An associate of Rudy Giuliani who was involved in a campaign to pressure Ukraine into aiding President Donald Trump's political prospects has broken ranks, opening a dialogue with congressional impeachment investigators and accusing the president of falsely denying their relationship.
The associate, Lev Parnas, had previously resisted speaking with investigators for the Democrat-led impeachment proceedings, which are examining the president's pressure attempts in Ukraine. A former lawyer for Trump was then representing Parnas.
But since then, Parnas has hired new lawyers who contacted the congressional investigators last week to notify them to "direct any future correspondence or communication to us," according to a copy of the letter.
The lawyers also signaled Monday that Parnas, who was arrested last month on campaign finance charges, is prepared to comply with a congressional subpoena for his documents and testimony.
Parnas, a Ukrainian-born American citizen who was central to Giuliani's efforts to dig up dirt on Trump's rivals, could offer Congress a vein of information about the efforts in Ukraine.
"We are willing to comply with the subpoena to the extent that it does not violate any appropriate privilege that Mr. Parnas may properly invoke," said Joseph A. Bondy, who along with Edward B. MacMahon Jr. now represents Parnas.
Bondy said that given the federal criminal charges, his client may invoke his right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself.
The turnabout occurred after Trump denied knowing Parnas when he was arrested.
"Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump's plainly false statement that he did not know him," said Bondy, whose client has maintained that he has had extensive dealings with the president.
After federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced charges against Parnas and three other men, Trump told reporters that he did not know Parnas or Igor Fruman, another Giuliani associate who also worked to help Trump in Ukraine and was among those charged with campaign finance violations. The two men had contributed extensively to political committees supporting Trump and appeared with the president in pictures posted on social media.
"I don't know them. I don't know about them. I don't know what they do … Maybe they were clients of Rudy. You'd have to ask Rudy," the president said. Of the numerous photographs of them together, Trump said, "I have a picture with everybody."
Parnas initially remained in Trump's camp after House Democrats on Sept. 30 requested documents and testimony from him and Fruman. The men hired John Dowd, a lawyer who had earlier represented the president at one stage of the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump signed off on the hiring of Dowd, according to an Oct. 2 email reviewed by The New York Times.
"I have discussed the issue of representation with the president. The president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman," Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for Trump, wrote to Dowd, misspelling Fruman's surname.
Dowd said in an interview that Trump's approval was sought "simply as a courtesy to the president" because of the lawyer's previous work for him. Dowd said he still represents Fruman.
A person close to Trump said that the email did not demonstrate that the president knew Parnas or Fruman personally but rather knew of them from media reports.
On Oct. 3, when he still represented both men, Dowd wrote a letter to the House Intelligence Committee that implied that some of the materials the Democrats had asked the men to produce would be protected by attorney-client or executive privilege.
Dowd told the Democrats that he could not determine how long it would take him to review documents for privilege and accused them of trying to "harass, intimidate and embarrass my clients."
A spokesman for Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on talks with Parnas.
Not long afterward, in an indictment unsealed Oct. 10, federal prosecutors accused Parnas and Fruman of illegally routing a $325,000 contribution to a political action committee supporting Trump through a shell company and funneling campaign contributions from a Russian businessman to other U.S. politicians to influence them in support of a marijuana venture. They have both pleaded not guilty.
House Democrats also sent Dowd subpoenas for Parnas and Fruman on the same day the charges against them were unsealed.
Parnas hired Giuliani in 2018 to help with a venture called Fraud Guarantee. But as of early this year, their relationship had shifted: Parnas and Fruman began assisting Giuliani in efforts to unearth negative information in Ukraine about former Vice President Joe Biden, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and his son Hunter.
That work lies close to the center of the investigation by House Democrats into whether Trump oversaw a shadow diplomatic campaign intended to smear a political opponent.
While it is not clear what documents or testimony Parnas might provide, he was intimately involved with Giuliani's efforts. Along with Fruman, he traveled repeatedly to Ukraine in search of information about corruption involving the Bidens and pushed for the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump and Giuliani saw as hostile to the president.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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