WASHINGTON (CN) — Newly released records from the Federal Election Commission draw into question how former Congressman Pete Sessions handled campaign contributions from indicted Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
The pair were arrested Oct. 9, 2019, on charges that they illegally funneled money into U.S. elections, a little more than a year after they met with Sessions on May 5, 2018, as previously disclosed to congressional investigators by Ambassador George Kent.
Sessions waited until Oct. 11, 2019, to dump his donations from the men into two Texas charities, the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims & Children in Waco and Bryan-based Scotty's House, the latest records from the commission show. But the former congressman spun it differently last month when interviewed by the Waco Tribune, struggling to shake off his role in President Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal while seeking to reclaim the office he lost in the November 2018 midterm elections.
“What about that money?” Sessions asked, waving off the donations from Parnas and Fruman as online contributions made with a credit card.
“The day one I learned about it,” he added, “I gave that $2,700 to a charity in Bryan and a charity in Waco.”
That characterization fell flat with Robert Maguire, a research director at the anti-corruption watchdog CREW, short for Citizens for Responsibilities and Ethics in Washington.
“I’ll say in light of what we know, it’s difficult to believe that he wouldn’t have considered giving back the money sooner,” Maguire said in an interview, noting that Parnas and Fruman attended a fundraiser with Sessions at Mar-a-Lago in April 2018.
The same day that the 11-term congressman met with Parnas and Fruman in May 2018, Sessions wrote a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo seeking the ouster of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was subjected to a smear campaign from Giuliani and his men.
Parnas and Fruman each made $2,700 contributions to Sessions a month later in June. Representatives for the Sessions campaign did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
The latest batch of FEC records slowly trickling in from the last fiscal quarter revives the ghost of the midterm defeat for Sessions while also creating headaches for Republicans still in office like Senator Rick Scott of Florida.
From the home state of Parnas and Fruman, Scott donated the $5,400 the men sent him to the Tampa-based Shriners Hospital for Children, again on Oct. 11, 2019.
Though authorities arrested Parnas and Fruman on Oct. 9, prosecutors would not release that information until a day later. The politicians whom they paid did not wait long to react to the news.
On Oct. 10, the day their indictment became public, Congressman Joe Wilson, R-S.C., refunded $5,400 that he received from Fruman. Wilson also refunded a $2,700 over-limit donation to Imaad Zuberi, a Trump inauguration donor federally prosecuted in California for secretly acting as a foreign agent for Turkish and Libyan government officials. Federal prosecutors in New York charged Zuberi with obstructing justice.
Congressman Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., disgorged the more than $2,400 that he received from Parnas and Fruman directly to the U.S. Treasury. On New Year’s Eve, Smucker disgorged an additional $950 contribution from “ANONYMOUS ANONYMOUS.”
His fellow Keystone State lawmaker, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, donated $2,500 to the Kaitlin Murphy Foundation, a local anti-addiction charity on Oct. 14, five days after Parnas and Fruman’s arrest.
On Oct. 9, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Fitzpatrick paid $4,000 and $2,000, respectively, to Campaign Financial Services, a Maryland-based consultancy that works with politicians seeking to comply with federal laws.
Parnas and Fruman’s arrest that same day had not yet been made public.
Politicians regularly solicit the services of such consultants to comply with federal laws and regulations, and it is unclear whether there is any connection with McCarthy and Fitzpatrick’s consultation and the men’s arrest.
Pressed multiple times about his ties to Parnas, McCarthy defensively swatted away certain questions, refused to answer others and claimed that he guessed that he met Giuliani’s now-indicted associate “one time.”
Courthouse News has confirmed that they both attended at least five separate events: Trump’s inauguration, an America First Action fundraiser, two events for his joint fundraising committee Protect the House, and a New York City gala. McCarthy was photographed at least twice with Parnas and once with Fruman.
Despite repeatedly insisting that he donated the men’s donations “to charity,” McCarthy never specified which ones.
Federal records from the last fiscal quarter show McCarthy’s campaign made more than a dozen charitable donations after Parnas and Fruman’s arrest, and his office did not immediately respond to another request for comment seeking replies to a detailed list of questions.
Maguire, the CREW research director, said McCarthy’s ongoing refusal to disclose such information makes little sense, even politically.
“Just looking at it purely from a strategic angle, it seems the easiest way to get past these questions is to say the charity that you’re giving the money to and then to have the charitable contribution show up in the Federal Election Commission filings that you know your campaign is going to file,” Maguire said.
“I mean, do you want people to keep asking you these questions or not,” he added.
Along with their alleged shell company Global Energy Producers, Parnas and Fruman donated more than $620,000 to dozens of Republican candidates, committees and causes. Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges they face.
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