NEW YORK — Two indicted associates of Rudy Giuliani pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges they violated campaign finance law and conspired to use foreign money to buy political influence, as one of their lawyers suggested President Donald Trump could try to invoke executive privilege over some of the evidence in the case.
Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas — two Soviet emigres who hired Trump’s personal lawyer and then helped him investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden — made a brief appearance in federal court in a case that has also led federal investigators to scrutinize Giuliani’s interactions with the pair.
At the hearing, Parnas’s lawyer, Edward MacMahon, raised concerns to U.S. District Court Judge Paul Oetken that some of the evidence gathered in the case may be protected by attorney-client privilege or even executive privilege.
“There are issues that we need to be sensitive to,” said MacMahon.
Giuliani has said that Parnas and Fruman assisted him in his investigative work on the president’s behalf, and that Parnas and Fruman previously had hired him to do work for them. Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City, has urged the Ukrainian government to investigate the former vice president and sought evidence to buttress an unfounded accusation that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
MacMahon questioned at the hearing if some of the evidence involving his client should be shielded from investigators as attorney-client discussions.
It’s less clear how executive privilege — which typically covers conversations between a president and their government employee advisers — could play a role in the case. Parnas and Fruman did not work for the government, nor did Giuliani.
Executive privilege can be invoked only by the president, and MacMahon acknowledged that he was uncertain of how that issue might apply to this case, and if it did, whether it would apply to just his client or Fruman, as well.
“The added issue of executive privilege ... makes it very complicated,” said MacMahon. “I don’t know how to resolve this.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski said the evidence gathered in the case included the results of a dozen search warrants covering electronic devices, social media accounts and 50 bank accounts.
After the hearing, Parnas spoke briefly on the courthouse steps.
“Many false things have been said about me and my family in the press and media recently. 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,” he said. “In the end, I put my faith in God.”
Another attorney representing Parnas, Joseph Bondy, criticized the Justice Department for what he called “a smear campaign run by misleading and self-serving leaks apparently from the highest levels of government.”
Fruman and Parnas were charged in an indictment this month with conspiracy and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission about political donations.
Two of their co-defendants, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, pleaded not guilty last week in Manhattan federal court.
The arrests mark the first criminal charges to emerge from the U.S. government’s suddenly controversial relationship with Ukraine — a complex web of financial and political interactions linking diplomacy to alleged violations of campaign finance law.
The indictment does not allege wrongdoing by the president, Giuliani or the Trump campaign, but the charges of political donations made for the secret benefit of foreign interests add to the growing legal and political pressure on Trump and his lawyer as they try to fend off Democrats’ impeachment efforts.
Giuliani’s dealings with the two men are being scrutinized as part of the investigation, according to people familiar with the matter.
A grand-jury subpoena has been issued to former congressman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, who interacted with Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman. Parnas and Fruman are accused of violating campaign finance laws by making donations to Sessions’s campaign that exceeded federal limits.
The indictment charges that in 2018, Parnas met with the then-congressman, seeking his “assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine,” and that those efforts were conducted “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”
Sessions and Giuliani have denied wrongdoing.