WASHINGTON — Two Soviet-born donors to a pro-Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges of violating campaign finance rules, including funneling Russian money into President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, have been under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, and are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later on Thursday, the people said.
Both men were born in republics that were part of the former Soviet Union.
Giuliani, Trump’s private lawyer, identified the two men in May as his clients. Both men have donated to Republican campaigns including Trump’s, and in May 2018 gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through an LLC called Global Energy Producers, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The men were charged with four counts, including conspiracy, falsification of records and lying to the FEC about their political donations, according to the indictment that outlines a conspiracy to funnel a Russian donor’s money into U.S. elections.
The group concealed their work by laundering foreign money into U.S. elections by disguising the true origin of the money, the indictment says.
Beginning in about March of 2018, Parnas and Frurman began attending fundraising events and making substantial contributions “with the purpose of enhancing their influence in political circles and gaining access to politicians,” prosecutors wrote.
The indictment Thursday alleges that Fruman intentionally misspelled his name as to further evade FEC scrutiny. Fundraising records show that an “Igor Furman” who otherwise matches Fruman made additional campaign donations totaling almost $400,000, beginning in March 2018. That would bring the pair’s contributions to about $1 million.
John Dowd, who headed Trump’s legal team until spring 2018 and is a lawyer for the two men, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Giuliani said he hasn’t been contacted by Manhattan federal prosecutors.
Attorney General William Barr discussed the case on Thursday with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, where he was making a preplanned visit. A Justice Department official said Barr was supportive of their work on the case, on which he was first briefed shortly after being confirmed as attorney general in February. He was aware the pair would be charged and taken into custody last night, the official said.
The Campaign Legal Center, a transparency advocacy group, filed a complaint with the FEC in July 2018 calling on the commission to investigate whether Parnas and Fruman had violated campaign-finance laws by using an LLC to disguise the source of their donations.
Parnas and Fruman had dinner with the president in early May 2018, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured in a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They also met with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., later that month at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, Calif., along with Tommy Hicks Jr., a close friend of the younger Trump who at the time was heading America First Action.
Parnas posted a photo of their breakfast four days after his LLC donated to the super PAC.
A spokeswoman for America First Action said the super PAC had placed the contribution in a segregated bank account following the complaint filed with the FEC. The donation “has not been used for any purpose and the funds will remain in this segregated account until these matters are resolved,” the spokeswoman said. “We take our legal obligations seriously and scrupulously comply with the law and any suggestion otherwise is false.”
Since late 2018, Fruman and Parnas have introduced Giuliani to several current and former senior Ukrainian prosecutors to discuss the Biden case.
Parnas in July accompanied Giuliani to a breakfast meeting with Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. “We had a long conversation about Ukraine,” Volker wrote in his testimony to House committees last week. During that breakfast, Giuliani mentioned the investigations he was pursuing into Biden and 2016 election interference.
House committees last month sought documents and depositions from Parnas and Fruman related to their interactions with the Trump administration, Giuliani and Ukrainian officials. The initial notice from the committees set the dates for their depositions as Thursday and Friday.
Dowd wrote a letter to the House Intelligence Committee last week advising them that he was representing Parnas and Fruman and noting that the two men had assisted Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump.” He said some of the documents sought by House Democrats last month were protected by attorney-client privilege and that a privilege review of those documents “cannot reasonably be conducted by Oct. 7,” the deadline lawmakers had set.
He also criticized the document requests as “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
Parnas and Fruman also worked to oust the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump had removed from her post this spring.
In May 2018, Pete Sessions, at the time a GOP congressman from Texas, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for her removal, saying he had been told Yovanovitch was displaying a bias against the president in private conversations.
Sessions told the Journal his letter was in line with a broader concern among members of Congress that the administration wasn’t moving swiftly enough to put new ambassadors in place. He declined to say where his information about the ambassador came from but said he didn’t follow up on his letter and didn’t hear until months later about Trump’s interest in replacing her.
The indictment references a congressman, identifiable as Sessions, whose assistance Parnas sought in “causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” The indictment says those efforts were conducted “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.” Sessions didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Parnas and Fruman told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in July that they told Sessions last year that Ms. Yovanovitch was “bad-mouthing” the president. They later donated to his campaign.
Trump moved to oust Yovanovitch this spring after Giuliani told him that she was undermining him abroad and hindering efforts to investigate Biden. House committees are seeking Yovanovitch’s testimony.
Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.