foreign nationals, were trying to influence the top levels of government and impact the 2020 presidential campaign,” reports BuzzFeed News.
Citing “two senior law enforcement officers,” BuzzFeed says that “at least one US bank raised concerns about a series of suspicious transactions in Parnas’s accounts, which had hallmark signs of money laundering and fraud….”
Giuliani has said that Parnas and Fruman helped guide his activities in Ukraine, as he urged that country to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter — who worked for Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company. Giuliani denies knowledge of the two men’s alleged donations to American politicians.
Parnas and Fruman, who dined with Trump and had photos taken with him at the White House, were arrested at Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport earlier this month, shortly before hurrying on to a one-way flight to Vienna.
Both men are U.S. citizens; Fruman was born in Belarus, Parnas in Ukraine, at a time when both countries were part of the Soviet Union.
In an indictment issued two weeks ago, Parnas and Furman are accused of “trying to hide the source of a major contribution they made to a pro-Trump super PAC: $325,000 that came from the refinancing of a condo owned by Fruman in South Florida,” BuzzFeed says.
Bank records obtained by BuzzFeed show that six months later, Fruman and Parnas “continued to move money into three different company accounts — two of which were incorporated in Delaware without any offices, phones, or known business activities.”