Donald Trump has denied knowing Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two close associates of his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who were arrested and indicted last month. But Parnas has privately told friends a very different story, saying that he met privately at the White House with Trump and Giuliani last December, according to a CNN exclusive report on Friday evening.
Not only did Parnas and Fruman meet with Trump secretly, but at that meeting, Trump dispatched the pair on what Parnas' friends called a "James Bond mission" to pressure the Ukraine government into staging an investigation of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, according to the CNN report.
The meeting, CNN reported, took place at a White House Hanukkah party attended by "hundreds" of Trump donors. At that party, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence posed for a photograph with Parnas and Fruman, along with Giuliani. That photograph has been widely circulated on social media in the weeks since the pair were arrested. The photo may be seen below on this page.
"I take pictures with a lot of people," Trump said in an interview, dismissing the allegation that he is personally acquainted with Parnas and Fruman.Parnas and Fruman were charged last month with illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars from an unidentified Russian businessman to a Trump campaign Super PAC, by federal prosecutors. They channeled the money through their company, Global Energy Producers (GEP), according to the prosecutors.
After the covert White House meeting, Parnas confided in two friends that Trump had assigned him and Fruman a "secret mission" to elicit the Biden investigation, according to CNN.
"Parnas viewed the assignment as a great crusade," one of those confidants told the network. "He believed he was doing the right thing for Trump."
Parnas "at all times" believed that he was carrying out Trump's orders as relayed by Giuliani, a lawyer for the indicted, Soviet-born businessman told CNN.
Though Parnas believed he was working directly as an agent for Trump and Giuliani, he and Fruman received funding for their activities from Dmytro Firtash, a fugitive Ukrainian billionaire closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Firtash, who is currently fighting extradition to the United States on a bribery charge, made his fortune from a natural gas profit-skimming scheme set up by Putin, according to an NBC News report.
Giuliani, through his lawyer, Robert Costello, denied to CNN that the White House meeting with Parnas and Fruman ever took place. Costello accused Parnas of suffering from "delusions of grandeur."
But according to the report, Parnas boasted widely about the Hanukkah party meeting with Trump.
"Parnas told everyone in Ukraine about the White House meeting," Ken McCallion, a lawyer with numerous clients among Ukraine's elite, told CNN. "He was adamant he was 'their guy,' that they chose him to be their ambassador in Ukraine."