MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Two Florida-based businessmen have been arrested on campaign finance charges. Now, this is newsworthy because the businessmen worked with Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, to gather information in Ukraine about former Vice President Joe Biden. The U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, told reporters today that the pair, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were taken into custody yesterday outside Washington, D.C.
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GEOFFREY BERMAN: Parnas and Fruman were arrested around 6 p.m. last night at Dulles Airport as they were about to board an international flight with one-way tickets.
KELLY: So NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here with more on the case. Hi, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi, there.
KELLY: These are not household names, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. What do we know about them? What are the charges that they are facing?
LUCAS: So Parnas was born in Ukraine; Fruman in Belarus. Both are now American citizens, and they are business partners. And they have come under scrutiny from the media recently because of the role that they played in helping Rudy Giuliani dig up dirt in Ukraine on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
Parnas told our colleague Jeff Brady that he's known Giuliani socially for several years. They've golfed together. And he says he worked as a fixer and translator of sorts for Giuliani on his Ukraine efforts. He helped arrange meetings with current and former Ukrainian officials, for example. That includes prosecutors. Parnas said that he attended a couple of those meetings along with Giuliani. He wouldn't get into the nature of those conversations.
The indictment unveiled today does not mention Giuliani or his Ukraine operations, though. This is a separate matter related to alleged campaign finance crimes. Parnas and Fruman face four counts in all - two conspiracy counts as well as a false statements count and a falsification of records count.
KELLY: What exactly are they - stand accused of having done?
LUCAS: Well, there are a couple of different things in the indictment. There is a $325,000 donation that they made to a pro-Trump superPAC. The donation was made via an energy company that Parnas and Fruman had set up, according to prosecutors, in order to hide their role in this donation. That's known as a straw donor scheme, hiding the real source of the funds. That is illegal.
The indictment also says that Parnas and Fruman made personal donations to an unnamed congressman, and they promised to make more donations. That won them, according to the indictment, several meetings with this congressman. And the goal of this, prosecutors say, was to get the congressman's help with a matter in Ukraine. Here's how the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, again Geoffrey Berman, talked about it.
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BERMAN: Parnas and Fruman had several meetings with Congressman 1. And at these meetings, Parnas, on behalf of a Ukrainian government official, lobbied Congressman 1 to advocate for the removal of the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
LUCAS: So Parnas and Fruman were working at the behest of a Ukrainian official to get a U.S. congressman's help to push out the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch ultimately was removed from her post this spring under pressure from Giuliani and others.
KELLY: Incredibly complicated - and it gets more complicated with the addition to the mix of this unnamed congressman. Do we know who this congressman is?
LUCAS: So details in the indictment, particularly those about donations, match up with campaign finance records and strongly suggest that the congressman was Texas Republican Pete Sessions. Sessions was actually defeated in the 2018 midterms and lost his seat, so he is no longer in Congress.
KELLY: No longer in Congress. OK. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani - how problematic might this be for him?
LUCAS: Having two associates facing federal indictment is not a good thing. I reached out to him today to see if he would comment on it, and he is not talking.
KELLY: Not commenting. OK. We may not have known who - I didn't - hadn't heard of these guys before today. But lawmakers on Capitol Hill certainly had. They have been interested in Parnas and Fruman already as part of their impeachment inquiry. So I mean, where does all this go?
LUCAS: Right. The House committees leading the impeachment push requested documents and testimony from Parnas and Fruman last week. They were actually scheduled to testify this week. But the lawyer who represents both of them made clear that they were not going to show up.
Now, soon after this indictment came down today, the House subpoenaed both Parnas and Fruman for documents. It gave them a deadline of October 16. And what the House is looking for from them includes things related to what's in today's indictment, but it's also much broader. They want information on their work with Giuliani or administration officials related to everything that's gone on in Ukraine.
KELLY: Whole lot going on - NPR's Ryan Lucas, thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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