Donald Trump tried to distance himself from the latest scandal that threatens his presidency on Thursday by saying he didn’t know either of the foreign-born Rudy Giuliani associates that his own Justice Department had just indicted for alleged campaign finance violations.
But that’s not what one of the men said three years ago — while attending Trump’s invite-only 2016 election night party in New York.
In fact, Lev Parnas described himself to a foreign correspondent at the cash-bar event in midtown Manhattan as a friend of the president-elect who didn’t live far from his south Florida winter home.
Parnas arrived at Trump’s November 2016 election night party, which was held in a ballroom at the Midtown Hilton, with two other men in suits and their heavily made-up wives, according to a forgotten but newly relevant dispatch from the event published at the time in Le Figaro, France’s oldest daily newspaper.
The Ukrainian-born businessman told the paper that a friend from his hometown of Boca Raton, Florida, had hosted several fundraising events for Trump and that his daughter had traveled around the state singing on the candidate’s behalf. It is not clear what friend Parnas was referring to.
“We are confident,” Parnas, told the newspaper, “America wants a change.” The newspaper described Parnas as an insurer. (Parnas co-founded a company, Fraud Guarantee, that at some point retained Giuliani as a lawyer.)
The new detail connecting Trump and Parnas at the same election night party in November 2016 raises fresh questions about the president’s insistence that he doesn’t know the Ukrainian-born businessman. It comes amid a rapidly unspooling investigation that appears headed for a House vote to impeach the president. On Thursday, Democrats probing Trump’s outreach to Ukrainian officials seeking an investigation into his political opponents sent subpoenas to both Parnas and his Florida-based partner, Igor Fruman, just hours after DOJ unsealed its indictments against the two businessmen.
John Dowd, who represents both men, also confirmed in a letter to Congress earlier this week that his clients were assisting Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump” -- a partnership that the former New York mayor openly said was about pressing for help in Kiev that would undercut the 2020 Democratic front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Back in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s thousands-strong extravaganza at the Javits Center on election night drew a sharp contrast with Trump’s election night event, which was relatively cozy and with die-hard supporters barely outnumbering the throngs of media on hand.
Giuliani attended the same party, as did Felix Sater, a former executive at the Trump Organization who had a double life as a convicted criminal and a high-level cooperator for the CIA. Sater, who told POLITICO earlier this month that he knows Parnas, said Friday that he did not interact with him at the party.
Giuliani, who is reportedly facing investigative scrutiny himself for his dealings with Parnas and Fruman did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump on Thursday tried to distance himself from Parnas and his business partner. “I don’t know those gentleman,” the president told reporters before boarding Marine One en route to a campaign rally in Minneapolis. “Maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy.”
Parnas posted a photo of himself with Trump at the White House on May 1, 2018, with a caption describing an “incredible dinner and even better conversation,” according to a screenshot captured by The Campaign Legal Center. Another picture Parnas posted from May 21, 2018 shows him with Fruman and Donald Trump Jr. in Beverly Hills, with the capiton “Power Breakfast!!!”
Trump dismissed the photos “because I have a picture with everybody.”
The White House hasn’t explained why Parnas and Fruman were meeting with the president; a spokesman referred questions about the event to the Trump campaign, and Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Those involved in planning Trump’s election-night party portrayed a chaotic organizing system, with no centralized guest list or system for inviting attendees.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, the spokesman for the Republican National Committee at the time, recalled, “I think up until the wee hours of the morning it was not a tough ticket. Put it that way. I just remember bringing people in there with me. It was not the most challenging event to get into.”
Jason Miller, who worked as communications director for the 2016 campaign, said he was unaware of Parnas’s presence at the event. “I was with the president up on stage that night,” he told POLITICO. “I was not mingling with attendees early in the evening.”
Parnas, 47, was arrested Wednesday night along with Fruman while trying to leave the country and indicted over alleged schemes to purchase political influence on behalf of foreigners.
Dowd, the lawyer, said he did not know about his client’s presence at the November 2016 Trump party. Asked if he could check with Parnas about it, Dowd responded, via text message, “He is in the slammer. Get real.”