Republican campaigns unload donations from Giuliani's indicted associates
Posted October 25, 2019 5:16 p.m. EDT
CNN — Republican lawmakers and political action committees that took money from Rudy Giuliani's two associates who are now at the center of the Ukraine scandal are distancing themselves from the donors facing criminal charges, according to a CNN survey.
Soviet-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and their company, Global Energy Producers, gave more than $621,000 to various Republican political campaigns in the past two election cycles, including the 2018 midterms, which saw Republicans lose control of the House, according to the Federal Election Committee.
But many of those Republican campaigns and committees are giving away the donations after federal prosecutors indicted Parnas and Fruman, along with two other men, on charges of violating campaign finance laws and lying to the FEC. They have pleaded not guilty.
At least six campaigns said the tainted money will be, or has already been, donated to charity. CNN heard from nine of the 26 Republican lawmakers who directly received money from Parnas or Fruman about the allocation of these funds. Eight of these nine campaigns said they would not be keeping the money. The other campaigns and committees could not be reached for comment or did not respond to requests from CNN.
The communications director for the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action told CNN the committee put funds it had received from Global Energy Producers in a "segregated bank account" until the investigations are resolved. The company linked to Parnas and Fruman gave America First Action a total of $325,000 last year, the spokesman said.
Representatives for nearly all of these campaigns stressed that their committees had no direct contact with Parnas or Fruman, who are accused of funneling foreign money to US campaigns.
Six campaigns that responded to requests from CNN said that they had not been contacted by the FBI or impeachment investigators on Capitol Hill about the donations. The Southern District of New York has subpoenaed former GOP Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas on matters related to the impeachment probe.
House Democrats have already subpoenaed Giuliani -- who is President Donald Trump's personal attorney -- Parnas and Fruman for information about the donations and related efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine about former Vice President Joe Biden. Giuliani said the two men connected him with former Ukrainian prosecutors who alleged wrongdoing by Biden and his son. There is no evidence that the Bidens did anything illegal.
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNN that he will reroute the money to a "local charity." McCarthy, who is the highest-ranking Republican in the House, received the maximum donation of $2,700 from Parnas in 2018, according to the FEC.
Last March, Parnas and Fruman, along with Giuliani, attended a National Council of Young Israel gala dinner where McCarthy was the keynote speaker, the Miami Herald reported earlier this month.
Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon's campaign has designated Fruman's $2,444 contribution for "local charities aimed at helping women and ending sex trafficking," political director Kyle Clark said.
And Kentucky GOP Rep. Andy Barr's campaign spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker told CNN that, "out of an abundance of caution, the campaign has decided to donate the corresponding contribution amount to a local charity." Barr received $2,432 from Fruman in 2018, according to FEC data.
Former Rep. David Young also gave away $2,432 from Fruman, his campaign said. Young narrowly lost his southwest Iowa seat to Rep. Cindy Axne in a key Democratic pickup.
"Within minutes after the campaign learned about the matter, the Congressman immediately made the decision to direct and donate those funds to flood relief and flood recovery efforts in southwest Iowa," Young's former campaign manager Andy Swanson told CNN in an email.
The funds were indirectly given to Young's campaign through Protect the House, a political action committee set up to defend the GOP House majority in last year's midterms. Parnas and Fruman donated a combined $111,000 to Protect the House ahead of the 2018 elections.
Former Congressman Mike Bishop received $2,173 from Fruman through Protect the House and will be giving the funds to charity, his general consultant said. Another former congressman, Scott Taylor, also received donations from Fruman through Protect the House and will be giving the $2,444 either to a charity or to the US Treasury, a campaign manager for Taylor said. Rep. Brian Mast, a Florida Republican who received $2,432 from Fruman through Protect the House, will also be donating the money to the US Treasury, a spokesman told CNN.
The Soviet businessmen also donated to Sessions, who lost his seat last year but is attempting a comeback for another seat in 2020. He's the only lawmaker who acknowledged personally meeting the two indicted donors, a meeting that happened at a pro-Trump super PAC event in 2018.
Prosecutors said that during the meeting, the donors sought Sessions' help in ousting then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which Sessions has since acknowledged in interviews. The former lawmaker told CNN they also discussed "the strategic need for Ukraine to become energy independent," but he didn't "take any official action" after meeting with Parnas and Fruman.
The indictment alleges that "Congressman-1" took about $3 million from "Committee-1." Although Sessions was neither named in the indictment nor charged with any wrongdoing, CNN previously reported that he is Congressman-1 and the committee is America First Action.
Fruman donated the money under the name of "Igor Furman," a misspelling of his name. Prosecutors alleged that this was "a further effort to conceal the source of the funds and to evade federal reporting requirements." Federal law sets strict limits for individual donors.
Sessions told CNN in a statement through his spokesman that he will give the funds to "charities that serve abused women and children and the elderly in Central Texas."
Earlier this week, Parnas and Fruman pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court. CNN previously reported that federal prosecutors are scrutinizing Giuliani's financial ties to the men.