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Ukraine Probe Advances With New Characters And Plot Twists


Ukraine-gate was supposed to be easy to understand - much easier than the 400-page Mueller report. The outlines of the case, which Democrats are using as the basis of their impeachment inquiry, were simple. President Trump had asked Ukraine, a foreign country, to investigate Joe Biden and his son. Then this past week, a new cast of characters and plot twists appeared.


GEOFFREY BERMAN: Parnas and Fruman were arrested around 6:00 p.m. last night at Dulles Airport as they were about to board an international flight with one-way tickets.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman. He was announcing the arrest and indictment of two associates of President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. The two Soviet-born men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were charged with violating campaign finance law to funnel foreign money to U.S. candidates.


BERMAN: As alleged in the indictment, the defendants broke the law to gain political influence while avoiding disclosure of who was actually making the donations and where the money was coming from.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In one of the schemes outlined in the indictment, prosecutors say the money came from an unnamed Russian citizen. Another alleged scheme charges the two tried to discredit the American ambassador in Kyiv.


BERMAN: Parnas and Fruman had several meetings with congressman-1. And at these meetings, Parnas, on behalf of a Ukrainian government official, lobbied congressman-1 to advocate for the removal of the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Documents indicate congressman-1 is former Texas Representative Pete Sessions, a Republican. Sessions has denied knowledge of the alleged scheme, but he did write a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year complaining that the U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had disparaged President Trump. Yovanovitch, who was recalled by Trump in May, had her say on Friday.


ALEX MARQUARDT: Defying the Trump administration, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch went before lawmakers today after the State Department tried to block her testimony.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yovanovitch denied she was disloyal to the president, and she suggested that Giuliani's associates smeared her because her embassy's anti-corruption policy stymied their business interests. More witnesses will testify this week.

As for Rudy Giuliani, after the indictment of his associates was announced, President Trump defended Giuliani in a tweet as a legendary crime buster and a wonderful lawyer. Asked about Parnas and Fruman, the president said...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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