Politics

Florida businessmen with Giuliani, Ukraine ties won’t comply with impeachment inquiry

Two South Florida businessman who peddled supposedly explosive information from Ukraine about corruption involving Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton will not comply with a request for documents and depositions from three House committees overseeing an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman will not respond to a Monday deadline for documents and do not plan to appear for depositions scheduled for Thursday and Friday, their attorney John Dowd told the Miami Herald.

“No response planned,” Dowd, who helped defend Trump during part of the recently concluded Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, said in email.

Democrats working on the burgeoning impeachment inquiry said Parnas and Fruman’s decision to ignore a request issued last Monday will lead to subpoenas, which would compel them to testify and provide documents or face criminal charges.

“While we have engaged with counsels for these witnesses, they have so far refused to agree to testify or turn over relevant documents. If they continue to fail to comply, they will be served with subpoenas in short order,” an official working on the impeachment inquiry said.

Dowd sent the House Intelligence Committee an email on Oct. 3 detailing his objections to the request for documents and depositions. In the email, which was released on Monday, Dowd said getting up to speed on Parnas and Fruman’s legal situation “will take some time” and that their discussions with Rudy Giuliani regarding Trump would be covered by “attorney-client, attorney work and other privileges.” Dowd began representing Parnas and Fruman last week.

He also called the request for documents “overly broad and unduly burdensome,” saying he has reached the “inescapable conclusion that the Democratic Committee members’ intent is to harass, intimidate and embarrass my clients.”

Parnas told the Miami Herald last month that Ukraine’s government has access to information on alleged wrongdoing by Joe Biden and his son Hunter and other U.S. officials overseas — but that the U.S. government proved indifferent to receiving it through official channels. Parnas said his and Fruman’s friendship with Trump’s personal lawyer, Giuliani, was their avenue to get the information into the Trump administration’s hands.

“I got certain information and I thought it was my duty to hand it over,” he told the Miami Herald on Sept. 26.

Trump’s request to investigate Joe Biden, a political rival, during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry by House Democrats.

The House committees also subpoenaed Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought on Monday for documents related to the withholding of the Ukrainian military aid.

The decision of Fruman and Parnas to not comply with committee requests came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back on impeachment efforts. Pompeo had signaled he would not allow diplomats to provide testimony, and on Monday a key witness was a no-show.

George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, did not show up for a deposition scheduled on Monday before the three House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry, The Washington Post reported, citing unidentified sources.

Kent is a career diplomat who served as deputy chief of mission from 2015 to 2018 at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Before that, Kent led anti-corruption efforts for the State Department in Europe.

Pompeo has complained Democrats were not giving the State Department time to prepare, and last week suggested Democrats were harassing professional diplomats.

However, in his now-infamous July call, President Trump spoke poorly of U.S. allies and called his own U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, “bad news” and warned “she’s going to go through some things.”

The committees have scheduled Yovanovitch to sit for a deposition Friday, although it is unclear whether Pompeo will allow it.

“He’s not complying with the inquiry so far. There are discussions that are ongoing and we hope that he will comply,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Parnas and Fruman are South Florida businessmen who were well under the radar until the Ukraine flap. Reports by McClatchy and the Miami Herald showed that Fruman is an exporter of luxury goods and Parnas left a long trail of debts in Florida and beyond.

The two Soviet-born Ukrainians, now American citizens, acted as couriers for Giuliani, a prominent Trump surrogate and former New York mayor, who had acknowledged he was seeking dirt in Ukraine on Biden and his son Hunter. Giuliani alleged, without proof, that Biden got his son a lucrative seat on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm called Burisma Holdings.

Over the weekend, a third person from South Florida became part of the widening Ukraine scandal. The Associated Press reported from Kiev that oil magnate Harry Sargeant III, who resides in Boca Raton and is a big GOP donor, does business with Fruman and Parnas.

Sargeant joined the two in working on a plan to push out the CEO of a Ukrainian energy firm Naftogaz and replace him with another senior executive expected to be friendly to their desire to win contracts, the AP said.

Sargeant boasted, according to the story, that he regularly meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and had his support.

Dowd, the lawyer for Parnas and Fruman, disputed that the effort was a shakedown and told the AP the effort was “an attempt to do a legitimate business deal that didn’t work out.”

In a statement Monday, Christoper M. Kise, a Tallahassee lawyer representing Sargeant, said his client was approached by Fruman and Parnas at a Houston conference last March and was asked over dinner for his industry views. He was not a partner nor party to any business in Ukraine and has not visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago since the developer became president, the statement said.

“Attending a single, informal dinner in Houston does not place Mr. Sargeant at the center of any Naftogaz or Ukrainian business plan,” said Kise, a partner with the law firm Foley & Lardner. Kise has served on the transition teams of Florida Govs. Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis.

Alex Daugherty is the Washington correspondent for the Miami Herald, covering South Florida from the nation’s capital. Previously, he worked as the Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for the Herald covering politics in Miami.
Investigative reporter Kevin G. Hall shared the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for the Panama Papers. He was a 2010 Pulitzer finalist for reporting on the U.S. financial crisis and won of the 2004 Sigma Delta Chi for best foreign correspondence for his series on modern-day slavery in Brazil. He is past president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.
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