Friday, December 06, 2019
“Lev Parnas arrives to court with his wife Svetlana in New York on 2 December. Parnas and Igor Fruman, close associates to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, were arrested last month. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA
Talks about a potential plea deal are under way between federal prosecutors and an attorney for Lev Parnas, a Rudy Giuliani associate indicted for making illegal campaign donations who helped Trump lawyer Giuliani’s search for dirt in Ukraine on Joe Biden, says an attorney familiar with the investigation
The talks appear to be in early stages, but the lawyer familiar with the investigation and ex-prosecutors say that pressure mounted on Parnas to cut a deal after prosecutors revealed on Monday that he and his business associate Igor Fruman, who was also indicted for making illegal campaign donations, are “likely” to face additional charges.
If Parnas strikes a deal it could put further legal pressure on Giuliani, who is facing a growing number of legal woes including some relating to his international consulting business as part of an investigation of alleged crimes including money laundering, wire fraud, campaign finance violations, making false statements, obstruction of justice, and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Parnas and Fruman, who were both born in the former Soviet Union, pleaded not guilty to illegally funneling contributions from a foreign source and three other counts. But Parnas and his lawyer have begun cooperating with the House impeachment inquiry in response to a subpoena and have turned over video and audio recordings to the House intelligence committee.
As detailed in the 300-page report by House intelligence committee Democrats and other documents and reports, Parnas played a Zelig-like role in Ukraine and the US in tandem with Giuliani and several other conservatives to try and boost Trump’s political fortunes in 2020.
Parnas and Fruman worked with Giuliani to help oust Marie Yovanovitch, a respected US ambassador in Kyiv who was removed this spring, and to pressure the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to announce an inquiry into debunked allegations about former vice-president Joe Biden, a leading candidate in 2020, and his son who had worked for a Ukrainian gas company, in order to lift a secret hold on $391m in badly needed US military aid.
Parnas and Fruman were arrested at Dulles airport en route to Vienna in October and charged with a complex conspiracy to funnel $325,000 to a Trump Super Pac from a Russian source using shell companies.
But federal prosecutors in New York have since widened their investigation to look at Giuliani, including his business interests in Ukraine, and reportedly issued numerous subpoenas.
The lawyer familiar with the investigation, who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to discuss it, said: “There are some plea negotiations under way with regards to Parnas,” and the federal prosecutors in New York’s southern district which brought the charges; but he noted that “a proffer by Parnas’ attorney [has] not been accepted at this time”.
Ex-prosecutors say a plea deal would probably require Parnas to offer more information about Giuliani and probably others he had contacts with, including possibly Trump and the Republican congressman Devin Nunes.
Ex-prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig said plea deals typically require defendants to provide truthful testimony about other possible defendants which in Parnas’s case would include Giuliani. “That prospect has to make Mr Giuliani uncomfortable,” he said. “It might also make Representative Nunes and President Trump uncomfortable as well.”
Similarly, ex-federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin said that having a prosecutor signal more charges as likely against Parnas and Fruman “substantially increases pressure on Parnas to work out a deal”.
Zeldin added that “additional charges could include such crimes as failure to register as a foreign agent, money laundering and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” Convictions of these crimes carry substantial prison terms.
Parnas’s lawyer Joseph Bondy declined to comment on whether plea talks were under way, but Bondy told the Guardian his client wanted to help the House of Representatives in its impeachment inquiry.
In a statement, Bondy said that they are producing materials to the House intelligence committee “… and that Mr Parnas remains fully committed to providing relevant and accurate sworn testimony”. But Parnas needs to be “granted a level of immunity, such that his statements in the impeachment inquiry cannot be used against him in his federal prosecution”.
Parnas and Fruman’s efforts to help Trump’s political fortunes go back at least to April 2018 when the duo were invited as prospective donors to a small Super Pac dinner with Trump at his DC hotel. There, Parnas talked to Trump and warned him that Ambassador Yovanovitch was hostile to his policies, to which Trump replied she should be fired, according to the Washington Post. Their $325,000 check to the Super Pac, America First Action, arrived a few weeks later.
In a statement, the Super Pac indicated it has voluntarily cooperated with the federal inquiry, and the $325,000 check was put in a “segregated bank account … until these matters are resolved and a court determines the proper disposition of the fund…”