ukraine scandal

Lev Parnas: Trump Knew ‘Exactly What Was Going On’

Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Rudy Giuliani’s fixer in Ukraine, Lev Parnas, appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show, claiming that the senior staff of the Trump administration were “in the loop” of President Trump’s plan to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election.

“It was never about corruption,” Parnas said, referring to the unreliable Trump-team claim that the administration wanted to go after profiteering officials in Kiev. Parnas claimed that the president “knew exactly what was going on,” as he worked with Giuliani to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the Biden family.

“He was aware of all my movements,” Parnas added. “I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.” Explaining his access to the Zelensky government, he said that officials were “told to meet with me” because “I was on the ground doing [Trump’s] work.”

Parnas also alleged that Vice-President Mike Pence was aware of the scheme to withhold aid in exchange for dirt on the Bidens, suggesting that his decision not to appear at President Zelensky’s inauguration in May was due to Zelensky opting at the time not to announce an investigation. He added that former national security adviser John Bolton was also aware of the plot because of “the firing of Marie Yovanovitch.”

While there is evidence to corroborate aspects of Parnas’s claims so far, statements on former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch find the fixer in unsubstantiated territory. Without Bolton’s testimony, we do not yet know Bolton’s role in the ouster of Yovanovitch. (Thanks to Fiona Hill’s testimony, we do know he was aware of Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine at-large, however.) Responding to texts released on Tuesday suggesting that GOP surrogate Robert Hyde was surveilling the ambassador, Parnas downplayed Hyde’s importance, claiming that he “didn’t take” apparent threats on Yovanovitch’s safety “seriously.”

The most explosive — and to-date, unverified — allegation Parnas made on Wednesday involved Attorney General William Barr: Although Parnas did not speak to the AG personally, he claimed that Giuliani was in contact with Barr about the investigation and that he “had to have known everything.” He described Barr as “basically on the team” pushing for Kiev to announce an investigation into the Bidens.

Though the fraud guarantor — arrested last year for a campaign-finance violation — has a credibility problem, he has also provided lawmakers with a mass of evidence helping to prove some of his allegations and further the investigation into the Ukraine scandal. The Maddow interview also helps shed light on his motive for cooperation, beyond the potential of leniency in the Southern District of New York:

Even without the Maddow interview, Parnas had a notable day: Shortly before the MSNBC broadcast, Devin Nunes admitted that he does, in fact, know Parnas. (Previously the California representative said that he couldn’t recall if he had spoken with Parnas.) On Fox News on Wednesday, Nunes said that he previously did not “recognize the name Parnas,” despite being the head Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, which helped lead the investigation into the Ukraine scandal. In his interview, Parnas added that Nunes was already aware of the plot in Ukraine by the time the two spoke.

Earlier on Wednesday, Democrats released an additional trove of evidence provided by Parnas, including more pictures with Trump’s inner circle, including photos with Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The president still denies knowing Parnas, despite their picture together, and an email released Tuesday showing that Trump “consent[ed]” to a plan for a former Trump lawyer to represent Parnas.

Parnas turned the initial Maddow appearance into a media blitz, conducting interviews with the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and a second night on MSNBC, where he claimed that President Trump attempted to fire Ambassador Yovanovitch as many as four times.

Responding to the president’s repeated claim on Thursday that he knows “nothing about” Parnas, the fixer countered with an intriguing proposal to post a new picture of them together for each Trump denial. The offer has been valid so far: After Trump’s Thursday statement, Parnas’s attorney posted a video of the two together at Mar-a-Lago in 2017:

This post has been updated.

Lev Parnas: Trump Knew ‘Exactly What Was Going On’