Ukraine Scandal Snags Pete Sessions’s Congressional Comeback Bid

WASHINGTON — Former Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who is seeking a return to Congress, was caught in the fallout of the Ukraine scandal on Thursday when he was referred to in the indictment of two presidential allies accused of campaign finance allegations.

Mr. Sessions, who served 11 terms in Congress until he was swept out last year, is described as “Congressman-1” in the indictment of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested and charged on Thursday with illegally funneling foreign money to American political candidates and campaigns. The two men are associates of Rudolph W. Giuliani — President Trump’s personal lawyer and a point man in Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political rivals — and are believed to be important witnesses in the House’s impeachment inquiry.

Mr. Sessions’s appearance in the indictment, which was filed just a week after he announced he would run for Congress in 2020, was an early and potentially damaging blow to his campaign.

Mr. Sessions is not named in the indictment, nor is he accused of any wrongdoing. On Thursday, he issued a statement that denied any wrongdoing and said he had no knowledge of the scheme detailed by federal prosecutors.

But a review of campaign finance records and his public comments show that he is the lawmaker referred to in the indictment as “Congressman-1,” who is described as having received large campaign contributions from Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, and whom Mr. Parnas asked for help in removing the United States ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch.

Ms. Yovanovitch had resisted Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to persuade the Ukrainians to open a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, as well as other Democrats, a top priority of Mr. Trump’s that is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

According to the indictment and campaign finance records, Mr. Sessions received the maximum allowable campaign donation of $2,700 in 2018 from both Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, as well as nearly $3 million in donations from America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC to which both had contributed.

The pair’s contributions were part of a broader effort “so that the defendants could buy potential influence with candidates, campaigns and the candidates’ governments,” federal prosectors said. Mr. Sessions met the two men at a fund-raising event, and they later committed to raising $20,000 for him.

The 21-page indictment asserted that Mr. Parnas met with Mr. Sessions “at and around the same time” he committed to raising money for the Texas Republican, and that Mr. Parnas asked the congressman to help oust Ms. Yovanovitch, who was eventually recalled by the Trump administration.

That effort, federal lawyers concluded, was “conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”

Mr. Sessions conceded in his statement on Thursday that he had, indeed, sought Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal “after several congressional colleagues reported to me that the current U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was disparaging President Trump to others as part of those official duties.”

Mr. Sessions said Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman first approached him to discuss “the strategic need for Ukraine to become energy independent,” adding, “At no time did I take any official action after these meetings.”

The indictment was an unwelcome development for Mr. Sessions at the start of what was already shaping up as a potentially competitive primary for a seat in a safe Republican district. Rather than seeking to reclaim his old seat from Representative Colin Allred, the Democrat who ousted him in a Dallas district last year, Mr. Sessions announced last week that he would run to succeed the retiring Representative Bill Flores in a district 80 miles south near Austin.

With his loss to Mr. Allred fresh in their minds, some Republicans were already unsure whether Mr. Sessions would be the strongest candidate to succeed Mr. Flores.

“This could definitely damage his chances in the district — with voters, with people who are trying to play kingmaker,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based Republican strategist. “It’s going to be another argument from those who don’t want him to run for this seat.”

Mr. Flores has already cast doubt on Mr. Sessions’s campaign, telling The Texas Tribune this month that Mr. Sessions had announced it without first consulting him and that feedback from district Republican leaders about him was “not positive.”

Other potential candidates have tested the waters, and conversations have centered on two Texans with national security credentials: David Springer, a lawyer who worked at the National Counterterrorism Center and the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Jeff Oppenheim, a defense consultant and West Point graduate.

Mr. Sessions was not the only lawmaker to benefit from Mr. Parnas’s largess. Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, and Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, also received the maximum campaign contribution allowed by the Federal Election Commission, according to campaign finance records. Mr. Parnas also donated $3,800 to House Republicans’ campaign arm, and Mr. Fruman donated nearly $67,000 under the name Igor Furman, according to campaign finance records.

House Democrats’ campaign arm called on the Republican leader and House Republicans’ campaign arm on Thursday to return the contributions. On Thursday afternoon, Mr. McCarthy’s spokesman said he would do so.

“The deception documented in today’s indictment has no place in our country and as a result, McCarthy plans to donate amounts received to a local charity,” said Matt Sparks, the spokesman.