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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Foreign influence concern in U.S. elections hits home for Trump backers

Lev Parnas, left, and Igor Fruman in photos

Lev Parnas, left, and Igor Fruman in photos provided by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Virginia. Credit: Alexandria Sheriff's Office

The indictment unsealed last week against business associates of President Donald Trump's close adviser Rudy Giuliani reads in part like a screed against the pernicious influence of foreign money.

In the court filing, prosecutors explain that the campaign finance laws they cite exist "to protect the U.S. electoral system from illegal foreign financial influence."

Announcing the charges, the prosecutors said defendants Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman and two other men allegedly carried out illegal campaign-fund schemes to "advance their business interests" as well as "the political Interests of at least one Ukrainian government official." 

That official sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, prosecutors said.

Fruman and Parnas also allegedly made $325,000 in illegal straw donations to a super PAC that supports Trump and allied candidates.

Their "business interests" involve a private enterprise that needed access to retail marijuana licenses in states including Nevada, the feds say.

The main public impact is this: Parnas and Fruman, the Soviet-born Florida businessmen, are not only clients of Giuliani but were working with him to help damage Trump's Democratic rivals. They were part of the top-level push for an investigation by Ukrainian authorities of Joe and Hunter Biden.  

So far they seem to have damaged themselves.

A figure described as "Foreign National 1" arranged to send hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of the actions described.

All four men were charged with one count each of conspiring to violate the ban on foreign donations and contributions in connection with federal and state elections, tied to the marijuana business.

The ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, ultimately was reassigned at Trump's behest.

This is a president who impugns the loyalty of those who would allow "open borders," who inveighs against "globalist" economics and the "deep state" and who proclaims the virtues of "nationalism."

Yet Trump, who gives the impression that he opposes intervening in other nations, said he's motivated to cleanse Ukraine of "corruption."

Now he's using the term "deep state" to slam a reported investigation of his close adviser Giuliani.

But the familiar "witch hunt" fallback could prove hard to sell to anyone outside the most loyal fans.

That’s because the indictment is signed by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, an appointee tapped by Trump to succeed the ousted Preet Bharara in New York's Southern District.

And Berman reports to Trump's Attorney General William Barr, whom the president chose to succeed Jeff Sessions, who angered the president by failing to smother the Russia investigation.

Getting an appearance of distance from these defendants won't be easy for the Trump crew.

A Justice Department official told The Wall Street Journal that Barr was "supportive" of the Giuliani clique's "work" regarding the Bidens on which he was briefed earlier this year.

Defendants dined at the White House in May of last year and met later with Donald Trump Jr. at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, California. They contributed to America First Action, the super PAC that got money from the defendants when it was headed by Junior's friend Tommy Hicks Jr., according to published reports.

The relationships here are tightly tangled. Even casting loose-tongued Giuliani overboard wouldn't do much for the Trump team now.

Discovering who  paid Giuliani how much and for what would seem to be a likely next step in what Berman calls a "continuing" probe.

Remember when Trump was going to "self-fund" his campaign — and would be immune to this sort of scandal because he was so rich?

Foreign influence was not supposed to be a problem under the banner of "America first."

The troubles are deepening, with money at the root of this latest mess.

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