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How 2 arrested Giuliani associates are connected to Trump impeachment inquiry

In a surprising twist within the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, two associates of Rudy Giuliani who were to appear before Congress this week were instead arrested at the airport on charges of violating campaign finance law. According to law enforcement, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman exhibited “corrupt behavior.” Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new twist in the impeachment inquiry.

    Two associates of Rudy Giuliani who were to appear before Congress today and tomorrow have been arrested on charges of violating campaign finance law. The two, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were apprehended at Dulles International Airport in Washington with one-way tickets out of the country.

    This afternoon, a U.S. attorney in New York and assistant director of the FBI laid out the severity of the charges and how they strike at the heart of our democratic system.

  • Geoffrey Berman:

    They sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official, a Ukrainian government official, who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

  • William Sweeney:

    These allegations are not about some technicality, a civil violation or an error on form. This investigation is about corrupt behavior, deliberate lawbreaking.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To examine these latest developments and how the American public views them, our own Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you. So much going on.

    Yamiche, I'm going to come to you first. Tell us who these men are. And what is their connection to Rudy Giuliani?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the allegations laid out against them are very serious in this 21-page indictment.

    Parnas and Fruman are accused of trying to channel and funnel foreign money into U.S. elections to try to interfere with U.S. elections. They're accused of setting up a company to mask hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations to foreign — to U.S. politicians and candidates in a pro-Trump super PAC.

    They are accused of also working with President Trump and Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. That's really important, because, even as Rudy Giuliani is saying he's not really connected with these two men in terms of the work that they were doing, these two men are accused of essentially trying to meddle in these elections by using this money.

    Now, it's also important to note that these are two men that House Democrats want to know a lot about. There are photos of President Trump and these two men circling around on the Internet, both with Rudy Giuliani and with the president.

    The president just took questions about this on the White House lawn. He says: I don't know these two men. I take photos with a lot of different people.

    The president said that he hopes Rudy Giuliani doesn't get indicted, but he wouldn't say whether or not he was concerned about that.

    It's also important to note that these two men were arrested, as you said, with one-way tickets on an international flight. Federal prosecutors are essentially saying they were trying to get out of town. Rudy Giuliani says that they were just going on a business trip.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, so again, so much to follow.

    So, Lisa, tell us more about how all this relates to Ukraine, as Yamiche mentioned, and to the House impeachment inquiry.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There are so many complicated threads, but here are the connections we know about right now distinctly.

    First of all, we know that these two men worked not only for Rudy Giuliani, but, specifically, that they assisted the president's work — Giuliani's work for President Trump.

    We also know from reports from many different outlets that these two were pushing Ukraine to investigate Vice President Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Also, these two men are cited in the whistle-blower complaint. So it does draw together some of these threads.

    Judy, also today, we had a new subpoena, not only for these two men, but for Energy Secretary Rick Perry. How does that connect? Part of that subpoena is asking for information about why Perry was pushing for a change in management at a Ukrainian energy company.

    Who else might have an interest in that Ukrainian energy company? Democrats say these two men also had interest in that Ukrainian energy company. So a lot of sort of early edges to this puzzle. Many questions still remain.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, separately from all this, Yamiche, we have the results now of a new poll, "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist, looking at how voters are reacting to the impeachment inquiry. What do we see from that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This new poll that is out this afternoon shows that a slim majority of Americans now support going forward with an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.

    I want to walk you through some of the numbers. The poll shows that national support for an impeachment inquiry has actually been up after — from two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, 49 percent of U.S. adults supported an impeachment inquiry. Now it's 52 percent.

    That — those numbers dovetail with The Washington Post and FOX News and a number of other polls who show that the majority of Americans want to see an impeachment inquiry.

    I also want to walk through that independents are a big part of this. Two weeks ago, when we took this poll, 44 percent of independents supported an impeachment inquiry. Now the poll that's out today shows an uptick of 10 points to 54 percent. That's — that's bad news for President Trump.

    He wouldn't answer questions about this poll specifically at the White House lawn today. But what it tells you is that the president is essentially facing more pressure with impeachment inquiry, as he says that he did nothing wrong, as he says that he doesn't want to comply with House Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating.

    And, Lisa, I know they're watching all this closely on Capitol Hill. What are you learning from there?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They are.

    Democrats were not sort of like jumping in the aisles over this. But they do feel that this adds to the cloud over the Trump presidency, and it raises more questions about corruption in his administration and among those around him.

    So they obviously are trying to get details themselves, but they think that this adds to what they see as their narrative, which is, this is an administration that tries to cross legal boundaries on a regular basis.

    Now, Democrats are also paying attention to some other kind of effects of this. As part of the indictment today, it named — it said these two men had been reaching out to a specific congressman. We know, from transactions, dates, times and other reporting, that that congressman is former Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas. There he is right there.

    He's not just any Republican. He was chairman of the Rules Committee, a very powerful position. The allegation here in the indictment is that these two men were trying to get him — to leverage donations with him to get him to pressure for the ouster of that Ukrainian ambassador.

    He has released a statement saying there was no such transaction, no request. I never did anything like that.

    But, Judy, he's trying to get back into Congress. And so this is again where Democrats see a gain for them.

    Two other quick notes about what's happening with Democrats tonight. Nancy Pelosi is planning a call tomorrow afternoon with all of the Democratic members in Congress. They're going — or in the House, rather.

    They're going to talk about impeachment and talk about things like, do they hold a full House vote? What do they do next? How fast do they move?

    As these layers pile up, Democrats again will have to choose which ones they pursue and for how long. Finally, tomorrow, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who we keep bringing up, the one that Giuliani wanted out, is supposed to testify behind closed doors.

    And my Democratic sources say, even though she's still at the State Department, they think she's going to come. We will see. It's tomorrow morning. We will know within 24 hours.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Her testimony was delayed from last week.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you remind us, there has not been a formal vote yet to pursue an impeachment inquiry.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Not by the full House. That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa and Yamiche, thank you both.

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