Washington — Federal prosecutors in New York formally announced federal campaign finance charges on Thursday against two foreign-born men who aided Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, in his efforts to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
The men, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, originally from Belarus, are accused of conspiring to "circumvent the federal laws against foreign interference by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and State office," according to a four-count indictment in the Southern District of New York. Two other men, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, also face charges.
Shortly after the announcement, the Democratic House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Trump announced they have subpoenaed Parnas and Furman.
The men were arrested at Dulles International Airport as they were about to board an international flight on one-way tickets, according to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Geoffrey Berman, who said at a press conference that protecting the integrity of U.S. elections from foreign influence is of primary importance to his office.
"This investigation is about corrupt behavior — deliberate law breaking," said William Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI's New York office.
Both men donated to Republican campaigns, and gave $325,000 to America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC in 2018. The indictment accuses them of setting up a phony company to conceal the source of the contributions.
In a statement, a spokesperson for America First Action said that it "placed that contribution in a segregated bank account, [and] it has not been used it for any purpose and the funds will remain in this segregated account until these matters are resolved."
Both Parnas and Fruman are U.S. citizens.
Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden's efforts to oust a former Ukrainian prosecutor general as vice president, alleging without evidence that the prosecutor general was investigating a Ukrainian gas firm with ties to Hunter Biden. Mr. Trump's request to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he investigate the Bidens has led to the House impeachment inquiry against him.
"Parnas and Fruman, who had no significant prior history of political donations, sought to advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working," the indictment reads. "In order to conceal from third parties, including creditors, their sources of funding and capital, Parnas and Fruman created a limited liability corporation, Global Energy Producers, and then intentionally caused certain large contributions to be reported in the name of GEP instead of in their own names."
Prosecutors also allege the men enlisted a U.S. congressman to seek the ouster of the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was prematurely recalled from her post earlier this year. The president called the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, "bad news" in his July phone call with the Ukrainian president that's at the center of House Democrats' impeachment probe.
The congressman is not identified in the indictment, but public campaign finance records indicate it is former Congressman Pete Sessions. Berman, the U.S. attorney, said the men met with Sessions several times to discuss Yovanovitch's ouster.
The three Democratic chairmen in charge of the impeachment inquiry into the president had already requested documents from Parnas and Fruman and followed through with a subpoena on Thursday.
"Your clients are private citizens who are not employees of the Executive Branch," wrote Chairmen Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel. "They may not evade requests from Congress for documents and information necessary to conduct our inquiry. They are required by law to comply with the enclosed subpoenas. They are not exempted from this requirement merely because they happen to work with Mr. Giuliani, and they may not defy congressional subpoenas merely because President Trump has chosen the path of denial, defiance, and obstruction."
Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the case in February, shortly after he was confirmed. Barr has received additional briefings in recent weeks and fully supports the case.
Paula Reid and Andres Triay contributed to this report.