NEW YORK — Two of the key players in Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt on Trump’s enemies pleaded not guilty in Manhattan Federal Court Wednesday — and embraced the President and his approach to dealing with legal issues.
In their first appearance in court, Lev Parnas’ attorney Edward MacMahon told a federal judge that their case may involve executive privilege concerns. MacMahon said that, because Parnas works for Rudy Giuliani, and Giuliani works for President Trump, the case may raise issues that would require the Department of Justice or its Office of Legal Counsel to get involved.
And while MacMahon repeated that he could “not invoke that,” referring to executive privilege, he emphasized that given Parnas’ work with the President’s personal lawyer, there were potential attorney client and executive privilege issues raised by the government’s “voluminous” discovery.
The lawyer also said that Parnas had been using Giuliani as his own attorney, while also working for him.
MacMahon added that perhaps the issue could be resolved by the Department of Justice or its Office of Legal Counsel.
“He did not work for the U.S. government,” MacMahon noted. “He worked for Mr. Giuliani, who worked for the President.”
It’s not clear that the White House has made any assertion of executive privilege.
When U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken gave prosecutors a chance to respond, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski said that it was “the first time we’ve heard this issue from defense counsel.”
“Now is not the forum to litigate that issue,” she added.
Donaleski added to Judge Oetken that more than 12 search warrants had been served on physical locations and electronic devices in the probe, as well as more than 12 phone numbers.
In a statement after the hearing, Parnas said he would be vindicated and his lawyer, picking up on a White House rallying cry, accusing the government of orchestrating high-level leaks.
McMahon also noted that Parnas’s attorney in the House investigation, John Dowd, had raised executive and attorney client privilege concerns in letters to Congress.
McMahon’s statement is the first time that Rudy Giuliani’s name has been invoked in the case. Donaleski described the government’s investigation as “ongoing” on Wednesday, while separate reporting has suggested that federal prosecutors are examining Giuliani’s financial dealings.
The issue is particularly explosive in part because of work Parnas was reportedly doing for the legal team of Ukrainian gas oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who is stranded in Vienna as he awaits extradition to face federal foreign bribery charges in Chicago.
It’s not clear the extent to which Giuliani was involved in that representation. McMahon’s declaration threatens to weave a web of privilege assertions that could end up extending from the President through his lawyer and onwards to an indicted Ukrainian oligarch that prosecutors have described as an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime.
Parnas and Igor Fruman were charged with two other defendants in a scheme to funnel foreign money to political committees associated with Republican candidates.
The two defendants spoke little at the hearing. Parnas issued his not guilty plea in a nasal Brooklyn accent, while Fruman stayed away from the mic, speaking softly in Russian-inflected English.
David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, the two other defendants, were arrested earlier this month and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy last Thursday.
Parnas and Fruman allegedly participated in a scheme to hide the source of a $325,000 contribution to a pro-Trump super PAC and to get around legal limits on donations to a candidate.
With Correia and Kukushkin, they also allegedly participated in a scheme to funnel money from a Russian pot investor to candidates for state-level offices in Nevada, part of a plan to get marijuana retail licenses.
The two have popped up throughout Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine that may aide Trump in the 2020 election. The indictment touches on Parnas and Fruman’s efforts to get Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired, an effort they mounted, according to the indictment, partly “at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”
The indictment, however, does not explicitly touch on the duo’s work with Giuliani, or Parnas’ recently reported role in connecting two pro-Trump lawyers to Firtash, whose legal team, in turn, provided a key document that Giuliani used to allege wrongdoing by Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Parnas’s attorney’s name.