Former Giuliani Collaborator Lev Parnas Spills On Trump And Ukraine

Donald Trump, left, and Lev Parnas

Even with all this shit in the record, Trump is running again, and I’m going to be on the story for the duration. Subscribe here to get a column nearly every day in your email inbox.

Guess who is back in the news? Our old friend, Lev Parnas! You remember Lev, don’t you? He was the moon-faced friend of Rudy Giuliani who was up to his neck in the Ukraine scandal back in 2019, running interference for the former New York mayor with the likes of Yuri Lutsenko, the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor Trump was trying to get to open a criminal investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s dealings with Burisma, a shady Ukrainian energy holding company with ties to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Oh, boy…here we go back into the swamp of the whole Trump-Ukraine scandal. Okay, we may as well dip a toe into those fetid waters, because our old pal Lev, bless his black little heart, has done us a favor – he’s given us a new way of looking at the Trump-Ukraine mess, which until now has been focused on Trump’s attempts to get Ukrainian dirt on the Bidens.

But it’s useful to go back a few years and have a look at Trump’s long history with Ukraine. It goes back to his hiring of Paul Manafort as his campaign manager. Manafort had a history as a political strategist – he formed a lobbying outfit with Trump-pal Roger Stone and Charles R. Black – and was a key adviser to four Republican presidential candidates: Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole. But by 2016, Manafort hadn’t been involved in U.S. politics for quite a while. Instead, he became a key adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, a Ukrainian politician close to Vladimir Putin who won the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine, only to be ousted from power in the famous Orange Revolution when tens of thousands took to the streets to protest the election, which was said to be corrupted by electoral fraud, voter intimidation, and other forms of corruption.

Manafort continued working for Yanukovych and ran his campaign when he ran again for president of Ukraine in 2010. During the same time, Manafort was working for corrupt Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a friend of Putin’s, and corrupt Ukrainian oligarch Dymtro Firtash, currently on the lam in Vienna, Austria, from several indictments in the U.S. (Firtash is represented in the criminal case by Trump-pals Joseph diGenova and Victoria Tensing. Lev Parmas served as translator between Firtash and the two Trump-friendly lawyers.)

So Manafort is the guy Trump got to run his campaign in 2016. What else did Manafort do that year? Why, on instructions from Trump, he got the Republican platform’s so-called “Ukraine plank” watered down so it no longer advocated supporting Ukraine with military aid.

Manafort of course was indicted by Robert Mueller and convicted of multiple counts of bank fraud and conspiracy against the United States and spent a couple of years in jail before he was released during the COVID pandemic. He was of course pardoned by Trump just before he left office in 2021.

But that didn’t end Trump’s, shall we say, obsession with Ukraine. In 2018, Giuliani, working on behalf of Trump, dispatched Parnas to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton (!), following a right-wing conspiracy theory that somehow the real corruption in the 2016 campaign wasn’t about Trump and Russia, but about Hillary receiving help from Ukraine. Parnas worked to get U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired, because her loyalty to Trump was alleged to be questionable. (She was accused, falsely, of refusing to hang Trump’s photograph in her ambassadorial office in Ukraine.)

What was really going on was that Trump and people close to him wanted Yovanovitch out because she was working with Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration on anti-corruption matters that had entangled people like Firtash and Deripaska in investigations in Ukraine.

There then developed what might be called a fellowship of interests between Donald Trump and Putin-friendly forces in Ukraine. Trump sent Giuliani and Parnas and others over there to dig up dirt on Biden. He recalled Yovanovitch from her post and in July of 2019 had his infamous phone call with Zelensky during which, among other things, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to help him find Hillary Clinton’s emails, which a right-wing conspiracy theory said were being held on a server in Ukraine.

The real push Trump made, however, was to get Zelensky to initiate an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. To that end, Trump famously threatened to withhold $400 million in military aid that had been appropriated by the Congress to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression on its eastern border. Trump had previously directed his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to withhold the funds. Mulvaney directed the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of State, and the Defense Department to put the funds on hold. In the call with the Ukrainian president, Trump repeatedly told Zelensky to contact Giuliani, who had no official role in the U.S. government, and William Barr, who did, as Attorney General.

The Trump phone call with Zelensky was revealed by a whistleblower, and the whole Trump-Ukraine scandal took off. On September 11, the military aid funds for Ukraine were released from the hold, and on September 24, the first impeachment inquiry against Trump was initiated by the House of Representatives. Hearings by the House Intelligence Committee took testimony from Yovanovitch, William Taylor, the acting ambassador who replaced her, and from several other witnesses about the attempts to influence the government of Ukraine to do Trump’s will.

The Judiciary Committee took the report of the Intelligence Committee and after a short period of hearings, voted to impeach Trump. On December 18, the House approved the articles of impeachment. Trump went to trial before the Senate and was found innocent, but the die was cast. Donald Trump had attempted to blackmail the president of Ukraine into helping his reelection by withholding military aid at a time when Ukraine had already lost Crimea to Russian aggression and was actively involved in a war on its eastern border with separatists supported and armed by Russia.

Parnas was indicted and convicted on federal charges of illegally funding the campaign of a congressman, Rep. Pete Sessions, to influence the firing of Ambassador Yovanovitch. Today, sitting at home in Florida under house confinement after spending four months of a 20 month sentence behind bars – as you can see, Parnas was not among the buddies Trump pardoned – he is reevaluating what happened not only to him, but the entire matter of the Trump-Ukraine scandal.

In an op-ed he wrote for Time magazine published yesterday, Parnas wrote, “I was used by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in ways that helped pave the way for Putin to invade Ukraine, my native land. If Trump and Giuliani’s plans had worked, the Ukrainians might not have had the necessary weapons, medical equipment, and other supplies they needed to fight back. I had no official position, but my primary task was to be their go-between with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs and government officials. In retrospect, I concluded that my real job was to help undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian government.”

Parnas is right about the real job he was doing for Trump. Sure, he was trying to get dirt on Biden and Hillary from Ukraine, but what he was also doing was enabling Vladimir Putin’s continuing efforts to take over the country of Ukraine. Parnas helped to get the anti-Putin American ambassador fired. Trump tried to withhold military aid that had been appropriated by Congress to help Ukraine fight off Russian aggression on its eastern border. His own campaign manager in 2016 was working for Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch and friend of Putin who has been sanctioned for his involvement in anti-Ukraine corruption. Manafort even shared Trump campaign information with Deripaska in 2016 through Konstantin Kilimnik, whom he knew to be a Russian intelligence agent. Despite agreeing to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s connections to Trump and his campaign, Manafort reneged on that agreement, was pardoned by Trump, and has remained silent to this day about the connections between himself, Trump, Russia, and Ukraine.

Putin’s attempts to destabilize Ukraine date back to his connections with Yanukovych when he was briefly president of Ukraine in 2004, and when he was elected in 2010 running as a pro-Russia candidate. Manafort was working for and being paid by Deripaska when he ran Yanukovych’s campaign in 2010.

We will never know how many times Donald Trump talked on the phone with Russian President Putin during the time he was in the White House. He certainly knew of Putin’s ambitions for Ukraine because Putin never made a secret of them. Trump met privately with Putin, without even his own interpreter and with no notes taken, in Helsinki in 2018. To think that the two men didn’t discuss both Russian aid to Trump’s campaign in 2016 and what Putin’s plans were for Ukraine is naïve. Trump even went before the press after his meeting with Putin and said he would take the word of Putin over that of his own intelligence agencies, including the FBI, about Russian involvement in his 2016 campaign.

Of course, he would. Trump himself knew about every meeting between his campaign and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. One of the first things he did as president was to have Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov into the Oval Office, where he shared secret intelligence with them about Israel.

These things between the leaders of countries and their representatives don’t happen in a vacuum. There are always quid pro quos. They happen at the highest levels, as they did between Trump and Putin at Helsinki, and they happen down there in the ranks using guys like Paul Manafort and Lev Parnas to do the dirty work. Trump’s attempt to withhold military support for Ukraine clearly would have benefited Vladimir Putin. Trump was caught and impeached and lost his reelection in 2020, but Putin went right ahead with his ambition to take over Ukraine. The result is happening right now in Ukraine as they suffer through Russian missile attack after missile attack on civilians and the war they’re fighting for their survival in the east and south of Ukraine.

Think about it. There are 195 countries across the world, but only two of them have played major roles in our last two presidential elections: Russia and Ukraine. The presidential candidate behind both of those connections was Donald Trump.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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