An associate of Rudy Giuliani who was involved in a campaign to pressure Ukraine into aiding Donald Trump’s political prospects has broken ranks, opening a dialogue with congressional impeachment investigators and accusing the president of falsely denying their relationship.
The associate, Lev Parnas, had previously resisted speaking with investigators for the Democrat-led impeachment proceedings, which are examining the president’s pressure attempts in Ukraine. A former lawyer for Mr Trump was then representing Mr Parnas.
But since then, Mr Parnas has hired new lawyers who contacted the congressional investigators last week to notify them to “direct any future correspondence or communication to us”, according to a copy of the letter.
The lawyers also signalled on Monday that Mr Parnas is prepared to comply with a congressional subpoena for his documents and testimony.
Mr Parnas, a Ukrainian-born American citizen who was central to Mr Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt on Mr Trump’s rivals, could offer congress a vein of information about the efforts in Ukraine.
“We are willing to comply with the subpoena to the extent that it does not violate any appropriate privilege that Mr Parnas may properly invoke,” said Joseph A Bondy, who along with Edward B MacMahon Jr now represents Mr Parnas.
Mr Bondy said that given the federal criminal charges, his client may invoke his right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself.
The turnabout occurred after their client was arrested last month on federal campaign finance charges and Mr Trump denied knowing him.
“Mr Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,” said Mr Bondy, whose client has maintained that he has had extensive dealings with the president.
After federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced campaign finance charges against Mr Parnas and three other men, Mr Trump told reporters that he did not know Mr Parnas or Igor Fruman, another Giuliani associate who also worked to help Mr Trump in Ukraine and was among those charged with campaign finance violations. The two men had contributed extensively to political committees supporting Mr Trump and appeared with the president in pictures posted on social media.
“I don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do … Maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy,” he said. Of the numerous photographs of them together, Mr Trump said: “I have a picture with everybody.”
Mr Parnas initially remained in Mr Trump’s camp after house Democrats on 30 September requested documents and testimony from him and Mr Fruman. The men hired John Dowd, a lawyer who had earlier represented the president at one stage of the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr Trump signed off on the hiring of Mr Dowd, according to a 2 October email reviewed by The New York Times.
“I have discussed the issue of representation with the president. The president consents to allowing your representation of Mr Parnas and Mr Furman,” Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for Mr Trump, wrote to Mr Dowd, misspelling Mr Fruman’s surname.
Mr Dowd said in an interview that Mr Trump’s approval was sought “simply as a courtesy to the president” because of the lawyer’s previous work for him. Mr Dowd said he still represents Mr Fruman.
A person close to Mr Trump said that the email did not demonstrate that the president knew Mr Parnas or Mr Fruman personally but rather knew of them from media reports.
On 3 October, when he still represented both men, Mr Dowd wrote a letter to the House Intelligence Committee asserting that some of the materials the Democrats had asked the men to produce would be protected by attorney-client or executive privilege.
Mr Dowd told the Democrats that he could not determine how long it would take him to review documents for privilege and accused them of trying to “harass, intimidate and embarrass my clients.”
Not long afterward, in an indictment unsealed on 10 October, federal prosecutors accused Mr Parnas and Mr Fruman of illegally routeing a $325,000 (£252,000) contribution to a political action committee supporting Mr Trump through a shell company and funnelling campaign contributions from a Russian businessman to other US politicians to influence them in support of a marijuana venture. They have both pleaded not guilty.
House Democrats also sent Mr Dowd subpoenas for Mr Parnas and Mr Fruman on the same day the charges against them were unsealed.
Mr Parnas hired Mr Giuliani in 2018 to help with a venture called Fraud Guarantee. But as of early this year, their relationship had shifted: Mr Parnas and Mr Fruman began assisting Mr Giuliani in efforts to unearth negative information in Ukraine about former vice president Joe Biden, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and his son Hunter.
That work lies close to the centre of the investigation by house Democrats of whether Mr Trump oversaw a shadow diplomatic campaign intended to smear a political opponent.
While it is not clear what documents or testimony Mr Parnas might provide, he was intimately involved with Mr Giuliani’s efforts. Along with Mr Fruman, he travelled repeatedly to Ukraine in search of information about corruption involving the Bidens and pushed for the ousting of the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani saw as hostile to the president.
The New York Times
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