Flipped Giuliani associate claims he discussed Ukraine with Trump, convinced him to fire ambassador

Parnas' account contradicts Trump's claim that he didn't know him, which prompted Parnas to flip in the case

By Igor Derysh
Published November 14, 2019 1:05PM (EST)
Donald Trump and Lev Parnas (Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump and Lev Parnas (Getty Images/Salon)

Lev Parnas, who was involved in Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to dig up dirt on the president’s political rivals in Ukraine, told associates that he discussed Ukraine with Donald Trump as early as April 2018, The Washington Post reports.

Parnas, who was indicted on campaign finance charges after he allegedly funneled foreign money into U.S. campaigns, including a $325,000 contribution to a pro-Trump super PAC, told associates he spoke with Trump for about 90 minutes at an event for big donors to the Trump PAC. Parnas and business partner Igor Fruman, who was also indicted, snagged an invite to the event after their alleged illicit donation. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

After the dinner, Parnas told associates that he and Fruman told Trump they thought then-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was unfriendly to his interests. Trump reacted so strongly to what they told him that Trump demanded that Yovanovitch “should be fired,” according to the report.

After the dinner, Parnas posted multiple photos of the intimate event on social media, including one in which he stood alongside Trump.

“Thank you President Trump !!! Incredible dinner and even better conversation,” he wrote, erroneously tagging the location as the White House.

After the exchange with Trump, Parnas and Fruman repeatedly complained that they were “shellshocked” that Yovanovitch remained in her post for months after Trump said he wanted to fire her, an associate told The Post.

Giuliani echoed a similar complaint about how long it took to remove Yovanovitch in an interview with The Post.

“The president fired her three times and thought she was gone,” he said. “The president thought she was gone long before she was actually fired.”

After Yovanovitch was removed from her post, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Trump on their infamous July 25 call that “it was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador, because I agree with you 100 percent.”

Numerous State Department officials have said that Yovanovitch was a model diplomat. Yovanovitch testified to Congress that she was ousted after what she described as a smear campaign by Giuliani, which he allegedly launched because he believed she was interfering with his efforts in Ukraine. Yovanovitch will testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on Friday.

Parnas’ is the first individual to claim that he discussed Ukraine directly with Trump and suggests that the Giuliani effort in Ukraine goes back much further than the administration has suggested. The account also contradicts Trump’s claim that he did not know either Parnas or Fruman.

“Now it’s possible I have a picture with them, because I have a picture with everybody,” Trump told reporters after their arrest last month. “I don’t know what they do, but I don’t know. Maybe they were clients of Rudy.”

Trump used a similar line of defense when he claimed to “hardly know” Gordon Sondland, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration before the president appointed him as his ambassador to the European Union, after Sondland testified that Trump had tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. Trump also had numerous private discussions with Sondland about the Giuliani effort in Ukraine, according to both Sondland and other witness testimony.

Parnas, who appeared in photos with Trump at numerous events, was so upset that Trump claimed to not know him that he fired his attorney, former Trump lawyer John Dowd, and agreed to comply with the House impeachment inquiry, his new lawyer told The New York Times.

“Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,” attorney Joseph Bondy told the outlet.

A former senior administration official told The Post that Trump received regular updates from Giuliani about Parnas’ and Fruman’s efforts in Ukraine.

“It’s just not true that he had no idea who these guys were. He knew Lev particularly,” the official said.

Giuliani also contradicted his own client’s statement to insist that he was not the one that introduced them to the president, telling The Post that the pair had already met Trump when Giuliani first met them in the summer of 2018.

Parnas and Fruman met with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in February, Edward MacMahon Jr., another attorney for Parnas, told The Post. The pair allegedly proposed a quid pro quo in which Ukraine would launch a Biden probe and an investigation into a nonexistent Democratic server in exchange for a state visit.

Parnas and Fruman later met with an aide to Zelensky, Poroshenko’s successor, in May to deliver a threat on behalf of Giuliani, Bondy told The New York Times.

According to Parnas, he told the Zelensky aide that the new president had to announce an investigation into the Bidens in exchange for the Trump administration releasing military aid allocated by Congress. Parnas also said that Vice President Mike Pence would not attend Zelensky’s inauguration if the investigations were not announced, Bondy said. Giuliani and Fruman denied Parnas’ account. Pence ultimately did not attend the event. The administration released the aid after pressure from Republican lawmakers following media reports that the aid had been mysterious frozen.

After Trump again pressed Zelensky on the investigations on their July 25 call, Trump phoned Sondland to ask about the status of “the investigations” the following day, acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor testified on Wednesday.

Parnas’ attorneys said he would be willing to testify about his account to House investigators.

“There isn’t anything that Parnas did in the Ukraine relative to the Bidens or the 2016 election,” MacMahon told The Post, “that he wasn’t asked to do by Giuliani, who was acting on the direction of the president.”

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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