Report: Trump directed pressure on Ukraine during White House Hanukkah party
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Report: Trump directed pressure on Ukraine during White House Hanukkah party

CNN says Soviet-born businessman charged with campaign finance violations told confidantes of 2018 conversation with president, who sought his aid in arranging probe of Bidens

US President Donald Trump speaks at a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House, December 6, 2018. (Oliver Contreras/Pool/Getty Images via JTA)
US President Donald Trump speaks at a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House, December 6, 2018. (Oliver Contreras/Pool/Getty Images via JTA)

One of two Ukrainian-American businessmen charged with campaign finance violations related to the Trump-Ukraine scandal told confidantes that US President Donald Trump had tasked him with “a secret mission” to pressure Kyiv to probe former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter during a closed door meeting that took place on the sidelines of the White House Hanukkah party last year, CNN reported Saturday.

On the day of their arrests last month, Trump claimed that he had never met Soviet-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. But multiple photos of the president with the two have since surfaced. CNN revealed that the three had most recently met at the 2018 Hanukkah reception where the two businessmen were photographed with Trump, US Vice President Mike Pence and the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Two confidantes of Parnas told CNN that he and Fruman slipped out of the party after the photo for a private meeting with Trump and Giuliani. One of the confidantes said that Parnas saw the task as a “James Bond mission” in which he and Fruman would take orders from Giuliani on Trump’s behalf while they were on the ground in Ukraine leveraging their business contacts there.

“Parnas viewed the assignment as a great crusade… He believed he was doing the right thing for Trump,” the confidante told CNN.

The White House declined to comment on the report, and Giuliani’s lawyers said the Hanukkah party interaction did not extend beyond the photo.

The Washington Post has reported that in April 2018 Parnas told the president during a fundraising event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington that US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was not in step with his interests. Trump in turn suggested that the envoy be fired, according to the report. A year later, Yovanovitch was recalled from her post.

In total, CNN found eight documented meetings between Trump and Parnas, despite the president’s claim to the contrary.

“I don’t know those gentlemen… Maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy, I just don’t know,” Trump told reporters on October 10.

This courtroom sketch depicts from left, attorney Kevin Downing, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, and attorney Thomas Zehnle standing before US Judge Michael Nachmanoff, at federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, October 10, 2019. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

Parnas was deeply offended by Trump’s denial, according to CNN, which reported that the Giuliani associate is considering cooperating with the Congressional impeachment inquiry against the president.

“In a strange way I feel sorry for Lev, for the mess he is now in” one of his confidantes told CNN. “He never thought he did anything wrong; he was working for a president he really believed in. He was a hustler but also a nice man who gave people nice gifts. I would think all this is deeply upsetting for him.”

This Facebook screenshot provided by The Campaign Legal Center, shows from left, Donald Trump, Jr., Tommy Hicks, Jr., Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, posted on May 21, 2018. (The Campaign Legal Center via AP)

Fruman and Parnas have been charged with trying to funnel foreign money to candidates in federal and state elections, according to the indictment against them. Their alleged goal was to persuade a congressman to get Yovanovitch removed from her post because she was frustrating efforts led by Trump and his allies to investigate Biden, a leading contender to challenge Trump in next year’s election. Separately, they allegedly hoped to gain support for a marijuana business they hoped to open in Nevada.

They also allegedly helped Giuliani coax Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. Giuliani was not named in the indictment, according to The Washington Post.

Democrats in the House of Representatives subpoenaed Fruman and Parnas last month as part of their impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

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