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New video appears to show Trump and Lev Parnas at Florida club

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By Josh Lederman  with NBC News Politics
Image: Lev Parnas
This undated image released by the House Judiciary Committee from documents provided by Lev Parnas shows him with President Trump in Florida.   -   Copyright  House Judiciary Committee via AP

WASHINGTON — A new video recording appears to show President Donald Trump with Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, at the president's Mar-a-Lago club, further calling into question Trump's assertion that he doesn't know Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman.

In a 37-minute recording obtained by NBC News from Parnas's attorney, Parnas and Fruman are greeted warmly by Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who appears to recognize Parnas.

"Yeah, we've met before, yeah, how are things?" McDaniel appears to say. "I'm glad you're here."

Although photos released by the House previously placed Parnas at the April 20, 2018 fundraiser, the recording further illustrates the significant access Parnas and Fruman had to Trump, as well as other top Republican figures. The two Florida businessmen's work with Giuliani to try to advance Trump's goal of getting Ukraine to investigate his political opponents is a key matter in the impeachment trial.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who became entwined in Giuliani's and Parnas's campaign to oust former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, was also at the event, according to the recording. Multiple senior U.S. law enforcement officials previously told NBC News that Sessions is the "Congressman-1" mentioned in a criminal indictment of Parnas and Fruman on campaign finance charges. Sessions lost re-election in 2018.

"We win when we gather ourselves together around a common theme, and that is the president of the United States that wants to make America great again," Sessions appears to say on the tape. "It's the common denominator for every single member of Congress."

Trump can be seen in the beginning and end of the video, taken on a cellphone, including as he poses for a photo with Parnas, who flashes a thumbs-up for the camera. The cellphone was placed on a table during the event with the camera facing the ceiling, so the speakers can only be heard and not seen during most of the video.

The recording was released Thursday by Joseph Bondy, an attorney for Parnas, who traveled this week to Washington from New York to make his presence known during the impeachment trial as he continues to offer to testify. Bondy said the recording is not under a protective order as part of the criminal probe into Parnas.

Trump has maintained that he doesn't know Parnas and Fruman as he's sought to distance himself from the two men and their work with Giuliani to dig up dirt on the president's political opponents. He's dismissed the many pictures of himself with the two Soviet-born men as snapshots he takes with thousands of people at campaign events.

But Parnas has insisted the president is "lying" about not knowing exactly who they are and their involvement in the Ukraine matters. Another recording that's been released from a donor dinner less than two weeks after the event at Mar-a-Lago appeared to show Parnas and Trump speaking at length about Ukraine and Yovanovitch, with Trump calling to "get rid of her" without delay.

The latest recording offers a window into how Parnas, through generous donations to Republican candidates and committees, enjoyed substantial access to powerful figures in the Republican Party, including McDaniel, the chairwoman.

"On a given day, the chairwoman greets hundreds if not thousands of people at events across the country," RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens said of the recording. "This is nothing more than that."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also present at the Mar-a-Lago event were former White House official Johnny DeStefano, according to a place card visible in the video, and prominent Republican lobbyist Brian Ballard, according to a reference Trump makes in the recording. Pam Bondi, one of the attorneys on Trump's legal defense team in the impeachment trial, joined Ballard's lobbying firm last year.