ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Two associates of President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were arrested last night at a Washington area airport, reportedly with one-way tickets out of the country. The indictment alleges that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman tried to steer foreign money to American politicians to advance their own business interests and those of Ukrainian government officials. Both men have also been subpoenaed in the House impeachment inquiry. Kim Wehle is a former federal prosecutor who has handled these kinds of cases.
KIM WEHLE: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What stands out to you in these indictments?
WEHLE: Well, I think the message being sent by these indictments sort of marries up with the message being given in this impeachment process, which is that American elections are for Americans to decide, first of all, and that Americans need to have good information when they vote, including who is funding their candidates. And there are basically two conspiracies alleged in these indictments. One, that, as you mentioned, there were foreign nationals that were making contributions funneling money through these defendants to basically sway our elections in their favor - in these foreign nationals' favor not in favor of Americans. And then secondly, that donations were being made through shell companies in amounts that exceeded the contribution limits under the federal election laws.
SHAPIRO: Now, you said the message marries up with the impeachment inquiry. I wonder whether the process marries up. What happens now that we have these two men who are both involved in the impeachment inquiry and in a criminal justice case in the federal court system?
WEHLE: Yeah, so we've been hearing a lot about, can Congress enforce its subpoenas? And that's actually a little bit tricky for a number of reasons - number of legal reasons. But here now we have the Justice Department, and we have the courts - the court backing that process. It's much more difficult to basically defy a grand jury or a trial subpoena. And so given that these defendants are also potential witnesses in the impeachment probe, Congress and the American people will get the information that - more easily than they would otherwise. And also, of course, prosecutors sometimes make deals with defendants in exchange for information, so that could lend some kind of light - shed some light in the impeachment process.
SHAPIRO: So you're saying evidence in a future trial could just be de facto evidence in the impeachment inquiry.
WEHLE: Sure, absolutely. Remember. In - you know, I worked on the Whitewater probe. You know, Ken Starr handed Congress a big dossier of detailed investigative evidence that the Justice Department, through Ken Starr, basically gathered. Here we have Congress in the impeachment probe doing that investigative task itself sort of in real time. But now that the Justice Department is involved, first of all, we can be happy that it's functioning, notwithstanding some of these other concerns people have about the separation of powers, including myself. But secondly, we've got the power of the Southern District that's backed by the federal courts because there's something...
SHAPIRO: Southern District of New York, where these men are being prosecuted.
WEHLE: Correct. Right. Yeah.
SHAPIRO: As we mentioned...
WEHLE: So at least the federal court...
SHAPIRO: Yeah. As we mentioned, these men were associates of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer. Do you think Giuliani should be worried?
WEHLE: Sure. I mean, they were not only - they were associates, clients of Mr. Giuliani. His lawyer, John Dowd, who was formerly Mr. Trump's lawyer early on in the administration, said that they actually helped Mr. Giuliani in connection with representation of President Trump. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that they met with Giuliani at the Trump Hotel just hours before their arrest attempting to flee the country. And it's also reported that both of them were involved in, essentially, helping Mr. Giuliani potentially start a criminal investigation or get the Ukrainians to start a criminal investigation into the Bidens. So this is all intertwined.
SHAPIRO: Another twist in the Ukraine story - thank you former U.S. attorney Kim Wehle for helping us sort it out.
WEHLE: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.