WASHINGTON (AP) A close associate of President Donald Trumps personal lawyer says he delivered an ultimatum in May to the incoming president of Ukraine that no senior U.S. officials would attend his inauguration and all American aid to the war-torn country would be withheld if an investigation into Joe Biden wasnt announced.
Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, made several potentially explosive claims in a televised interview Wednesday night with MSNBCs Rachel Maddow. The day after Parnas said he delivered the message, the State Department announced that Vice President Mike Pence would no longer be attending the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy.
Parnas alleged that Trump ordered Pence to stay away at the behest of Giuliani to send a clear message to the incoming Ukrainian administration that they needed to take seriously the demand for an investigation into Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate seen as a potential threat to Trumps 2020 reelection.
Parnas said every communication he had with Zelenskiys team was at the direction of Giuliani, whom he regularly overheard briefing Trump about their progress by phone.
President Trump knew exactly what was going on, said Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman facing a raft of criminal charges related to campaign finance violations. He was aware of all my movements. I wouldnt do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the President.
Trumps press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, disparaged Parnas account today.
Just to say Rudy told me these things doesnt mean that it has anything to do with the president, she told Fox & Friends. And it certainly doesnt mean that the president was directing him to do anything. We stand by exactly what weve been saying: The president did nothing wrong.
If Parnas allegations are true, his account undercuts a key Republican defense of Trump deployed during the ongoing impeachment fight that Trumps withholding of vital military aid to Ukraine last summer wasnt a quid pro quo for Biden investigations because Zelenskiy didnt know the money was being held up.
Giuliani called Parnas statements sad.
I feel sorry for him, Giuliani said Wednesday in a text message to an AP reporter. I thought he was an honorable man. I was wrong.
The new accusations came as House Democrats made public a trove of documents, text messages and photos from Parnas smartphones that appear to verify parts of his account.
A federal judge earlier this month ruled that Parnas could provide the materials to Congress as part of the impeachment proceedings. Democrats voted in December to impeach Trump for abuse of power and for obstruction of Congress.
A House committee chairman said Wednesday his panel will investigate what he says are profoundly alarming text messages among the newly disclosed materials that have raised questions about the possible surveillance of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before she was ousted by the Trump administration last spring.
The messages show that a Robert F. Hyde, a Republican candidate for Congress from Connecticut, disparaged Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on her location and cellphone use.
Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday that the messages are profoundly alarming and suggest a possible risk to Yovanovitchs security in Kyiv before she was recalled from her post.
These threats occurred at the same time that the two men were also discussing President Trumps efforts, through Rudy Giuliani, to smear the ambassadors reputation, Engel said.
Democrats released the files this week as they prepared to send articles of impeachment to the Senate for Trumps trial. The documents could add pressure on the Senate as it debates whether to hear witnesses in the trial.
The text and phone records show Parnas communicating with Giuliani multiple times a day before Yovanovitchs removal, as well as a handwritten note that mentions asking Ukraines president to investigate the Biden case.
Among the documents is a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Zelenskiy dated May 10, 2019, which was shortly after Zelenskiy was elected but before he took office. In the letter, Giuliani requests a meeting with Zelenskiy as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.
One of the documents released by Democrats is a handwritten note on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna that says get Zalensky to Annonce that the Biden case will be Investigated.
Parnas told Maddow he took the notes as he was speaking by phone to Giuliani, receiving precise instructions about the demands Trump wanted to convey to Zelenskiys team.
Trump asked Zelenskiy in a July 25 call to investigate the Bidens. Hunter Biden served on the board of a gas company based in Ukraine.
Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, both U.S. citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, were indicted last year on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records. Prosecutors allege they made outsize campaign donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars originating from Russia. The men have pleaded not guilty.
Parnas lawyer, Joseph Bondy, told The New York Times that his client is looking to cooperate with prosecutors in his case, who are investigating Giuliani and his dealings in Ukraine.
We very much want to provide substantial assistance to the government, Bondy told the Times.
Parnas told the newspaper that although he didnt speak with Trump directly about the efforts, he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Giuliani that Trump was kept in the loop.
In several of the documents, Parnas communicated with Giuliani about the removal of Yovanovitch. The ambassadors ouster, ordered by Trump, was at the center of the Democrats impeachment inquiry. Yovanovitch testified in the House impeachment hearings that she was the victim of a smear campaign.
Trump on the July call told Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch was going to go through some things. She had been recalled from her diplomatic post roughly three months earlier.
On April 23, just before Yovanovitch was directed to return to the United States, Giuliani texted Parnas, He fired her again. Parnas texted back, I pray it happens this time Ill call you tomorrow my brother.
Parnas also received messages from Hyde, who referred to Yovanovitch as a bitch.
In a Twitter post Tuesday, Hyde called Parnas a dweeb and suggested the messages about surveilling the ambassador were a joke.
The text messages show that Parnas consulted Giuliani in January 2019 after the U.S. denied a visa to former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. Giuliani replied: I can revive it.
The following day, Giuliani told Parnas, Its going to work I have no 1 in it. Giuliani then predicted he will get one, before giving Parnas the phone number for Jay Sekulow, the leader of the presidents personal legal team. Sekulow is expected to be part of Trumps legal team during the impeachment trial.
TRUMP HAS repeatedly denied knowing Parnas and Fruman, despite numerous photos that have emerged of the men together. Among the materials released from Parnas phone this week were more photos of him with Trump, as well as the presidents son Donald Trump Jr., first daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner.
Asked by Maddow about Trumps denials of knowing him, Parnas said he had spoken one-on-one with the president numerous times.
He lied, Parnas said of the president. I mean, were not friends. Me and him didnt watch football games together, we didnt eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were, who I was especially.