The web of connections between Donald Trump’s convicted campaign manager and an indicted man who tried to dig up dirt on his political rival runs tighter and longer than previously understood.
Rudy Giuliani ally Igor Fruman and ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort have been friendly for years, two sources familiar with their relationship tell The Daily Beast.
And that relationship — stretching from New York to London to Kyiv — long predated Rudy Giuliani’s wide-ranging attempts to discredit the evidence that played a key role in kicking off Manafort's political downfall and eventual incarceration.
Joseph Bondy, the lawyer for Fruman associate Lev Parnas, said Manafort and Fruman were friendly for years before their respective indictments.
A friend of Manafort’s, who spoke anonymously to discuss non-public matters, confirmed that Fruman and Manafort have known each other for years. He said Fruman invited Manafort to the opening party for Buddha-Bar in Kyiv many years ago, and that the two men have discussed business. Buddha-Bar opened in the summer of 2008. Bondy said the pair also spent time together in London and New York.
Kevin Downing, a Washington attorney who represented Paul Manafort, initially represented both Parnas and Fruman after their arrests for campaign finance-related charges. According to Bondy, he told the two men that Manafort sent them greetings and was glad to hear he was representing them. Bondy also said Giuliani communicated with Manafort and his lawyers after his incarceration, including about a document alleging illegal payments to Manafort known as the “black ledger.” There was a hope that if the document could be proven to be a fraud, it could help Manafort’s legal case and get him released from prison, Bondy said.
A lawyer for Fruman declined to comment for this story. Downing did not respond to requests for comment. Giuliani and members of his legal team did not respond to requests for comment.
Giuliani told The Washington Post in October that he discussed the ledger with Manafort through his lawyer. He also told the paper he did not think he could exonerate Manafort and didn’t push Trump to pardon him.
In late 2018, as the Mueller investigation was drawing to a close, Giuliani and his allies worked to draft a counter-report that would rebut Mueller’s work. (Manafort was one of the first targets of Mueller’s probe, and was convicted of multiple charges related to work he did in Ukraine for a Russia-friendly political party.) Giuliani never released that report. But he also didn’t toss it; he told The Daily Beast in October that materials he gave the State Department came from his effort to find information in Ukraine that could exonerate Trump.
Relations with Ukraine have shadowed Trump and his allies even before he was elected president. On August 14, 2016, The New York Times reported that Manafort may have received millions of dollars in “illegal, off-the-books” cash from the pro-Russia political party he worked for. The story was a body blow to Manafort, who left Trump’s campaign five days after it was published. Serhiy Leshchenko, then a Ukrainian parliamentarian, played an instrumental role in the black ledger.
In the years after the publication of the story, Manafort’s life fell apart. Nine months after Trump’s inauguration, he was arrested and charged with a host of crimes. By March 2019, he had been sentenced to a seven-year prison term. He and his allies blamed the black ledger for starting the calamity. And given that Leshchenko was a government official when he shared the documents, Trump’s allies have said their release was an example of election meddling by Kyiv. Parnas told The Daily Beast that Giuliani tried to push Leshchenko away from Zelensky; Giuliani himself has called him an enemy of the United States.
Giuliani has said his scrutiny of the black ledger fed directly into his focus on the Bidens.
“What happened is that I was investigating, going back to last year, complaints that the Ukrainian people, several people in Ukraine, knew about a tremendous amount of collusion between Ukrainian officials, and Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Committee, including a completely fraudulent document that was produced, in order to begin the investigation of Manafort,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on September 19 of this year. “They were trying to get to us. But they were being blocked by the Ambassador who was Obama-appointee, in Ukraine, who was holding back this information. In the course of investigating that, I found out this incredible story about Joe Biden that he bribed the President of the Ukraine in order to fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son.”
In other words, Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the Mueller probe—and stand up for Manafort—led directly to his Biden dirt-digging endeavors. Parnas has said he and Fruman were right there to help.
Parnas has said he put Giuliani on speaker phone at the beginning of meetings with Ukrainian officials to prove he had clout with Trump. He also said he told an aide to Ukraine’s then-President Elect Volodymyr Zelensky that he needed to announce such investigations if they wanted to receive an already-promised delivery of U.S. military aid.
Parnas, Fruman, and Manafort have one notable shared acquaintance: Ukrainian oligarch Dmitryo Firtash. Parnas briefly worked for Firtash’s American lawyers Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, who helped Giuliani on the Biden effort. Manafort and Firtash, meanwhile, once considered going into business together to buy a New York hotel for $800 million (the investment did not materialize). In an interview last year with The Daily Beast, Firtash said Manafort had a reputation for being “very successful, and very smart.”
Like Fruman, Parnas, and Manafort, Firtash has some American legal problems. Not only have U.S. officials claimed he has ties to Russian organized crime, the Justice Department charged him years ago with conspiring to bribe Indian government officials. Firtash maintains his innocence and is fighting extradition from his home in Vienna, Austria.
Fruman and Parnas were arrested in October on their way to Vienna and charged with a number of campaign finance crimes, to which they have pleaded not guilty. Fruman has kept his head down in the months since then. Parnas, however, has shared reams of documents, photos, and audio clips with Congressional impeachment investigators. And he has publicly discussed his work with Giuliani, including in interviews with MSNBC, CNN, and The Daily Beast.
While Giuliani lambasted Mueller for his treatment of Manafort, he has largely kept mum about Parnas and Fruman. Parnas has said that silence informed his decision to go public about his misadventures in Trumpworld.