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President Trump has distanced himself from Rudy Giuliani’s associates indicted in campaign finance schemes, insisting he doesn’t know “those gentlemen.”
But Trump’s stance was challenged Wednesday when Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Giuliani, tied his case directly to Trump by raising the prospect that evidence in the case could be covered by presidential executive privilege.
Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, pleaded not guilty to allegations of attempting to parlay illegal GOP campaign finance donations into political influence on behalf of an unnamed Ukrainian politician and Russian businessman. Both men were arraigned Wednesday in the Southern District of New York on federal charges of conspiracy and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.
The alleged criminal scheme overlaps with Trump’s impeachment inquiry, in which House Democrats are seeking to uncover whether Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations of his 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden and the 2016 election. Parnas and Fruman served as guides to Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, as he attempted to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations.
A lawyer for Parnas told the judge that some documents in the huge trove of evidence obtained by investigators in the case might be covered by White House secrecy because Parnas and Fruman employed Giuliani as their attorney.
“Mr. Parnas was using Rudy Giuliani as his lawyer. Some of the companies were using Rudy Giuliani as their lawyer,” Parnas' attorney, Ed MacMahon, told the judge, according to CNN. “And then we have the issue of Mr. Giuliani working as personal attorney for the President.”
In a brief statement to reporters outside the courtroom, Parnas vowed to beat the case.
“Many false things have been said about me and my family in the press and media recently,” said the Soviet-born Parnas, a U.S. citizen, who was dressed in blue suit with an American flag lapel pin.
“I will be vindicated,” Parnas declared.
Links to Trump
This isn't the first time Giuliani’s troubled associates have raised their connection to Trump as a legal shield.
Trump’s former attorney John Dowd has represented both men with regard to the House impeachment inquiry against Trump, although it was not immediately clear Wednesday if he still does.
In a letter to House committees sent earlier this month, Dowd linked Parnas and Fruman to Trump through Rudy.
“Be advised that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump,” Dowd wrote in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee.
Dowd cautioned that some of their records might be covered by presidential executive privilege, which is a legal shield that can be used to keep certain executive-branch records and communications secret, although the exact limits of its effectiveness are up for debate among legal scholars.
On Wednesday, Parnas’ lawyer, McMahon, asked that prosecutors use a special team to comb through the evidence to look for items covered by attorney-client and executive privilege.
“These are issues we need to be very sensitive to,” MacMahon told the judge Wednesday, according to The New York Times. “I’m not telling you I know how to resolve this.”
Afterwards, MacMahon told reporters he doesn’t actually know how the White House might go about exerting the special presidential shield of secrecy, exactly.
“I don’t know any more about how to invoke executive privilege than anyone else,” he said.
Cover: Lev Parnas makes a statement to the media following his arraignment, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in New York. Parnas and Igor Fruman are charged with conspiracy to make illegal contributions to political committees supporting President Donald Trump and other Republicans. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)