Parnas Speaks

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Completing his break from Trump/Giuliani, Lev Parnas, Giuliani’s former “associate”, spoke to Rachel Maddow last night, and his interview made huge waves.

Parnas is a complicated figure in the unfolding Ukraine saga. He worked closely with Giuliani as the former New York City mayor defended Trump against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and he helped lead Giuliani’s monthslong effort to smear and remove Yovanovitch, who stood in the way of the effort to investigate Biden and other Democrats. After Parnas was indicted, he initially resisted cooperating with the House impeachment inquiry but changed his tune shortly after Trump disavowed a relationship with him.

Here are the main points:

1. He claimed Trump threatened to withhold more than just military aid from Ukraine

Parnas claimed that the president threatened to withhold all aid from Ukraine if it did not publicly announce an investigation into the Bidens, and he delivered that “very harsh message” to Ukrainian officials on behalf of Giuliani and Trump.

“The message was: It wasn’t just military aid. It was all aid,” he said. “Basically the relationship would be sour. We would stop giving them any kind of aid.”

The associate to the president’s personal attorney said the aid was clearly contingent on U.S. demands, primarily an investigation into the Bidens. Parnas’s claims counter what Trump has said, which is that there was no explicit quid pro quo between him and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Let’s focus on this more:

PARNAS: The message that I was supposed — that I gave Sergey Shaffer was a very harsh message. I was told to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant way.

MADDOW: Who told you to give it to him a harsh way?

PARNAS: Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after, you know, meeting the president at the White House. He called me. The message was, it wasn’t just military aid, it was all aid. Basically their relationships would be sour, that he would — that we would stop giving them any kind of aid that —

MADDOW: Unless?

PARNAS: — unless there was an announcement made.

The important thing here is that Parnas is alleging that Giuliani directly told him to convey the message to Ukraine that the military aid was contingent on announcing the investigations Trump wanted — after talking to Trump about it.

But here’s the thing. We already know for a fact that this message — that Trump made the military aid conditional on announcing investigations that would smear Biden and absolve Russia of 2016 electoral sabotage — actually was delivered to Ukraine, by one of Trump’s top henchmen.

That henchman would be Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who has testified that he told a top Zelensky aide that the money was conditioned on Zelensky announcing those investigations.

Trump’s defenders have seized on Sondland’s insistence that he merely “presumed” this to be the case. Their line is basically that Trump never explicitly commanded Sondland to use the frozen aid to openly strong-arm Zelensky on his behalf.

This argument has always been ridiculous. Sondland acted at Trump’s direction throughout. And Sondland himself testified that Trump actually did tell him to convey to Zelensky that he still had to do Trump’s bidding, at a time when Ukraine was desperate for the money, while absurdly denying any quid pro quo.

Crucially, Parnas is now claiming Giuliani told him to make the same demand, after discussing it with Trump.

The demand from Ukraine is almost certainly solicitation of a bribe. Federal statute makes “bribery” a crime if a public official “demands” or “seeks” anything “of value personally,” in exchange for performing “an official act,” provided this has been done “corruptly.” It defines “of value personally” broadly.

An announcement of these investigations plainly had personal value for Trump. Last spring, Giuliani candidly admitted that they would be “very helpful to my client.”

In this case, though, Parnas is also suggesting that Giuliani and Trump discussed this, and that after that happened, Giuliani instructed him to carry out an element of it.

That strongly suggests a criminal conspiracy to solicit a bribe, according to former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner.

2. He implicated Attorney General Barr, saying he “had to have known everything”

Parnas continued by connecting Attorney General William Barr to the pressure campaign, saying that Giuliani had contacted the attorney general about the attempts to get Ukraine to announce a Biden investigation 

“Barr had to have known everything,” he said. “Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.” 

A Justice Department spokesperson told Maddow that the claim was “100 percent false.” The spokesperson repeated the same statement to The Hill.

3. “Trump knew exactly what was going on”

Parnas also directly connected Trump to the Ukraine pressure campaign to investigate the Bidens, saying the president “knew exactly what was going on.”

Maddow asked Parnas about that “main inaccuracy or the main lie being told” that he felt he could correct.

He responded: “That the president didn’t know what was going on. President Trump knew exactly what was going on.”

Parnas continued, saying that he would not act without “the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president” and added that Trump’s claim that he doesn’t know Parnas is a lie.

4. He alleged Pence skipped Zelensky’s inauguration because of Ukraine pressure campaign

Parnas accused Vice President Pence of being in the know, adding that the vice president’s planned trip to Zelensky’s inauguration was canceled because the country refused to announce a Biden investigation.

“Oh, I know 100 percent,” Parnas said. “It was 100 percent.”

When Maddow asked if the vice president knew his visit was involved in a “quid pro quo,” Parnas quoted U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s comments during the impeachment inquiry: “Everybody was in the loop.”

Marc Short, the chief of staff for Pence’s office, said in a statement to The Hill that Democrats have contradicted Parnas’s statements from his interviews when testifying under oath.

“This is very simple: Lev Parnas is under a multi-count indictment and will say anything to anybody who will listen in hopes of staying out of prison,” Short said. “It’s no surprise that only the liberal media is listening to him.”

5. He asserted that the Ukraine campaign “was never about corruption [but] strictly about Burisma”

Giuliani’s associate also claimed that the White House’s call for a Ukrainian investigation “was never about corruption.” Instead, it was focused solely on Burisma.

“And that was another thing that they were looking into, but it was never about corruption,” Parnas said. “It was never — it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.”

Parnas’s assertion negates the White House’s claims that the administration was attempting to root out corruption when Trump asked Zelensky to examine the Bidens’ past.

There’s also been more documents released from Parnas which spell out, in even clearer terms, Rudy Giuliani’s role in the Ukraine pressure campaign.

Perhaps the clearest example came in March, after the then-prosecutor general of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, gave an interview to John Solomon, the conservative journalist then working at The Hill.

After Parnas sent Giuliani a copy of the interview between Solomon and Lutsenko, Giuliani expressed frustration with it.

“I’ve got nothing,” he texted Parnas. “The anti corruption prosecutor made some very weak comments that are equivocal at best. And not consistent with the facts. Story would get blown up. Don’t want to lead with my weakest hand.”

Giuliani told Parnas he needed Ukraine’s then-president, Petro Poroshenko, as well as Lutsenko “on the record about the ambassador and Biden. Can you make it happen?”

All of this of course blows the Trump defense (i.e., that he was making sure the new Ukrainian president Zelensky was tackling corruption) out of the water.