One of the central figures that has emerged in the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment is Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Parnas was indicted on federal charges several weeks ago and has since indicated that he is willing to cooperate with Congress’s investigation into allegations that Trump improperly pressured the president of Ukraine to announce an investigation of his political opponent, Joe Biden. On the eve of the House’s transmission of articles of impeachment to the Senate, Parnas sat down with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to discuss documentary evidence that he had produced, including handwritten notes describing the scheme to coerce President Zelensky into announcing an investigation into the Bidens.
Parnas’s interview signalled a break from the Trump administration, as he directly blamed several key White House figures, including the attorney general and the vice president, for their culpability in the scheme. While Parnas’s claims have not yet been fully vetted, they corroborate much of the testimony provided by other witnesses who participated in the House’s investigation. Most prominently, Parnas reiterated Gordon Sondland’s claim that “everyone was in the loop;” in other words, according to witnesses, all of the senior Trump administration officials were aware of the scheme as it was being carried out.
In addition to providing circumstantial evidence corroborating the narrative that has emerged about the president’s involvement in the extortion plot, Parnas also provided previously-undisclosed evidence, further illuminating the roles of individuals connected with the two governments in attempting to carry out the plan. Parnas, by his own account, personally worked with Rudy Giuliani and others to oust former US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was perceived as interfering in the administration’s scheme.
Parnas also communicated with a new character in the Ukraine story, Robert Hyde, a controversial Republican congressional candidate who was not publicly known to be connected with the scandal before Parnas’s release of text messages and other documents. Hyde, by Parnas’s account, was “always drunk,” and as such Parnas often did not take his text messages seriously. Nevertheless, Hyde’s recently-revealed correspondence with Parnas drew significant media attention as his texts appeared to include personal threats against the ambassador, who seemed to be under surveillance by suspicious figures. Accordingly, and in an ironic twist, Ukraine has opened an investigation into the alleged surveillance of and threats against the American ambassador, potentially paving the way for the release of further evidence about the scandal down the road.
According to Parnas, essentially all of the highest-ranking members of the Trump administration as well as other government officials were aware of and at least complicit in the scheme, specifically including the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Pence, U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, and Attorney General William Barr. According to Parnas, Pence’s trip to Ukraine was canceled as a direct result of Zelensky’s delay in announcing an investigation into the Bidens, Nunes personally knew Parnas despite his claims that they didn’t know each other and was involved in efforts to produce documents denigrating Biden, and Barr must have known about everything that was happening but chose not to do anything about it, despite his position as the head of the Department of Justice. By Parnas’s account, Guiliani definitely had a direct role in carrying out the scheme whereas the other government officials participated in a supporting capacity.
While Parnas’s claims are explosive, it’s important to keep in mind that not all of them have been fully vetted, and although Parnas produced documents that support some of his claims, some of what he said may be untrue. Though he pled “not guilty” to largely-unrelated federal charges issued last year, Parnas may be lying in order to diminish the appearance of his own culpability in committing illegal acts, or he may be lying for reasons unknown to the general public. While Parnas’s character and his testimony can reasonably be called into question, the voluminous documentation he made publicly available reveals a near-incontrovertible paper trail that strongly supports the general narrative of the administration’s involvement in a corrupt extortion scheme carried out to compromise an American election.