Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas was in contact with at least two major Trump campaign donors-- one with an official role in the Republican National Committee-- during his efforts to pressure Ukraine into opening politically motivated investigations, documents released by the House Intelligence committee this week revealed.
Parnas' interactions with the two men, Harry Sargeant III and Tommy Hicks Jr. -- who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to fundraising vehicles for the president -- provides more fuel to assertions by the president’s critics that political motives – and not the nation’s foreign policy goals -- drove the efforts in Ukraine.
In an interview on CNN on Thursday, Parnas confirmed his work in Ukraine was all about ensuring President Trump remained in office.
“It was all about 2020, to make sure he had another four years,” Parnas said. “That was the way everybody viewed it. That was the most important thing, for him to stay on for another four years and keep the fight going. I mean, there was no other reason for doing it.”
A friend with a jet
The identity of those financing the work by Guiliani and Parnas during the months they spent traveling to Ukraine, Austria, and elsewhere, has remained largely opaque. Giuliani at one point told Reuters that the president was not paying for any of their efforts to see Biden investigated in Ukraine.
“Nobody pays my expenses,” Giuliani said in a Reuters interview in September. “What does it matter if I’m getting paid for it. Isn’t the real story whether he (Biden) sold out the vice presidency of the United States, not whether I got paid for it?”
The messages released on Wednesday suggest that Parnas was receiving at least some support from Sargeant, a Florida-based oil executive and former state Republican Party’s finance chairman, who was funding at least some of Parnas' flights as he assisted Giuliani's efforts abroad.
In a message dated April 10, Parnas asks Sargeant about a trip that "just got canceled, adding that "we have people scheduled to meet on Saturday in Vienna."
"Just becoming expensive flying u guys everywhere LEV," Sargeant replied.
Parnas subsequently told Sargeant that "we" are paying him back for the flights and that he was “never expecting [Sargeant] to pay for it." According to House investigators, Parnas flew to Ukraine four days after this conversation.
In another message, Parnas asks Sargeant to “approve” for his associate named Dave “to pay for car service on cc [credit card],” saying he got a “deal” from “Rudy’s guys” on lodging and taxis. Sargeant – an ultra-wealthy energy mogul -- replies, “Don’t bother w this stuff pls.”
It also remains unclear how involved Sargeant was in directing Parnas’s efforts, though text messages between the two men suggest Sargeant was aware of Parnas’s activities. At one point, Parnas invited Sargeant to meet him in Ukraine, to which Sargeant responded, “I could leave Thur and be there Friday maybe.” Parnas then said, “I think first Vienna and than Ukraine.” At another point, Parnas sent Sargeant a photo he described as a “Team trump dinner celebration” and wrote: “I’m official part of team trump tomorrow big day my brother I’ll call you tomorrow.”
The two also exchanged articles about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, and about the then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, with Parnas telling Sargeant he has some “juicy stuff” and that a “bomb is dropping.” When Yovanovitch is recalled to Washington in May, Sargeant texted Parnas with his reaction: "Perfect."
Sargeant's attorney Chris Kise told ABC News his client has not been to Ukraine in over a decade for any purpose. In a statement, Kise denied Sargeant had any involvement in any plan to remove Yovanovitch and said Sargeant loaned money for Parnas' air travel, but never offered to pay for it outright.
"As is evident from the texts, Mr. Sargeant loaned Lev Parnas small sums for travel expenses because Mr. Parnas claimed, perhaps falsely, he was broke, and promised to pay the funds back," Kise said. "But despite repeated requests by Mr. Sargeant, and continual promises of repayment by Lev Parnas, Mr. Parnas never repaid these expenses.”
Sargeant's name has also surfaced in news reports and impeachment inquiry witnesses' testimonies related to Parnas and Fruman’s to attempts to reshape the leadership of Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz in pursuit of natural gas business in Ukraine. Sargeant’s lawyer at that time denied his client’s involvement in any Ukraine energy ventures.
Other material released by the House this week shows Parnas in contact with several people who play prominent roles in the president’s fundraising and re-election effort. Those includes texts between Parnas and Hicks Jr., a friend of Donald Trump Jr., who is the co-chairman of the RNC and chairman of pro-Trump super PAC American First Action.
Parnas and Hicks were in contact for at least four months, messages show, as the scheme to oust then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yavnovotich and pressure Ukraine to announce political investigations unfolded. At times, Hicks and Parnas exchanged articles about the Biden campaign and Ukranian election meddling conspiracy theories. Hicks appeared to offer Parnas guidance.
"Editor and owner of Daily Caller is a friend," Hicks told Parnas in a message alongside an article about Nellie Ohr and Fusion GPS. "We should let him know what we know at the right time," he suggested.
"100%," Parnas replied.
The messages also suggest the two joined conference calls to discuss the efforts.
"Great job on the conference call!," Parnas praised Hicks in one exchange. "Thanks," Hicks replied. "Short and sweet!"
Hicks at times appeared to want to keep his distance from Parnas, stating he wanted to "keep [his] hands clean" when Parnas asked him to retweet a since-deleted Sean Hannity tweet.
But Parnas kept Hicks up to date on the status of his efforts in Ukraine, informing Hicks in March that something was going to "break tomorrow.” In May, Parnas told Hicks the ambassador "just got recalled."
Just a few weeks later, Parnas posted a photo on Facebook showing him at a breakfast with Hicks, alongside Donald Trump Jr. and fellow Giuliani associate Igor Fruman.
Parnas referred to the meeting as a "Power breakfast."
ABC News made attempts to reach Hicks by phone at his home and at the RNC but was not able to reach him for comment.
“Have jr retweeted it”?
Parnas also kept in touch with America First Action's director of development Joseph Ahearn, who kept Donald Trump Jr. updated on Ukraine matters, messages released by House committees this week show.
In a message dated March 20, 2019, Ahearn asks Parnas, "What should I send don to tweet" and Parnas sends a series of tweets and articles related to Ukraine officials' probe into U.S. elections. Parnas then asks Ahearn, "Have jr retweeted it" and Ahearn replies, "Sent."
Donald Trump Jr. retweeted one of the articles Parnas sent to Ahearn around the same time.
In another series of messages, Parnas also sent Ahearn a New York Times article from May that links Parnas to Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine for the first time, to which Ahearn says, "They started naming you here. Are you okay?"
Shortly after Parnas and Fruman were named as part of the House impeachment inquiry, the two were indicted in a separate campaign finance violation case in the Southern District of New York on charges related to alleged illegal straw contributions and foreign contributions. They both pleaded not guilty. Among Parnas' donations mentioned in the indictment is a $325,000 contribution to America First Action. Prosecutors accuse Parnas and Fruman of falsely reporting the origin of the payment as under the name of “Global Energy Producers.”
Of numerous outside groups raising and spending money to support President Trump’s re-election bid, America First Action is the sole outside group the president has officially endorsed and approved as the “trusted supporter of President Trump’s policies and agendas.”
ABC News reached out to America First Action for comment but received no response.
Parnas’s expanded political outreach
As an ardent supporter of Trump since the early days of his 2016 campaign, Parnas’s contact with wealthy Trump donors stretched far beyond his activities in Ukraine this year. But his donation to America First Action in early 2018 afforded him a new level of access to exclusive high-dollar events.
Parnas has since acquainted himself with a host of President Trump’s wealthy supporters at close-door donor events, and then touted those very connections to pursue his personal business interests as well as political interests. During an interview on CNN, Parnas said he had so many photos of himself with Trump-world insiders hanging in his house, his wife thought it looked like a “shrine” to the President.
In 2018, Parnas cultivated a relationship and secured a $500,000 loan from New York-based lawyer and Trump donor Charles Gucciardo, his attorney told ABC News. Gucciardo's lawyer Randy Zelin said his client then gave the money to Giuliani, which kicked off the business relationship between the two in the fall of 2018. No apparent connection has been made between Gucciardo’s loan and Parnas's specific efforts in Ukraine.
Zelin told ABC News that his client made the payment as a "passive investor" in Parnas and Fruman’s company, called Fraud Guarantee, and that he decided to invest in the company because of an endorsement from Giuliani.
"Mr. Gucciardo invested because he believed that Mr. Giuliani – the former Mayor of New York City; former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; and, the first name in cybersecurity -- was in front of, behind, and alongside the Company which would catapult the Company into the world of cybersecurity and investor protection," Zelin said in an email.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement this week the additional documents corroborate a matter central to the congressional impeachment against the president: Parnas' alleged scheme to "coerce Ukraine into helping cheat him in the next election."
"The additional documents and information about potential witnesses that have become available over the last several weeks only underscore the importance of a fair trial and a Senate that is open to hearing all of the evidence," Schiff said in the statement.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also stressed the importance of calling witnesses in the upcoming Senate trial in a statement to ABC News.
"This is how criminal conspiracies work: Everyone is committing crimes and eventually those implementing the crimes turn in those who ordered it from the top," Murphy said in the statement. "Everything Lev Parnas has said thus far lines up with what we've heard throughout the House investigation, but if the White House and Republicans believe differently, they should actually call witnesses and additional documents so we can hold a real trial."
Parnas has said he would willing to testify in the Senate impeachment trial.