In his first media appearance, Lev Parnas — an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani who was a key player in President Donald Trump’s impeachment — gave an explosive interview this week, aired Wednesday night, to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
As is often the case in Trump scandals, the person who has now turned against the president is himself a shady character who is credibly accused of federal crimes, which makes it necessary to treat his claims with due skepticism. Though some of his allegations are corroborated by records and evidence, others are not. Some of his allegations rely on vague allegations and assumptions and given they come from a source with unclear motivations, they should not be taken as definitive fact. But they are in the public record now, and they deserve to be considered. As the Senate gears up for Trump’s impeachment trial, it sets the stage for a testing ground for the accuracy of Parnas’ claims and those of other witnesses.
Maddow also revealed that she will air a second part of the interview the following night.
Here are seven of the most explosive claims Parnas made:
1. “President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas said. “He was aware of all of my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”
Trump has claimed that he doesn’t know who Parnas or his associate, Igor Fruman, are, despite appearing in multiple pictures with him. There was already good reason to assume this was false, but Parnas has not directly rebutted the dubious claim on the record.
2. “It was not about corruption,” Parnas said of the Ukraine scheme. “It was all about Burisma, all about Biden, about Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.”
This claim completely undercuts the Republicans’ key defenses of the president against impeachment. They say he was legitimately pursuing an anti-corruption policy in Ukraine by asking for investigations of his political enemies. That was hard to believe on its own, but now Parnas is flatly contradicting it.
3. Parnas said it was clear to the Ukrainians he was acting as Trump’s emissary.
“Did anybody in the U.S. government or Mr. Giuliani actually convey to officials in Ukraine that you were there as a representative of President Trump?” Maddow asked.
“Yes,” said Parnas. “Absolutely. Absolutely. Everyone.”
Guiliani told Maddow that this “never” happened and called Parnas a “sad situation.”
4. He said he made explicit to Ukrainian officials that Trump’s support and financial support — not just military aid — was dependent on an announcement of the investigations the president wanted.
“It wasn’t just military aid,” Parnas said. “It was all aid. Basically their relationships would be sour. That we would stop giving them any kind of aid.”
5. Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Ukraine was canceled explicitly to induce the country to announce the investigations, Parnas said.
Parnas said that the cancellation of Pence’s trip confirmed to the Ukrainians that he was a legitimate representative of the president. He also said that Pence was “in the loop” about the reason the trip was canceled, but he didn’t explicit say how he knew this. He just indicated the top players were all aware of the plot.
Pence’s later trip to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was arranged to get the country to announce the investigations Trump wanted, Parnas said. However, Pence has denied trying to get Zelensky to conduct the investigations.
6. Attorney General Bill Barr was “on the team.”
Barr has also tried to distance himself entirely from the Ukraine scandal. But Parnas claimed that “Barr had to know about everything” regarding the plan to push Ukraine to investigate the Biden and the 2016 presidential election. He acknowledged, though, that he didn’t speak to Barr directly.
Maddow pointed out that, in his infamous July 25 phone call with Zelensky, Trump specifically brought up Barr as being involved. Parnas said that didn’t surprise him, because Barr was “on the team.” The Justice Department, responding to Maddow’s request for comment on the allegations, said simply: “100 percent false.”
7. Parnas also fingered Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) in the scheme, the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee that investigated the Ukraine matter.
Parnas said he was introduced to, and worked through, Nunes aide Derek Harvey, but he was working on Nunes’ behalf.
“Does it strike you as unusual or inappropriate that Devin Nunes would be one of the lead investigators?” Maddow asked.
“I was in shock when I was watching the hearings and when I saw Devin Nunes sitting up there,” Parnas said. “Because they were involved in getting all this stuff on Biden.”