WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Thursday that he’d return campaign donations from a pair of Ukrainian-Americans working with Rudy Giuliani to boost President Trump after the two men were arrested for allegedly violating campaign finance laws.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the National Republican Congressional Committee, House Republicans’ main campaign organization, received substantial donations from Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, a pair of businessmen who have been working with Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, in his push to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
The men were arrested Wednesday and charged with allegedly funneling illegal campaign contributions to a Trump-friendly super PAC as well as other candidates.
The donations to McCarthy and the GOP were listed as made by Parnas on June 29 2018, and totaled $17,000: $2,700 directly to McCarthy, $3,300 to the NRCC, and $11,000 to Protect the House, a joint fundraising committee whose beneficiaries include McCarthy and the NRCC. That donation appears to line up with a $11,000 contribution mentioned in the indictment for an unidentified “Committee 3.” An “Igor Furman,” meanwhile, made a $100,000 donation to the same committee just weeks earlier. The indictment alleges that “Furman” is in fact Igor Fruman, who intentionally misspelled his name to cover his tracks. The Parnas donations, the indictment alleges, were pass-through donations from Fruman as well, who’d already given the legal maximum to the committee with his first donation.
That joint fundraising committee also doled out large sums to state Republican parties as well as a number of current and former House Republicans.
The donations from Parnas and Fruman were part of a spending spree on candidates from the pair, neither of whom had donated much to candidates before 2016, that investigators say was aimed at buying influence.
A McCarthy spokesman told VICE News that he would donate the money to charity, but he didn’t say whether he’d ever met either man. The NRCC will also donate the contributions it received, a spokesman said.
“These contributions were made ahead of events sponsored by Protect the House, a joint fundraising committee that McCarthy helped form last cycle. The deception documented in today's indictment has no place in our country and as a result, McCarthy plans to donate amounts received to a local charity,” McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks said in a statement.
Those donations create some bad optics for McCarthy and his House GOP colleagues, who are leading the fight against the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
McCarthy has offered a series of stumbling defenses of Trump, in one interview denying that Trump had asked China to investigate Biden (he did, publicly on the White House lawn) and in another interview trying to correct a reporter’s verbatim quote of the transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president.
The NRCC kept sending out press releases attacking House Democrats who’ve supported impeachment on Thursday, even after the news of the arrests broke.
Good-government groups had begun raising the alarm about the donations, saying that while they might not be illegal, they reflect poorly on the lawmakers.
“It’s extremely troubling,” said Beth Rotman of Common Cause, a group that filed complaints Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice complaints about the Parnas and Fruman donations. “The money should absolutely be returned. It shows a really problematic appearance of a conflict [of interest].”
Democrats were quick to highlight those contributions after the Parnas and Fruman arrest.
“If the GOP Minority Leader and his campaign committee are willing to pocket money from a man who was just arrested for funneling Russian campaign donors into American elections, then it is clear there [is] no line they will not cross,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Cole Leiter said in a statement. “This is a question of un-American activity: Either you stand for the sanctity of our elections and defending our Constitution, or you do not. Today, Minority Leader McCarthy and his campaign arm need to make a choice.”
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a one-time NRCC chairman, said that McCarthy and the NRCC likely wouldn't know the men who donated. But he advised them to return the money anyway.
“People are taking contributions from bad figures all the time, and when they find out they give it back. That’s how you rectify it,” he said. “If they don’t return the money they’ll be open to criticism. That’s generally the way these things are handled.”
There’s a lot more concerning evidence regarding one former top Republican, however.
Parnas and Fruman met with then-House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) in 2018. He soon after sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding that he fire the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, a top goal of theirs and Giuliani’s.
The pair then gave maximum contributions to Sessions — and used a limited liability corporation to give more than $300,000 to a super PAC that spent millions helping Sessions in his reelection campaign.
Sessions, a former NRCC chairman who at the time was one of the most powerful members of House GOP leadership, ended up losing his reelection fight last year. He’s now trying to make a comeback in another House district that’s more solidly Republican. But “congressman-1,” as the indictment refers to him, may now face a much tougher political challenge — if not major legal problems.
Cover: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, republican of California, speaks during his weekly news conference in Washington, DC on September 26, 2019. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)