WASHINGTON – Donald Trump Jr., the son of U.S. President Donald Trump and one of his most influential political advisers, said Sunday that he thought Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman who is a key figure in the impeachment investigation against his father, was Israeli.
Parnas and Trump Jr. have met at political fundraising events in support of Republican candidates, and have been pictured together in at least one instance.
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Parnas was a close associate of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer who led the effort, on behalf of Trump, to convince the Ukrainian government to launch an investigation into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Parnas has been charged alongside another Florida businessman, Belarus-born Igor Fruman, with illegally funneling $325,000 to a pro-Trump election committee and other politicians. Fruman and Parnas, both of whom are Jewish, have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors allege that Parnas and Fruman conspired to make illegal contributions in an effort to skirt the limit on federal campaign contributions.
The Ukrainian businessman has recently provided a trove of text messages and photos to the House committee leading the impeachment inquiry against Trump. He has also stated that he would testify if asked, and has implicated Trump, telling MSNBC in an interview that “Trump knew exactly what was going on.”
Asked about his ties with Parnas in an interview with Fox News, Trump Jr. said that “He was a donor at a super-PAC, shows up to some of these things like anything else,” adding “Honestly, I think it's funny, I didn’t realize he was Ukrainian. I thought he was Israeli.”
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Parnas and Fruman, who operated in Ukraine on behalf of Giuliani, have ties to several right-wing Jewish groups in the U.S., and in 2018 they visited Israel with one of those groups and also met U.S. Ambassador David Friedman.
A photo taken during that visit shows Parnas and Fruman with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son, Yair, at the home of billionaire Simon Falic, one of the premier’s most important donors.
Parnas and Fruman are also connected to the National Council of Young Israel, an American Orthodox organization, which honored them with the Lovers of Zion award at a gala dinner in 2019.
Also receiving an award from Young Israel at the same event was Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who was among the politicians to whom Parnas and Fruman gave donations.
It’s not entirely clear why Young Israel gave Parnas and Fruman special recognition, but one explanation offered by a senior figure in the organization was that the businessmen “brought Rudy Giuliani” to the gala dinner.