Mr. Zekelman used the small gathering, in a private room at the hotel, to pressure Mr. Trump for more than six minutes to use his executive power to curb imports of foreign steel from Asia to the United States, a move those are for sale. He also asked Mr. Trump, while pressuring him for three more minutes over dinner, to re-evaluate highway safety regulations, which he said made it difficult for truck drivers in the United States to move his steel pipes. .
The exchange went public because Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were other guests at the dinner, who later teamed up with the president’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and released a recording of the dinner during Trump’s first impeachment deliberations in 2020.
“Say someone is half an hour away from home on their long-haul truck – they literally have to pull over and pull over on the side of the road,” said Mr. Zekelman at the 2018 dinner, according to the recording. “They can’t go home.”
Mr Parnas and Mr Fruman were eventually charged with a separate election fraud scheme. The $325,000 they donated to America First Action has already been transferred to the Treasury from the super PAC.
The Federal Election Commission voted unanimously in 2016 “to prioritize matters related to allegations of foreign influence,” and this was followed up in a 2018 report to Congress. The issue had become a growing concern after unlimited donations were allowed. Contributions through super PACs and companies became legal, making it easier for foreigners to circumvent regulations and make large donations.
The commission imposed $940,000 in fines in 2019 related to donations to a super PAC in support of Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign after it concluded that $1.3 million in 2015 contributions made in the name of a California company, American Pacific International Capital, was actually provided in part by two Chinese citizens.
Ms. Weintraub said she would be disappointed if America First Action returned the donations to Mr. Zekelman’s company, rather than transferring them to the Treasury, as he will get back more than he paid as a fine. This provision in the settlement was negotiated by agency staff and lawyers for Mr. Zekelman, she said, adding that she objected to it.