Dispatch October 10, 2019

Who Are Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman?

Two key players in the Ukraine scandal are now facing charges: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—Soviet-born Florida businessmen who have been helping President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, run his “shadow Ukraine agendawere arrested for allegedly violating campaign finance law in an effort to “buy potential influence with candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments.” (Their lawyer has so far declined to comment on the charges.)

Parnas and Fruman have been intricately linked to the Ukraine scandal from the very beginning, reportedly helping Giuliani set up meetings with current and former Ukrainian officials—and allegedly devising a plan to profit off of the corruption and chaos that President Trump was creating.

Parnas and Fruman gained access in Republican politics the old-fashioned way: through dark money. (Parnas and Fruman have not publicly commented on the specific allegations in these reports.)

  • According to BuzzFeed News, Parnas and Fruman “collectively poured $576,500 into GOP campaigns” in 2018, often “without declaring the original sources of the funds.”
  • At one point, a company that Parnas owned reportedly “received a payment of $1.26 million from the client trust account of a lawyer specializing in real estate and foreign investments,” which he and Fruman turned around into a $325,000 donation to a Trump-supporting super PAC “without disclosing its source in their filings.”
  • Through those donations, Parnas and Fruman have rapidly gained incredible access to Republican political circles, sitting down with everybody from congresspeople to the cochair of the Republican National Committee to Trump himself.

They’ve apparently been key players in the Trump administration’s extortion of Ukraine from the very beginning. (Parnas and Fruman have not publicly commented on the specific allegations in these reports.)

  • Parnas and Fruman were reportedly among the informal advisers who helped convince Trump to prematurely recall U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whose anti-corruption push they considered an obstacle to their business interests.
  • They have reportedly helped Giuliani run his “shadow Ukraine agenda,” arranging meetings between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials during which Giuliani pressed his case for a bogus investigation into Trump’s political opponents. Parnas and Fruman have themselves “met at least four times with top Ukrainian prosecutors.”
  • They’ve also reportedly been helping push long-debunked conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation, falsely claiming that the Clinton campaign worked with Ukrainian officials to concoct a fake “black ledger” that they then leaked to smear Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

They’ve apparently been trying to profit off of their connections to the administration and the president’s extortion of Ukraine.

  • Parnas and Fruman have reportedly teamed up with a Trump-supporting Florida oil magnate to start 45 Energy Group—a Houston-based energy company reportedly looking to do business in Ukraine—whose name is a transparent reference to the 45th president.
  • To maximize their profits, the three have reportedly been pushing for a change in leadership at Naftogaz, a state-owned Ukrainian energy company with which they were looking to swing a deal. (Their lawyer denies that their efforts were “a shakedown,” calling it “an attempt to do legitimate business that didn’t work out.”)
  • This push reportedly recently gained them an ally: departing U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who’s been pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to install a new board at Naftogaz—including “a fellow Texan who is one of Perry’s past political donors.” This new board would almost certainly be friendlier to Parnas and Fruman’s interests as well. (A spokesperson for the Energy Department has denied that Perry was “advancing anyone’s personal interests,” saying Perry’s conversations about Naftogaz were “part of his efforts to reform the country’s energy sector and create an environment in which Western companies can do business.”)

Parnas and Fruman’s alleged efforts further underline the lie in Trump and his accomplices’ latest defense: that Trump’s demands for an investigation into the Bidens just reflect his fixation on “investigating corruption” in Ukraine. These efforts are living proof that Trump and his administration are fostering corruption—not fighting it.

For more on how Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine put him on the side of corruption, check out this column: “The Geopolitics of a Political Scandal: Why Trump and Giuliani’s Pressuring of Ukraine Is Terrible for Ukraine and U.S. Foreign Policy.”