Of course there’s a Florida angle to the Ukraine scandal – that’s how we roll

October 17, 2019 7:00 am

Igor Fruman, left, and Lev Parnas are shown in their booking photos. Source: Getty Images

Last week, the feds arrested two “business associates” of Rudy Giuliani’s at Dulles International Airport. They had one-way tickets to Austria. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are now accused of violating federal campaign finance law by shoveling foreign money into America First, the big pro-Trump super-PAC.

These two run businesses called Mafia Rave and Fraud Guarantee.

Not making this up, y’all.

When Parnas and Fruman weren’t meddling in elections, they were helping Giuliani in his swivel-eyed determination to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian business dealings.

Florida is, of course, up to its fanny in this swamp.

Parnas and Fruman, born in Ukraine and Belarus respectively, are naturalized U.S. citizens who now live in South Florida (where else?) and contributed a lot of dodgy money to Florida Republicans in 2018: 50 grand to Ron DeSantis and at least 20 grand to Rick Scott.

Parnas even hosted two fundraisers for DeSantis, one of which has been rather ickily described as an “intimate” big-check fundraiser at a mansion in Hillsboro Beach. DeSantis was there, too, as was his running mate, Jeanette Nuñez.

DeSantis, along with Trump and a slew of other Republicans, now insists that he never met these questionable foreign fellows or, if he met them, it was brief and there wasn’t what you might call a conversation, or maybe there was a little chat, but it was short, and he probably didn’t really listen to anything they had to say.

As Joe Gruters, state senator and chair of the state Republican Party, insisted: “I’d be surprised if the governor said anything other than ‘Hello.’ I doubt he even took a picture with these guys.”

Yet there’s Lev Parnas, hanging strangely close to Ron DeSantis at his election night victory party.

Donald Trump, who also disavows any knowledge of “these guys,” invited them to dinner with him at the White House in May. They attended various chi-chi parties at Mar-a-Lago, and had breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Don Jr. – last  seen with his paramour, late of Fox News, at an ill-disguised campaign event at the University of Florida, for which they received $50,000 from student activity fees.

Some people wonder: Why Ukraine? What’s up with that ex-Soviet republic that attracts ethically challenged Americans the way manure draws flies?

You may also ask: Why Florida? Why do Republican grifters, slimeballs, liars, fraudsters, and other shady people gravitate to our sunny state?

Ukraine is a poor country, but awash in energy cash and oligarchs who have, let’s say, opaque motives and a certain moral flexibility.

Remember back in 2016 when Republicans were all hot to send “lethal aid” to Ukraine, what with Putin invading Crimea two years before? It was in the GOP party platform – until it wasn’t. Trump campaign operatives had it removed.

You might also want to remember that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, got rich lobbying for pro-Russian elements in Ukraine.

As for Florida, well, maybe our long history of genocide (from the conquistadors to Andrew Jackson), slavery and racism (Florida is a Deep South state, no matter how much we pretend it isn’t), low taxes, and the best politicians money can buy make us fatally attractive to millionaires and criminals like Henry Flagler and Al Capone, as well as millionaire criminals like Paul Manafort, who used to have a Palm Beach Gardens mansion but had to give it up, what with him being in prison, and Rudy Giuliani, forced to sell his Palm Beach condo on account of his third divorce.

Giuliani, by the way, is reportedly under federal investigation for what’s being called – delicately  his “Ukraine work.”

There’s something in our increasingly algae-choked water or maybe our super-humid air that lends itself to very, very bad behavior.

People write whole books about Florida’s congenitally poor character.

So you’d think Republicans – especially Florida Republicans – would want to lie low a spell, spend more time with their families and less time with folks from the old Soviet Union.

True, DeSantis disgorged the 50K his campaign got from Parnas and Fruman on October 10. Rick Scott did, too, perhaps a bit more grudgingly, four days after DeSantis.

But then right-wing wags at the “American Priority Festival” this past weekend at Trump’s Doral resort showed a video in which “Trump” (head superimposed over a much fitter body) enters “The Church of Fake News” and starts shooting, beating, and stabbing figures representing Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Barack Obama, Rachel Maddow, the BBC, CNN, NPR, and PBS, among others, as blood spatters.

Perhaps they forgot that churches in Texas, South Carolina, and New Hampshire and synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego have recently been mass shooting scenes.

Perhaps they really don’t give a damn.

As you might predict, DeSantis (who was at the conference), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (also at the conference), and Don Trump Jr. all denied seeing the video. Not their fault.

Besides, it’s Florida. Crazy stuff like suggesting that the violent murder of presidents and journalists is just a little joke, right? Have another mojito. It’s not like we’re Ukraine or anything.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo.