Congress

Former Rep. Pete Sessions met with indicted Giuliani associates, accepted donations

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were arrested on campaign finance violations

Former Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, met with and accepted campaign donations from two men indicted this week on campaign finance charges. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who just last week announced a new bid for the House, appears to play a role in the indictment Thursday of two Soviet-born businessmen who are also subjects of the House impeachment inquiry.

While the indictment does not mention Sessions by name or charge him of any crime, he told a Texas radio show on Sunday that he met with them and Federal Election Commission documents show he accepted campaign donations from them last cycle. 

The two associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, were charged with violating campaign finance laws and arrested Wednesday, according to court documents.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are also subjects in the House’ impeachment inquiry into Trump. The Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees had requested depositions from Parnas on Thursday and Fruman on Friday, along with documents from the two men. The panels made their requests in letters on Sept. 30.

Parnas and Fruman are expected to appear in court Thursday and won’t be testifying before Congress, as requested. Parnas is an American citizen born in Ukraine and Fruman is an American citizen born in Belarus. The indictment alleges that Parnas, Fruman and other defendants “conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with the candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments.”

The 21-page indictment makes references to donations and activities by an unnamed “Congressman-1,” and alleges that Parnas and Fruman asked a congressman to get the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine recalled and at the same time donated money to the congressman.

Sessions defended himself against any accusations of wrongdoing in a statement released hours after the indictment. While he did not confirm that he is “Congressman-1” referred to in the court documents, he highlighted what he views as the most important portion of the indictment: ‘The defendants concealed the scheme from the candidates, campaigns and federal regulators’.

“Therefore, if I am ‘Congressman One’, I could not have had any knowledge of the scheme described in the indictment or have involvement or coordination of it,” Sessions said in the statement.

He also denied that his letter urging the removal of the ambassador to Ukraine was related to Parnas and Fruman.

“My entire motivation for sending the letter was that I believe that political appointees should not be disparaging the President, especially while serving overseas,” he said.

Sessions, who lost reelection to his Dallas-area district last year, is one of several House candidates to whom the pair donated directly during the 2018 election cycle. They also gave to the Republican National Committee, the Trump campaign and a pro-Trump super PAC, FEC data shows.

The Texas congressman received $5,400 from the two men last year.  Sessions is so far the only House candidate who received donations from Fruman and Parnas in 2018 and is known to have met with one of them. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson also received donations from Parnas or Fruman. Furman made contributions to other House Republicans under a misspelling of his last name — done, according to the indictment, to avoid FEC scrutiny. 

Earlier this week, Sessions downplayed meetings that he had with them when he represented the Texas’ 32nd district in Congress.

“This was during the campaign, early in the campaign, and they did come by my office and I did meet them and I did meet them off the Hill and they did become contributors,” Sessions said on Lone Star Politics on KXAS-TV. “That is not unusual for you to meet people who then become contributors.”

The indictment documents say that Parnas met with the congressman in the spring of 2018 seeking his “assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U. S. Ambassador to Ukraine.”

The indictment alleges that “Parnas’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”

When Sessions was still in Congress, he sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, who was then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. According to reports from The Associated Press, he said in the May 2018 letter that he had “notice of concrete evidence” that the diplomat had “spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current administration.”

Yovanovitch was recalled at Trump’s request about a year later. The removal of Yovanovitch has drawn scrutiny as part of the House impeachment inquiry. Fruman and Parnas have been working with Giuliani on his investigation of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who served on the board of an energy company in Ukraine.

In his statement Thursday, Sessions cited three decades of friendship with Giuliani, but said he does not know about the former New York mayor’s legal or business activities in Ukraine.

Sessions lost to Democrat Colin Allred, a former Obama administration official and professional football player, by 6 points last fall. Hillary Clinton had carried the seat by 2 points in 2016, making Sessions a top Democratic target last cycle.

Like scores of other GOP incumbents last election cycle, Sessions was outraised by Allred, which was particularly problematic for the incumbent in the expensive Dallas media market. Allred raised nearly $6 million to Sessions’ $5.1 million. Outside groups poured $14.5 million into the district in 2018, according to Open Secrets.

Sessions was reportedly considering challenging Allred again in 2020, but opted instead to run for the open 17th district after GOP Rep. Bill Flores announced his retirement.

“My support for President Trump is unwavering and I will dedicate my time in office to help enact his conservative agenda,” Sessions said when he launched his House campaign last week.

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