In October, when federal authorities arrested Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman at Dulles airport with one-way tickets to Europe, President Trump told reporters that, despite having taken many photos with the two men, he didn’t know them or what they did. “Now it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody,” Trump said. “I don’t know what they do, but, I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy.”
ABC News has obtained a recording of Trump meeting with Parnas and others at an “intimate dinner” at the Trump Hotel in Washington, in April 2018. Trump’s voice is heard ordering, with regard to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, “Take her out.”
A few points about what this means:
First, Parnas’s account of his relationship with Trump continues to gain credibility. Trump has pretended not to know anything about Parnas, even feigning at a guess that “maybe” he worked with Giuliani. Speaking to the media two days ago at Davos, he portrayed Parnas as a “political groupie,” just some random freak who gets his photo taken with politicians:
Q: Lev Parnas has come forward and said that you knew everything that he was doing in Ukraine.
Trump: No, he’s a conman. Okay, you ready? Let me answer that one first.
Q: Okay, so would you say that’s not true?
Trump: I don’t know him —
Q: Okay, you don’t know him.
Trump: Other than he’s sort of like a groupie. He shows up at fundraisers. Okay? So I don’t know anything about him …
I will say this: Parnas I don’t know — other than he probably contributed to the campaign, along with tens of thousands of other people. And I take — or, I mean, I was — this weekend I was taking pictures with hundreds of people. And they — they’re — they contribute to the Republican Party. And I stand there, and I take pictures. And every once in a while, I’ll look at somebody — I say, “Gee, I wonder when that picture is going to be in the New York Times or the Washington Post or on Fox.” You know, so it’s one of those things.
This is an obvious lie. The recording supports Parnas’s account of extensive contact with Trump. Indeed, the day after his dinner with Trump, Parnas memorialized the visit on Facebook:
Parnas has alleged that Trump pulled him aside in a White House meeting and directed his activities in Ukraine. Trump’s denials continue to fall apart.
Second, Trump’s relationship with Parnas is prima facie evidence of corruption. Parnas has been charged as an unregistered foreign agent. According to the U.S. government, his efforts to remove Marie Yovanovitch “were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”
Authorities are investigating Parnas’s attempts to pursue business deals in Ukraine. Putting aside the whole Ukraine scandal, the facts of this relationship alone are highly damning. If a president met with an unregistered lobbyist with financial interests in a country, who donated to his party, and plotted the removal of the U.S. ambassador of that country in which the lobbyist had a vested interest, it would be a major scandal — with or without Joe Biden and the rest of it.
Third, the above is the most innocent possible explanation of the known facts. It is by no means the only one, or even the most obvious. It is a little strange – though not impossible, given his lack of understanding of how government works – Trump would be instructing people without any government position to fire Yovanovitch from her post, given their lack of authority.
Parnas has also turned over to the House Intelligence Committee messages showing his communication with Robert Hyde, in which the latter claimed to be surveilling Yovanovitch, and hinted at plans to threaten or carry out violence. (“They are willing to help if you/we would like a price … Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money.”)
For her part, Yovanovitch testified that she was pulled out of an important event and warned of a threat to her safety so dire she needed to get on the next plane out of Kiev. It’s possible (as Parnas says) Hyde was simply fantasizing, and it’s possible that the threat Yovanovitch was warned about had no connection to any of Parnas’s work. But it might not be a pure coincidence that Trump ordered people to “take her out” and then a threat to her safety materialized. It is entirely possible Trump either ordered the threat, or that his orders set in motion an escalating series of actions that created the threat.
Fourth, there is simply no reason to believe that the contours of the Ukraine scandal are fully known. Republican senators have so far refused to allow new evidence to be heard in the Senate trial, treating Trump’s obstruction as if it were a legitimate exercise in executive authority that in no way indicates a guilty state of mind. Indeed, they have reacted to the process of damning evidence as if it were a reason to ignore the whole episode.
Asked about ABC’s explosive reporting, Senator John Barrasso scoffed, “There will be new evidence every day. There will be something new that comes out every day.” That there’s so much incriminating evidence that it gets tiresome is Trump’s defense.