With almost no record of political giving before February 2018, the two men found themselves posing for photographs with President Donald Trump and meeting for breakfast with the President’s son within a few months of their first donations to GOP campaigns.
Federal prosecutors said Thursday those donations were actually funded by foreign nationals — and that Parnas and Fruman illegally funneled the funds through a company meant to conceal its origins.
Before that, though, Parnas and Fruman appeared to be enjoying the fruits of their efforts, mingling with powerful politicians and fostering at least the impression they were close to the President.
In photos posted to a now-inactive Facebook page, Parnas and Fruman frequently sought to tout a close relationship to the President, his family and his advisers — including Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
On Thursday, Trump acknowledged there was a photo with the now-arrested men. But he said he didn’t know them and had nothing to do with their alleged crimes.
“I don’t know those gentlemen. Now it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody, I have a picture with everybody here,” Trump said, adding that someone told him there “may be” a photo with them “at a fundraiser or somewhere, but I have pictures with everybody.”
He continued, “I don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do but I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy, I just don’t know.”
Pressed whether he is concerned Giuliani himself could be indicted, Trump said, “Well I hope not, again, I don’t know how he knows these people.”
Parnas and Fruman are clients of Giuliani’s, and have been helping him in his efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. They were arrested at Dulles Airport on Wednesday evening with one-way tickets to Europe.
A year-and-a-half ago, both men were making forays into high-dollar Republican politics.
Fruman attended a fundraiser for Trump’s re-election campaign at the President’s Mar-a-Lago estate in March 2018, an event where tickets began at $2,700 and went all the way to $50,000.
A few months later, after attending an event for America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington in April 2018, Parnas posted photos and video — including an image of his personalized dinner menu, which featured a wedge salad.
“Feeling fantastic,” he wrote alongside the photos, which also featured Fruman. “Thank you President Trump !!! Making America great !!!!!!incredible dinner and even better conversation.”
He tagged the photo at the White House, though the images appear to be from Trump’s hotel property a few blocks away. In the following days, he posted photos with a number of high-profile Republican lawmakers, appearing to make the rounds on Capitol Hill with key lawmakers and documenting his efforts on social media.
A few weeks later, Parnas posted a photo from a breakfast meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at the Polo Lounge, the candy-striped restaurant in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
“Power breakfast !!!” he captioned the image, in which he’s shown smiling widely alongside Fruman settled into a round, green-upholstered booth.
People familiar with the matter said that was the two men’s first encounter with Trump’s son, who met Parnas and Fruman through his close friend Tommy Hicks Jr. Hicks is pictured alongside the men at the Polo Lounge.
Hicks Jr. used to be the chairman for America First Action, the committee Parnas and Fruman donated $325,000 to last May. Prosecutors say the donation was designed to “evade the reporting requirements” written in federal law.
Hicks has since left the super PAC to become Republican National Committee co-chairman, creating a vacancy filled by Linda McMahon, who stepped down as Trump’s Small Business Administration head in spring 2019 to join the group. She is now in charge of soliciting donors.
In a statement on Thursday, a spokeswoman for America First Action said the group placed the donation from Parnas and Fruman “in a segregated bank account” and that it hadn’t been used “for any purpose.”
“The funds will remain in this segregated account until these matters are resolved,” the statement said.
Like their associate Rudy Giuliani, both Parnas and Fruman were frequently seen at Trump properties, including the Trump International Hotel in Washington. It was there they were spotted on Wednesday with Giuliani, according to the Wall Street Journal, before making their way to Dulles Airport and their ultimate arrest.
Now, photos of a different type illustrate the men’s predicament: unsmiling mug shots taken at the Alexandria, Virginia, sheriff’s office.