Two close associates of Donald Trump's personal lawyer pressured the previous president of Ukraine to open investigations into Democrat Joe Biden. The pressure came during a meeting in late February, five months before Trump's July 25 phone call with current Ukraine leader Volodymr Zelensky. Trump's call with Zelensky is at the center of the impeachment inquiry currently underway in the United States House of Representatives. The February meeting was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
At that meeting, Lev Parnas (pictured above left) and Igor Fruman (above right) — both Soviet Union-born, Florida-based businessmen — told the then-president, Petro Poroshenko, that if he opened investigations into Biden's son, Trump would reward him with an official state visit to the White House, according to the Journal report.
The pair also pressed Poroshenko to investigate Ukraine's supposed interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a widely debunked conspiracy theory whose purpose appears to be to exonerate Russia of election interference.
Trump has pushed the "Ukraine interference" conspiracy theory as far back as the 2016 campaign, when the first reports of a Russian attack on the elections began to emerge, according to memos from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The memos were obtained through a Freedom of Information lawsuit by BuzzFeed News.
Fruman and Parnas were arrested in October and indicted on charges that they secretly funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from a wealthy Russian businessman to a pro-Trump SuperPAC.
Trump has denied that he knows Parnas and Fruman, though he appears in multiple photographs with one or both of them.
A lawyer for Parnas, Edward B. MacMahon Jr., told The Washington Post that his client took the meeting with Poroshenko on orders from Giuliani — who in turn was acting on behalf of Trump.
"There isn't anything that Parnas did in the Ukraine relative to the Bidens or the 2016 election that he wasn't asked to do by Giuliani, who was acting on the direction of the president," the Parnas lawyer told The Post.
Giuliani in a tweet on Thursday also said that his "investigation" of "collusion and corruption" in Ukraine was done on behalf of Trump, adding that he was attempting to defend Trump against "false charges." The supposedly "false charges," Giuliani explains, were the allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win.
But the conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016 is supported by three major investigations, including a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee probe, as well as by Mueller, and an assessment by the U.S. intelligence community.
Giuliani has described Parnas and Fruman as "clients." But at the same time, the activities of the two men were reportedly financed largely by pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. on corruption charges.