Jan 16, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Lev Parnas: "Trump knew exactly what was going on" in Ukraine

Lev Parnas, a close Rudy Giuliani associate and central figure in the pressure campaign on Ukraine, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last night: "President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements. ... I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president."

Why it matters: If true, the claim presents detailed connective tissue between Parnas' activities in Ukraine and Trump.

The most important new claim Parnas made was that he had Trump's explicit imprimatur for his outreach to Ukrainian officials regarding the Bidens.

  • Parnas said he knew of the president's involvement because of Giuliani's conversations "on speakerphone, where he would like start the conversation on speakerphone and then take it off, and then go somewhere else to talk to" Trump.
  • "I was with Rudy when he would speak to the president, plenty of times," Parnas said, including when Rudy and Parnas were on the golf course.
  • Parnas said Trump speaks "very loudly" on speakerphone.

Parnas also claimed that Giuliani instructed him to tell a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that all U.S. aid to Ukraine would be halted unless Zelensky announced an investigation into the Bidens, as well as other "demands."

  • "It was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden. Also, Rudy had a personal thing with the Manafort stuff, the black ledger," Parnas said. "It was never about corruption."
  • Parnas also discussed his and Giuliani's efforts to get former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired, claiming "the only motivation" was to get her out of the way so that the Biden investigation could proceed.
  • He dismissed suggestions that Yovanovitch was being surveilled by Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde, claiming that Hyde is a "weird character" who is not credible because he was frequently intoxicated.

Between the lines: Parnas is not a particularly reliable narrator; he's been indicted on federal campaign-finance charges (and maintains his innocence). 

  • This is all about credibility. Parnas has shared numerous eye-popping documents with congressional investigators. But is that reason enough for Americans to take him at his word? Will Ukrainian officials confirm Parnas claims that aren't supported by documentary evidence? Or will people have to decide for themselves whether or not to take them at face value? 

The other side ... White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham provided a statement on Parnas' comments to NBC News: "These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison.

  • "The facts haven't changed, the president did nothing wrong and this impeachment, which was carried out and manufactured by the Democrats, has been a sham from the start."

What's next, from Axios' Margaret Talev: Parnas seems to want to testify at the Senate trial. But lawmakers may not have the chance to call him, or may choose not to.

  • So speaking out now functions as both a preview of — or substitute for — his participation in the impeachment trial. 

A Parnas lawyer told Axios' Alayna Treene that he hoped providing documents and offering to testify would help Parnas in negotiations over his court case.

Go deeper: Yovanovitch urges Ukraine probe after Parnas phone records release

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