NOEL KING, HOST:
If you were to make a list of the characters in the impeachment inquiry, it would cover many, many pages. Two of the people on that list will be arraigned in a New York courtroom today. Ari Shapiro, the co-host of All Things Considered, has been digging into who these guys are and how they connect to the larger impeachment story. Good morning, Ari.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.
KING: OK. So these two men are often referred to as business associates of President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. What did you find out about them?
SHAPIRO: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both born overseas, both U.S. citizens. I wanted to get a feel for their personality. So I called up somebody whose name you'll recognize, Anthony Scaramucci, who was briefly White House communications director. He actually went on a trip to Israel with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, about 20 people total, including Parnas and Fruman.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: Lev was the more talkative guy. He had more of, you know, facility with the English language. The other guy wasn't as talkative. Yeah, Igor was not as talkative as him. He came over and introduced himself. He seemed very friendly. He knew I had a close relationship with Mayor Giuliani, and so he dropped the mayor's name. I said, OK, well, that's great.
KING: He dropped the mayor's name. That's really interesting. OK. So you discovered that there's a relationship between these two men...
SHAPIRO: A close relationship...
KING: Yeah. Yeah.
SHAPIRO: ...Lev Parnas says they've been good friends for years now. They golfed together. And there was also a financial relationship. A company that Parnas owned paid Giuliani half a million dollars as a consultant. That company was called Fraud Guarantee. A couple of people who we spoke to in our reporting said that the two men often would be seen dining together at the Trump International Hotel at the fancy steakhouse here in Washington.
Just to paint a picture for you - one witness, who we are not naming because they could experience professional repercussions, said Parnas often booked a fifth-floor suite at the hotel with the high-rollers, one day came down to breakfast in gold chains, slicked back hair, a white-and-black Hugo Boss running suit - vivid image. But what is so striking is that he was living this kind of high-roller lifestyle at a time when financial documents show he owed huge sums of money. And while he owed all that money - I mean, for example, half a million dollars to a couple in South Florida, who he had a failed attempt to make a film with. While he owed all of this money, he was making massive political donations, like hundreds of thousands of dollars, through a company that he owned with Fruman.
KING: How did he afford to do that?
SHAPIRO: That's at the heart...
SHAPIRO: ...Of the indictment. The indictment alleges that Parnas and Fruman were not donating their own money. They created shell companies to funnel other people's money into political campaigns, which is illegal. The indictment references donations to Pete Sessions, who was a Republican Texas congressman. They gave money to a couple of Nevada politicians. The biggest donation of all - more than $300,000 - went to President Trump's superPAC.
And some of these contributions allegedly involved foreign money. Like, the contribution to the Nevada politician allegedly came from a Russian national. So you could summarize these charges by saying they are accused of setting up shell companies to conceal political donations and then lying about it.
KING: And the charges are related to campaign finance violations. So what does that have to do with impeachment?
SHAPIRO: You scratch the surface and you find all of these connections to Ukraine, which was the country of Lev Parnas' birth. For example, just after they gave this money to Congressman Sessions, Parnas and Fruman allegedly lobbied him to help replace the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Parnas helped set up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainians promising dirt on Democrats. And here, let me bring in the voice of Parnas himself, who spoke with our colleague, Jeff Brady, before he got arrested.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
LEV PARNAS: I've just been a source of being an interpreter, getting information and relaying it - whatever I could have done to help out getting the information from there to over here, basically just relaying it.
SHAPIRO: Of course, Democrats in Congress want to know more about that. So far, they have not cooperated with Congress, but they're going to be appearing in federal court this morning.
KING: All Things Considered Host Ari Shapiro, thanks so much.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, Noel. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.