By Aubrey Belford, Adam Klasfeld, Andrew W. Lehren and Dan De Luce
WASHINGTON (NBC News) — It was the day before Donald Trump’s inauguration and Turkey’s top diplomat was looking to make inroads with the new administration.
At Washington’s Watergate Hotel, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, sat down with Brian Ballard, a well-connected lobbyist serving as vice chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee.
Also at the table were the two men who set up the meeting: Mübariz Mansimov, a Turkish-Azerbaijani shipping magnate now in a Turkish jail facing terrorism charges, and Lev Parnas, a colorful Florida businessman whose backchannel dealings in Ukraine would, two years later, feature prominently in President Trump’s impeachment.
The Jan. 19, 2017, meeting, which has never before been disclosed, marked the start of Turkey’s ambitious lobbying of the Trump administration that involved back-channels, Russian-linked oligarchs and Parnas, a key figure in the Ukraine case, according to an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Courthouse News Service and NBC News.
Parnas and his former associate Igor Fruman made headlines for their role in the Ukraine affair and now face federal charges that they funneled illegal campaign contributions to Republican Party causes. Both men have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors filed additional charges Thursday against Parnas, alleging he misled investors in his company. Parnas has denied the charges.