MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) – The two South Florida men who are associates of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were in a federal courtroom in New York Wednesday morning.
At the hearing, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas pleaded not guilty to illegally funneling foreign money to political committees supporting Trump and other Republican candidates.
One of those Republican candidates included Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has since returned the money.
They were indicted earlier this month on four counts, including conspiracy to violate the ban on foreign donations to federal and state elections, making false statements and falsifying records to the Federal Election Commission.
For months, they have aided Giuliani’s effort to compile what he has claimed is damaging information on Trump’s political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, whose son, Hunter Biden, was on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Belarus-born Fruman and Ukraine-born Parnas, both US citizens and Florida residents who wore flag pins on the lapels of their jackets Wednesday, introduced Giuliani to former and current Ukrainian officials, and Parnas’ company, Boca Raton-based Fraud Guarantee, paid Giuliani $500,000, he told Reuters.
Giuliani himself is a subject of the ongoing investigation by the federal prosecutors who charged Fruman and Parnas, a probe that is examining Giuliani’s Ukrainian business dealings, CNN has reported.
In court Wednesday, Parnas’s lawyer raised possible issues of attorney-client privilege and executive privilege in the material prosecutors have obtained in their investigation.
“Mr. Parnas was using Rudy Giuliani as his lawyer. Some of the companies were using Rudy Giuliani as their lawyer,” Parnas’ attorney, Ed MacMahon, said. “And then we have the issue of Mr. Giuliani working as personal attorney for the President.”
He continued: “These are issues that we need to be very sensitive to.”
US District Judge Paul Oetken asked MacMahon: “So he was working for Mr. Giuliani, and Mr. Giuliani worked for him?”
MacMahon didn’t respond directly in court, though when asked again later by reporters he replied: “Yes, as to both.” MacMahon declined to specify what kind of work Giuliani had done for his client’s companies. Shaking his head, he said, “I’ve already said enough.”
In response to MacMahon’s concerns in court, prosecutor Rebekah Donaleski told the judge that prosecutors have already set up a filter team, which is a separate set of prosecutors who are assigned to comb through evidence and eliminate material that is subject to attorney-client privilege.
She suggested discussing the issue of potential executive privilege in a separate setting, an idea Oetken endorsed.
Concerns about privilege arose in court after prosecutors told the judge about the scope of discovery material, which they said includes returns from more than a dozen search warrants, including those for premises as well as email and social media accounts, and subpoena returns for more than 50 bank accounts and telephone numbers.
Following the hearing Wednesday, Parnas, accompanied by his wife, defended himself in remarks outside the courthouse.
“Many false things have been said about me and my family in the press and media recently,” he said. “I look forward to defending myself vigorously in court, and I’m certain that in time the truth will be revealed, and I will be vindicated. In the end, I put my faith in God.”
Fruman and Parnas’ co-defendants, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, who are each charged with one count of conspiracy, were arraigned last week and pleaded not guilty.
All four are due in court again on December 2.
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