Two Florida businessmen tied to President Donald Trump's lawyer and the Ukraine impeachment investigation were charged with federal campaign finance violations.
The charges Thursday relate to a $325,000 donation to a group supporting Trump's reelection.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Rudy Giuliani, were arrested Wednesday trying to board an international flight with one-way tickets at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, according to Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
Parnas and Fruman were arrested on a four-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records. The men had key roles in Giuliani's efforts to launch a Ukrainian corruption investigation against Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The indictments mark the first criminal charges related to the Ukraine controversy. While they do not suggest wrongdoing by the Republican president, they raise additional questions about how those close to Trump and Giuliani sought to use their influence.
Trump has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as baseless and politically motivated. As he was leaving the White House for a political rally in Minneapolis, Trump said he didn't know Parnas or Fruman and hadn't spoken with Giuliani about them.
"We have nothing to do with it," Trump said.
Giuliani said he couldn't comment and that he didn't represent the men in campaign finance matters.
Records show that Parnas and Fruman used wire transfers from a corporate entity to make the $325,000 donation to the America First Action committee in May 2018. But wire transfer records that became public through a lawsuit show that the corporate entity reported as making the transaction was not the source of the money.
The big donation to the Trump-allied PAC was part of a flurry of political spending tied to Parnas and Fruman, with at least $478,000 in donations flowing to GOP campaigns and PACs in little more than two months.
The money enabled the relatively unknown entrepreneurs to quickly gain access to the highest levels of the Republican Party, including meetings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Prosecutors allege that Parnas urged a congressman to seek the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, at the behest of Ukrainian government officials. That happened about the same time that Parnas and Fruman committed to raising more than $20,000 for the politician.
The congressman wasn't identified in court papers, but the donations match campaign finance reports for former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who lost his reelection bid in November. In May 2018, Parnas posted a photo of himself and his business partner David Correia with Sessions in his Capitol Hill office, with the caption "Hard at work!!"
Parnas and Fruman appeared in court Thursday and were ordered to remain jailed as a bail package was worked out. They are due in court in New York next week.