Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has offered a changing story over his relationship with two Soviet-born associates of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani who were arrested last week on charges related to interfering in U.S. elections.
The Republican’s initial story — that he did not know or barely knew Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — quickly fell apart last year, after questions arose over the pair’s donation of $50,000 to his 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
Now, according to the Tampa Bay Times, photos from DeSantis’ election night victory party show the governor-elect hugging both men, with what the newspaper described as an “unmistakable ease.”
DeSantis’ spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said in October that Parnas and Fruman “may” have attended Republican Party events during the 2018 election, but insisted that DeSantis “does not have a relationship with these individuals.”
When “videos and photos of the men huddled together during DeSantis’ victory party emerged” four days later, the Times recalled, Ferré again downplayed the relationship, saying that the event was “open to the public.”
However, the “pictures show Parnas wearing a badge stating “official guest” and the two standing next to DeSantis’ teacher from his Dunedin grade school days, a fixture at Tampa Bay area campaign events,” according to the newspaper.
DeSantis finally came clean on the matter, telling reporters on Wednesday: “I knew Parnas. I didn’t know the other guy as much.”
It remains unclear exactly why Parnas and Fruman made the $50,000 contribution to the governor’s campaign, just one day before Trump offered DeSantis his endorsement.
But the two men are currently caught up in campaign finance-related scandals in states besides Florida: “In a federal indictment, prosecutors alleged political favors were tied to contributions Parnas and Fruman made in Texas and that they illegally used foreign cash for donations in Nevada.”
David Jolly, a former Republican colleague of DeSantis in Congress, told the Times that “Ukrainian businessmen don’t give the governor $50,000 because they support his Everglades policy.”
“From a candidate’s perspective, you know who is giving you $50,000,” he said. “Usually it leads to personal interaction on multiple occasions with the donor, it allows for instant recognition when you see that person in a crowd. But it also means inclusion in consequential moments like election night.”
“This begs further inquiry,” Jolly added.