Pro-Trump Super PAC at the Center of Indictments

(Lev Parnas, who was recently indicted with Donald Trump.)

In August, I reported on Brad Parscale and his wife, Candice Blount, who had drawn scrutiny over their relationship with a Trump-Pence super PAC. Parscale, who previously ran Trump’s digital media for his 2016 campaign, is currently serving as Donald Trump’s 2020 Campaign Manager. FEC records showed that Parscale’s company, Red State Data and Digital, has received  $910,000 in total from  America First Action, a Trump-centric super PAC that is able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of federal candidates, but is barred from coordinating with those campaigns, especially in the area of spending. 

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen and associates of Rudy Giuliani, were indicted Thursday and the allegations contained therein could possibly link foreign political donations to Trump’s current campaign manager, Brad Parscale. U.S. Attorney, Geoffrey Berman, in an indictment on behalf of the Southern District of New York alleges that “Parnas and Fruman created a limited liability corporation, Global Energy Producers (“GEP”), and then intentionally caused certain large contributions to be reported in the name of GEP instead of in their own names.” The indictment further alleges that “in or about May 2018, to obtain access to exclusive political events and gain influence with politicians, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the defendants, made a $325,000 contribution to an independent expenditure committee” labeled as “Committee-1.”

(Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas (second and third from left) pictured with Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani.)

A review of the America First Action Contributor records shows that on May 17, 2018, a donation was made from “Global Energy Producers, L.L.C.” with an address in Boca Raton, Florida. The same pro-Trump super PAC that is making payouts to Trump’s own campaign manager is also taking contributions from foreign nationals now accused of using their foreign money to influence American politics. Lev Parnas has also donated thousands of dollars to Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in June of 2018.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were scheduled to appear as witnesses before Congress on matters relating to Trump’s impeachment inquiry on Thursday and Friday of this week. Both men were arrested on Wednesday night at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., just a day before Lev Parnas was due to be deposed by the House Intelligence Committee. Both men were trying to board a Frankfurt-bound flight with one-way tickets.

The indictment alleges that Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman illegally funneled money through a company they set up with the intention of concealing their own identifies as funders so that they could donate to the pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action. The same super PAC has paid Trump’s own campaign manager, Brad Parscale, nearly one million dollars over the last several years.

(Rudy Giuliani with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, on Sept. 20, 2019.)

In addition to assisting Rudy Giuliani with his efforts to investigate former Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman are accused of perpetrating a “foreign national donor scheme” in which they conspired to make political donations, funded by someone identified only as “Foreign National-1” who had “Russian roots.” The purpose of these political donations was to channel money to politicians at the federal and state level who could then influence policy that would “benefit a future business venture.” According to reports from the Wall Street Journal, Parnas and Fruman had lunch with Rudy Giuliani yesterday before attempting to flee the county. Parnas and Fruman are also being represented by John Dowd, who has previously represented Donald Trump as his personal attorney in the special counsel’s inquiry.

(Mugshot of Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas after their arrest by U.S. federal authorities in connection with a campaign finance case on Oct. 10, 2019, via Alexandria Sheriff's Office/Reuters.)

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the America First Action super PAC is involved in transactions that are now being questioned by legal authorities. Along with the money it is dispersing to people like Parsacle, the money it is taking in is also suspect. This pro-Trump super PAC might just be the method by which the defendants were laundering money for Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs while taking care of bribing political officials as well. Both Parnas and Fruman had previously been investigated last year by the Federal Election Commission for violating campaign finance laws after a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog filed a complaint.

In addition to Parnas and Fruman, two other men were included in the indictment, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin. In a news conference announcing the charges, Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Parnas and Fruman “sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official — a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.” 

Trump Wants the Courts to Treat Him Like a King

In a letter to House Democratic leadership on Tuesday, White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, announced that the Trump administration would not cooperate with the ongoing impeachment inquiry just hours after blocking the testimony of the United States ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. Sondland was scheduled to be interviewed by Congress in a closed session on Tuesday morning, but he failed to appear just as Trump tweeted out the message below.

Citing “unprecedented actions [that] have left the president with no choice,” Cipollone announced that Trump and his administration would not be participating in any part of the Congressional investigation. The basis for this unprecedented position taken by the White House is an apparent claim that the investigation itself is rooted in a partisan attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 Presidential Election and that the inquiry itself violates Donald Trump’s due process rights.

This is the first time in American history that we have ever seen a response of this nature. It should not be surprising given the tactics employed by Trump’s attorneys in his ongoing court battles as they argue that the president maintains an elite status that exempts him from the duties and obligations of ordinary citizens. The Mueller Report itself outlined this framework for the very arguments being made in the courts by Trump’s counsel now, by determining that a sitting president was immune from criminal prosecution.

(Trump attacking CNN reporter Jim Acosta at the White House in November 2018.)

Last week, as attorneys in the case against Trump in Manhattan were waiting for a decision from the judge on the issue of whether he would be compelled to release his personal income taxes, attorneys for Trump filed an “ultimatum” letter with the court. In it they specified that if the judge had not reached his decision by their deadline, that they would assume the ruling went against them and immediately file an appeal, regardless of the court issuing an actual ruling. As an attorney, I have to express how highly unprecedented and inappropriate this move is. It continues the running narrative that Trump is above everyone and everything, even the courts.

Obviously, this strategy did not work in Trump’s favor and the judge ruled against him, demanding that he turn over eight years of tax returns. The defense did as they said they would and filed an immediate appeal, but in a statement to the court, they again argued that Trump is entitled to certain privileges due to his “high position” as a sitting president, which makes him immune to certain disclosures and timelines. These arguments in defense of Trump’s actions read more like the defense of a king than a president.

(White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, left, and then Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in the Oval Office on Dec. 11, 2018, via Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post.)

With this latest announcement by White House Counsel that the Trump administration will not be complying with Congressional inquiries or subpoenas, it’s clear that the strategy Trump is employing in his personal suits will now carry over into his impeachment defense. Rep. Schiff, who is currently heading the impeachment inquiry through the Intelligence Committee, has publicly stated that the refusal to allow testimony by Sondland would constitute “strong evidence” of “obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a coequal branch of government.” Once Congress issues a subpoena and the deadline is missed, they can initiate court proceedings to force compliance.

Trump is not doing well in the courts. In September, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated an Emoluments Clause suit that was originally brought by Trump's business rivals in New York, but had been dismissed by a lower-level federal judge in December 2017. Based on new information that Trump is using the presidency to profit personally, Trump will now have to defend against another suit alleging self-interest and this could also risk disclosure of his personal finances. Trump reported making at least $434 million in gross income from his properties and business in 2018, according to the financial disclosure form released by the Office of Government Ethics.

This line of legal defense directly mirrors Trump’s own philophosy that he has espoused publicly many times which is that as president he is legally able to do whatever he wants. He has told the press that his Executive Powers under Article II of the Constitution allow him complete authority in every situation — this is the mentality of a king. It is obvious through the strategies being currently utilized by his personal attorneys, that Trump has now extended this ideology to his own legal defense. Given the latest ruling by Judge Marrero in Manhattan where Trump’s lawyers tried to dictate the timeline for the ruling, this strategy is not playing out so well. If Trump continues to present himself as a supreme leader with “great and unmatched wisdom” in a courtroom venue, it will only be to his detriment.


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Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.

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