WASHINGTON (CN) — Two weeks out from the 2016 elections, a first-time donor born in Ukraine lit up the map of the Republican Party with a $50,000 cash donation to Donald Trump’s joint fundraising committee.
By cutting just one check to Trump Victory Committee — well before he became a central figure in the impeachment of the president he helped elect — Lev Parnas left an indelible mark on two national and 20 state Republican entities.
Trump Victory subdivided his contribution into $33,400 for the Republican National Committee and $2,700 to Trump, the then-maximum allowable donations. The remainder went to GOP entities crisscrossing the country from New York to California, each receiving a modest sum of $661.90.
Official paperwork from the donation lists Parnas an employee of the Fraud Guarantee, the same company Parnas used to hire Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani in a relationship that has drawn scrutiny from federal prosecutors.
Three years later, down to the same month, the Justice Department on Oct. 10 unsealed an indictment of Parnas for using a straw donor and laundering foreign money into U.S. elections. Federal prosecutors claim he and his Fraud Guarantee co-owner, Igor Fruman, used the shell company Global Energy Producers to funnel $325,000 in foreign cash into America First Action, a Trump super-PAC.
Federal records show that the total donations from Parnas, Fruman, Global Energy Producers and an alter ego identified by prosecutors exceeded $620,000.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader of the Democrat-controlled House, would later redirect to charity the $2,700 campaign contribution he received from Parnas, as well as a $2,173 contribution from Fruman to Majority Committee PAC, McCarthy’s leadership political action committee.
McCarthy denies that he and Parnas have any relationship, even as pictures of him alongside the criminal defendant, smiling broadly, trickle out.
"I guess I met him one time, and he came to an event and took a picture with me," the California Republican told Courthouse News last week at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
McCarthy and Parnas indeed attended at least three of the same political events during the 2018 midterms, as Democratic campaigns put longtime red districts at risk of turning blue.
One photograph first obtained by Courthouse News shows both Parnas and Fruman with the House minority leader.
Now that Parnas is sharing information with the House Intelligence Committee, top Republicans financially tied to the indicted Giuliani allies have been pulled back into a scandal that erupted with their arrests in October.
Donald Sherman, deputy director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, explained why politicians are quick to dispose of foreign money.
“Accepting foreign donations is obviously a crime, and that is the threshold problem,” said Sherman, whose group is often abbreviated as CREW.
McCarthy did not respond to telephone or email requests for comment.