Rudy Giuliani is well known. The two associates who helped him remove the US ambassador to Ukraine aren’t, but they will be.
Who Are These Guys?
Ukrainian-American Lev Parnas and Belarus-American Igor Fruman were born in former Soviet republics. Parnas grew up in Brooklyn and got his start in real estate selling condos for Fred Trump in the late 1980s. According to their attorney, Parnas and Fruman have been working for Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump.”
Parnas also works for ardent Trump supporters Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing in their representation of Dmitry Firtash — a Ukrainian oligarch. Since 2014, Firtash has been living in Vienna under house arrest, awaiting extradition on bribery and racketeering charges in Chicago.
Make a note: Vienna.
Did Trump Know Them?
Late October 2016: Parnas contributes about $100,000 to the Trump campaign, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Nov. 8, 2016: Parnas attends Trump’s VIP invitation-only election celebration in New York.
March 2018: Fruman attends a Republican National Committee fundraiser at Mar- a-Lago and posts on Facebook a photo of himself standing next to Trump.
May 1, 2018: Parnas and Fruman have dinner with Trump in the White House. In a subsequent interview with a Brooklyn-based Russian-language publication, Fruman says it’s an eight-person meeting during which they discuss the upcoming midterm elections and US-Ukraine relations. Later that month, they meet with Don Jr. at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills.
What Did They Want From Trump?
At the request of “one or more Ukrainian government officials,” Parnas and Fruman seek the removal of US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — an outspoken critic of the country’s public corruption. Her ouster would also clear a path for their personal gain: They hope to make big money on a deal that requires replacing the anti-corruption CEO of Ukraine’s Naftogaz gas company.
May 9, 2018: After meeting with Parnas in Washington, Rep. Pete Sessions’ (R-TX) letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo questions Yovanovitch’s fitness.
May 17, 2018: Parnas and Fruman donate $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC that gives Rep. Sessions more than $3 million for his re-election campaign. They had also promised Sessions that they would raise $20,000 for his campaign, according to their indictment.
January 2019: Giuliani meets with Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko. They discuss the Bidens.
Make another note: Lutsenko.
Early March: At the State Department’s request, Yovanovitch extends her Ukraine assignment until 2020, but…
Mid-March: At a meeting where Parnas and Fruman tout a plan to replace
Naftogaz’s CEO, Parnas says that Trump will be replacing Yovanovitch. On Mar. 24, he repeats the prediction.
Mar. 28: Giuliani prepares a nine-page document for Pompeo, outlining the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine and making false allegations against Yovanovitch — who stands in the way of his propaganda campaign. “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,” Giuliani says later .
Late April: Yovanovitch is summoned abruptly to Washington “on the next plane.” The deputy secretary of state tells her that she has done nothing wrong, but the department has been under pressure from Trump to remove her since the summer of 2018.
After Yovanovitch departs, general prosecutor Lutsenko sends a message to a Ukrainian anti-corruption activist, gloating about his role in her dismissal.
What Do Trump and Giuliani Want From Ukraine?
For this phase of the Ukraine operation, Trump and Giuliani seek two things: 1) “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and 2) revival of Russia’s false narrative that Ukraine was the source of interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
May to July 2019: As Trump withholds nearly $400 million in military aid to
Ukraine, Giuliani works with State Department officials and an aide to newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The US side pushes Ukraine to reopen investigations into the Bidens and revive Russian propaganda regarding Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.
July 25: In his phone call pressuring Zelensky for investigations, Trump also urges Zelensky not to fire general prosecutor Lutsenko and says that Yovanovitch is “going to go through some things.”
July 29: Parnas, Giuliani, and US Ambassador Kurt Volker have breakfast together. Giuliani mentions the accusations about Biden and Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
August: Trump continues withholding military aid as State Department officials press Trump’s demands in exchange for a White House meeting date between Trump and Zelensky.
Sept. 1: US Ambassador Bill Taylor texts Ambassador Gordon Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”
Sondland answers, “Call me.”
Sept. 11: The day after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) demands a copy of the
whistleblower complaint against Trump, Trump releases the military aid to Ukraine.
Oct. 4: Zelensky had fired Lutsenko at the end of August, but Ukraine’s new general prosecutor announces that he will review cases involving Biden’s son.
Oct. 9: Parnas and Fruman have lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Giuliani tells a reporter that he cannot meet with her that evening because he’s planning to fly to Vienna.
Oct. 9: Fearing that Parnas and Fruman are headed out of the country to escape prosecution, federal agents arrest them at Dulles International Airport around 6:00 pm. They have one-way international tickets. According to Giuliani, the two men are planning to travel to Vienna on matters “related to their business.” DiGenova says the trip isn’t connected to Parnas’ work for his firm.
Oct. 10: A week earlier, Parnas’ and Fruman’s attorney had said that they worked for Giuliani in his representation of Trump. But after prosecutors unseal the Parnas-Fruman indictment, Trump says, “I don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do but I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy, I just don’t know.”
Sound familiar? When reporters first asked Trump about Michael Cohen’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, he feigned ignorance: “You’ll have to ask Michael.”
We know how that ended.
Steven J. Harper is a regular contributor to News & Guts and the creator/curator of the Trump-Russia Timeline. He’s an attorney, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School, and author of several books, including Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story and The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis. He blogs at The Belly of the Beast. Follow him on Twitter (@StevenJHarper1).