Just days after launching an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, the House of Representatives issued a subpoena to Rudy Giuliani and letters demanding information from key figures behind a campaign in Ukraine to discredit the president’s chief rival, Joe Biden.
The move to secure critical documents — including financial records — from the president’s personal lawyer and three other men represents the first effort by Congress to uncover details of the brazen effort to pressure leaders in Ukraine to investigate the former vice-president and his son Hunter in the months leading to the 2020 campaign.
“A growing public record including your own statements indicates that the president, you and others, appear to have pressed the Ukrainian government to pursue two politically motivated investigations,” said the letter to Giuliani, signed by the Democratic chairs of three House committees.
Letters were sent to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Ukrainian-American business partners who arranged the meetings between Giuliani and top Ukrainian prosecutors over the last year during a secret campaign that has now thrust another foreign country into the middle of a presidential race.
Another letter was sent to Semyon “Sam” Kislin, a Ukrainian-born businessman who once served on a New York City economic advisory council when Giuliani was mayor. In an interview, Kislin claimed not to know all of the men he was named alongside, but agreed to appear before the House. He said he had been planning on traveling to Ukraine following Yom Kippur, but may have to change his plans: “A subpoena is a subpoena, if they call I’ll have to go.”
The letters asked all three men to give depositions in October and warned that Congress could "pursue alternative means to obtain the information" if they do not comply.
The demands follow a whistleblower complaint made public last week that alleged the president, during a July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, repeatedly pushed the newly elected leader to investigate Biden and his son.
During the call, Trump said that Giuliani would phone Zelensky to follow up on the requests. “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Trump said.
Even as the requests were issued Trump doubled down on his attacks on the whistleblower, saying he would continue to try to find out the person’s identity, while claiming the whistleblower “knew almost nothing.” The president said, “this whole thing has been a disgrace.”
The demands by the House Intelligence Committee signal the beginning of what could be a contentious fight over whether Giuliani and his associates turn over documents, including records that could help the House members push their impeachment inquiry.
Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing and said he only acted in his capacity as Trump’s lawyer, but House Democratic leaders appeared poised to press for the information that could directly impact the future of the Trump presidency.
“Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena, including at the direction or behest of the president or the White House, shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry and may be used as an adverse inference against you and the president,” said the letter signed by the chairmen of the three committees probing the matter.
A joint investigation by BuzzFeed News and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in July found that, under Giuliani’s direction, Parnas and Fruman carried out a whirlwind campaign to unearth information to damage Biden’s candidacy and press Ukraine prosecutors to investigate accusations that Ukrainian agents plotted to rig the 2016 election to favor Hillary Clinton by leaking evidence against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in what became a cornerstone of the Mueller investigation.
Parnas and Fruman traveled to Kiev, New York, Warsaw and Paris to meet with Ukrainian leaders, raising questions among legal experts about whether they were blurring the lines of what US citizens are allowed to do without registering as foreign agents.
The intelligence committee is demanding that Parnas and Fruman — investors with troubled financial histories — turn over the source of any funds into a joint company they own and disclose whether the money originated abroad.
The committee also demanded records of the sources of hundreds of thousands of dollars the men collectively contributed to GOP political campaigns last year, including $325,000 from a company they own to America First Action, a Super PAC supporting candidates loyal to Trump.
Parnas, who has dined with the president in Washington, could not be reached last night, but in a previous interview with BuzzFeed News said he was not getting any money to carry out the campaign.
“All we were doing was passing along information,” he said. “Information was coming to us — either I bury it or pass it on. I felt it was my duty to pass it on.”
The demands by the House come after a subpoena was issued last week to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to shed light on the president’s efforts in Ukraine.
In another development on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Pompeo was on the same call when Trump phoned Zelensky. The State Department has not responded.
Giuliani was given until Oct. 15 to comply with the subpoena, while the others were ordered to tell the committee by Oct. 1 at 5 p.m. whether they would meet the demands.
The subpoenas request information about a host of Ukraine power brokers who were approached by Giuliani or the two partners. One is former general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, who met with Giuliani in New York in January and during a Middle East peace conference in Warsaw in February.
Another is oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, one of the wealthiest men in Ukraine who is under investigation by the Department of Justice for money laundering.
In late April, Parnas and Fruman flew to Israel to meet with the 56-year-old billionaire, who was then living in exile after the prior administration in Ukraine took over a bank he founded amid allegations of fraud and money laundering.
Kolomoisky said he was angered by the visit from the two men. In an interview with BuzzFeed News and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Kolomoisky said Parnas and Fruman wanted him to arrange a meeting with Zelensky. But Kolomoisky said he had been led to believe they were visiting to talk about a company they founded to export gas to Ukraine.
“I am not going to organize any meetings [with Zelensky]. Not for them, not for anybody else. They tried to say something like, ‘Hey, we are serious people here. Giuliani. Trump.’ They started throwing names at me.”
Jason Leopold contributed reporting to this article.
Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, and Semyon Kislin received letters from Congress seeking information about their campaign to discredit Joe Biden in Ukraine. A previous version of this article stated incorrectly that they had been subpoenaed.
Michael Sallah is a senior investigative reporter and editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington D.C. He is a recipient of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting and was twice named a Pulitzer finalist, once for public service in 2012 and the other for local reporting in 2016.
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