Pressure has grown over the past month for Gov. Ron DeSantis to answer questions about tensions in the state Republican Party and his ties to two Ukrainian-American businessmen indicted on federal campaign-finance charges.
So far, calling on selected reporters at one major press event and making appearances outside the Capital with little to no time for media inquiries, he’s mostly been able to avoid the topics.
DeSantis has described Lev Parnas, a Soviet-born South Florida businessman who is facing federal campaign-finance charges and is embroiled in the U.S. House impeachment process, as being just “like any other donor.” DeSantis also has acknowledged Parnas wanted to join the governor’s transition team on public safety.
But DeSantis, elected in November 2018, has otherwise shut down media inquiries into contacts with Parnas and businessman Igor Fruman.
“I’m not going to have any comment on that,” DeSantis said after being asked about Parnas and Fruman on Monday while making a health-care announcement at a WalMart in Palm Harbor. “I’ve made my comment, and so I’ll just focus on this.”
When Tampa Bay Times political editor Steve Contorno persisted, DeSantis snapped, “I’ve said all I’m gonna say. I’m gonna focus on doing the people’s work in Florida, because ultimately this stuff matters to people’s lives. The other stuff, it is what it is. As soon as the revelations (about the businessmen) came out, we refunded the donation. It’s the right thing to do. And so, I’m going to look forward from here.”
The response came less than a week after the annual Associated Press pre-session gathering for reporters and editors at the state Capitol, where the governor drew questions from a list of reporters selected by his office.
Days before, news outlets had reported stories about his relationship with Parnas and Fruman along with reports of turmoil at the Republican Party of Florida, including a report that new party Executive Director Peter O’Rourke had retaliated and failed to protect the identities of whistleblowers while working at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
When asked about the AP event, DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre said in an email to The News Service of Florida that a handful of outlets had been selected to ask questions in the allotted time, adding that “hopefully, (DeSantis) will have more opportunities in the future.”
“The governor enjoys speaking to the press, he has done 196 press avails to date,” Ferre added.
A week earlier, while addressing reporters after a Cabinet meeting in the Capitol, DeSantis revealed that an unnamed fundraiser had received a request from Parnas for a spot on the transition team as the governor prepared to take office in January.
But when asked if he met with Parnas after becoming governor, DeSantis replied, “I don’t have anything else to add.”
At other recent events, which were posted by the governor’s office on Facebook, DeSantis didn’t take questions or the topics of Parnas and Fruman didn’t come up.
On Tuesday in Stuart, DeSantis fielded a single media question that was on the topic of the press conference, a new water-quality website. Later in the day in Fort Myers Beach, he took four questions that touched on the website, the pending selection of a member of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, imported prescription drugs and whether he retained confidence in state Republican Chairman Joe Gruters.
“Yes, I do,” was all DeSantis said of his faith in Gruters, a state senator from Sarasota.