Documents and interviews provided by Rudy Giuliani’s former associate Lev Parnas expand the available body of evidence to answer those famous questions posed by Howard Baker during Watergate: What did the president know, and when did he know it?
“President [Donald] Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview broadcast on Wednesday night. “I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”
Parnas faces felony campaign finance charges unrelated to Trump’s impeachment.
“I am betting my whole life that Trump knew exactly everything that was going on that Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine,” Parnas told The New York Times in a separate interview.
The House Intelligence Committee released an additional 390 pages of material last night that was turned over by Parnas’ lawyer. A calendar entry shows Parnas had a scheduled breakfast with Trump in New York on Sept. 26, even after the whistleblower complaint jump-started the process that led to the president’s impeachment. Other photos, texts and calendar entries show Parnas exchanging messages with a top official at the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and someone else who is close to Donald Trump Jr. “I am officially part of team trump,” Parnas texted an associate at one point.
Parnas, as a Russian speaker, helped coordinate Giuliani’s outreach to Ukrainian sources and directly communicated with an array of top Ukrainian officials. One of them was Yuri Lutsenko, at the time Ukraine’s top prosecutor and an ally of then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who would lose his bid for reelection to Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Ukrainian officials had “no reason to speak to me” other than the fact that they understood him to be an emissary of the American president, Parnas told Maddow: “Why would President Zelensky’s inner circle … or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I? They were told to meet with me.”
The first tranche of documents released on Tuesday night by House investigators included a message from Giuliani to Parnas saying that he had involved someone he only referred to as “no 1” in efforts to lift a U.S. visa ban on a former Ukrainian prosecutor who was planning to come to the United States to make negative claims about Joe Biden. Parnas told Maddow that he understood “no 1” to be Trump himself.
Giuliani also wrote this in a May letter to President-elect Zelensky: “In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you …”
Evidence of the president’s hands-on role bolsters the Democratic case that Trump himself abused his power, not outside advisers who were pursuing personal interests in the president’s name. Tying the president more closely to the efforts to coerce the Ukrainian government into announcing an investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma could help Democratic impeachment managers make the case that there was corrupt intent behind Trump’s decision to stonewall Congress’ investigation by defying subpoenas for documents and blocking aides from testifying.
In his July 25 call with Zelensky, in which Trump requested “a favor” when his Ukrainian counterpart brought up his desire to buy Javelin antitank missiles to fend off the ongoing Russian invasion of his country, the president also asked Ukraine’s president to cooperate with Giuliani. “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man,” Trump told Zelensky, according to the rough transcript released by the White House. “He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you … Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”
This is far from the only evidence directly linking Trump himself to the pressure campaign against Ukraine. One example: “Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold,” Mike Duffey, associate national security programs director at the Office of Management and Budget, emailed a Pentagon official on Aug. 30, according to Just Security, using the acronym for President of the United States.
Parnas said Giuliani told him after meeting with Trump at the White House that the message to deliver when he met with Ukrainians was that “it wasn’t just military aid, it was all aid” that would be frozen until “the announcement of the Biden investigation.” Trump has strenuously denied that he ever authorized such a quid pro quo. “It was never about corruption,” Parnas told Maddow. “It was it strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.”
Giuliani, who remains one of the president’s personal lawyers, declined to offer specific responses to Parnas’s claims. “Who cares? Believe him at your peril,” he texted to a Washington Post reporter.
Parnas explained how they approached people in Kyiv, Ukraine. When he would meet with a senior Ukrainian official, he told Maddow, he would put Giuliani on the phone. “The first thing I did is to introduce myself and tell them, ‘I’m here on behalf of Rudy Giuliani and the president of the United States, and I’d like to put you on speakerphone,'” Parnas said. “We put Rudy on the phone. Rudy relayed to him basically that we were there on behalf of the president of the United States.”
Parnas said he knew that Giuliani wasn’t freelancing because he heard Trump talking to him on the phone. “I was with Rudy when he would speak to the president, plenty of times,” Parnas said, adding that he was “in constant contact” with Giuliani — four or five days some weeks — and that Trump phoned “a lot of times” when he and Giuliani were golfing. Parnas said Trump talks “very loudly” on the phone. That’s also what State Department Foreign Service officer David Holmes testified when he explained how he overheard part of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s cellphone conversation with Trump as they ate lunch at a restaurant in Kyiv.
The president said after Parnas was initially indicted on a charge of unrelated campaign finance violations that he might have posed for a picture with him, but that he doesn’t know him. Parnas said Trump “lied” about this. “I mean, we’re not friends,” he said. “Me and him didn’t watch football games together. We didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were. He knew exactly who I was, especially because I interacted with him at a lot of events.”
An email from October shows counsel to the president Jay Sekulow telling former Trump attorney John Dowd that he spoke with Trump about Parnas. “The president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. [Igor Fruman],” Sekulow wrote, referring to the other Giuliani associate who has also been indicted but has not spoken publicly. Dowd no longer represents Parnas.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in November. Parnas recalled that quote when Maddow asked about whether Vice President Mike Pence knew what Trump and Giuliani were doing. “He couldn’t have not known,” Parnas said of Pence, who has insisted he did not know.
Parnas also said “it’s impossible” that Attorney General William Barr didn’t know what he and Giuliani were up to in Ukraine. “Mr. Barr absolutely knew everything,” Parnas said. “Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called this “100% false” in a statement.
And Parnas said he worked with House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and one of his top aides. “He knew very well that he knew what was going on,” Parnas said of Nunes. “He knew what’s happening. He knows who I am.”
When call logs showed that Nunes and Parnas spoke, the congressman initially claimed he “didn’t really recall” talking to Parnas. On Fox News last night, the congressman said he’s refreshed his memory and downplayed their conversation. “I remember that call, which was very odd, random, talking about random things,” said Nunes. “And I said, ‘Great, just talk to my staff,’ and boom boom boom.”
Additional records that Parnas turned over to the House are still expected to be released. Investigators are reviewing them. And Parnas wants to testify during the Senate impeachment trial. “I want to get the truth out,” he said. “Things happened that need to get out, and I think the world needs to know.”