Key things we learned from Lev Parnas' revealing MSNBC interview

Image: Lev Parnas during an interview on The Rachel Maddow Show on Jan. 15,
Lev Parnas during an interview on The Rachel Maddow Show on Jan. 15, 2020. Copyright NBC News
By Allan Smith with NBC News Politics
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Trump "knew exactly what was going on" in Ukraine, Parnas told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.


Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, unleashed a series of explosive allegations against top members of the administration during a Wednesday interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, including that Trump knew "exactly" what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine.

Parnas also said Pence and Attorney General William Barr were "in the loop" as far as the Ukraine effort went.

The interview came as House Democrats released new records detailing Parnas' role in the effort to have Ukraine investigate Trump's political rivals. Parnas and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, face campaign finance charges in the Southern District of New York.

The Trump administration swiftly pushed back on Parnas' claims. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Parnas' claims "are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison." Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, said Parnas "will say anything to anybody who will listen in hopes of staying out of prison." Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokesman, said Parnas' comments were "100 percent false."

Giuliani, meanwhile, told NBC News that Parnas is "a very sad situation." Here's a look at some of the top allegations made during the interview, and their context in the investigation:

Trump knew everything

Parnas told Maddow that Trump "knew exactly what was going on" in Ukraine.

"He was aware of all my movements," Parnas said, adding, "I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president."

Trump has denied knowing Parnas and Fruman, though there are multiple photos showing the president with one or both of the men. Trump has said that "it's possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody.

"He lied," Parnas said of Trump. "I mean, we're not friends. ... But he knows exactly who we were. He know exactly who I was especially because I interacted with him at a lot of events."

Everybody was in the loop

Pence, Barr and national security adviser John Bolton were all keyed in on what was going on, Parnas said, echoing U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland's testimony before impeachment investigators.

"I'm going to use a famous quote by Mr. Sondland, everybody was in the loop," Parnas said.

Parnas said Trump ordered Pence not to attend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's inauguration in May because the investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden and Democrats Trump wanted were not announced.

"I know [Pence] went to Poland also to discuss this on Trump's behalf, so he couldn't have not known," Parnas said, citing Pence's September discussion with Zelenskiy. That conversation has come under scrutiny in the impeachment process.

Sondland testified last year that he discussed the investigation into Burisma — the Ukrainian gas company Hunter Biden sat on the board of during his father's vice presidency — with Pence before the vice president met with Zelenskiy in Poland on Sept. 1. Sondland said he told Pence "before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations."

At the time, Short pushed back, saying such a conversation "never" took place.

Parnas also pointed to Bolton, who was in Poland as part of the delegation, saying he believes the ousted national security adviser "has a lot to say."

Bolton said he would testify in the impeachment trial if subpoenaed. Trump indicated he would block Bolton's testimony.

"I'm not going to talk on this ... but I think he's a key witness to his conversation with Zelenskiy, and when he came back and why he left, or got fired, or however you want to look at that," Parnas said.


On Barr, Parnas said Giuliani "absolutely" interacted with the attorney general regarding the announcement of Ukrainian investigations, saying Barr "had to have known everything."

"Attorney General Barr was basically on the team," Parnas said.

Hurricane Dorian merely an 'excuse'

Trump had originally been scheduled to join the Poland trip, but canceled, citing a need to stay in the U.S. and monitor Hurricane Dorian. Parnas said, according to Giuliani, the hurricane was merely an "excuse."

"It was because he was angry that Zelenskiy still didn't make any attempt or effort to make any announcement before he was going to meet him," Parnas said.

'Never about corruption'

For months, Trump and his allies have insisted the effort to have Ukraine announce these investigations was to fight corruption in the country, not to damage political opponents.


But Parnas said this effort was "all about" the Bidens, saying the push "was never about corruption."

"It was never — it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden," Parnas said.

'All aid'

In a new claim, Parnas said that not only was military aid being threatened, but all U.S. aid to Ukraine was on the table.

Parnas said Giuliani ordered him to deliver a message to Zelenskiy through a top aide to the Ukrainian president. Parnas said he gave that aide "a very harsh message."

"Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after, you know, meeting with the president at the White House, he called me," Parnas said. "The message was, it wasn't just military aid, it was all aid. Basically their relationships would be sour, that he would, that we would stop giving them any kind of aid."


Unless "several demands" were met, Parnas said, most importantly, "the announcement of the Biden investigation."

A Ukrainian oligarch

Parnas also detailed Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash's role in the Ukraine puzzle.

One of Ukraine's wealthiest businessman, Firtash has battled extradition charges to the U.S. for the past two years as the Justice Department seeks to prosecute him on bribery and racketeering charges. Federal prosecutors labeled him as an "upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime," a charge Firtash has denied.

This summer, Firtash swapped out his team of U.S. lawyers and hired Joe diGevona and Victoria Toensing, a pair of pro-Trump attorneys close to Giuliani. Parnas served as a translator in their communications.

Parnas said diGevona and Toensing told Firtash they could get his charges dropped if he provided information that could prove damaging to former special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.


"For us to be able to receive information from Firtash, we had to promise Firtash something," Parnas said.

Parnas added there was a connection between getting Ukraine to announce the Biden probe and having the U.S. drop charges against Firtash.

"It was all connected," Parnas said. "I mean, it was all — at the end of the day, it was all — the agenda was to make sure that the Ukrainians announced the Biden investigation."

Giuliani has denied being involved with Firtash, telling NBC News last year he has "nothing to do" with the oligarch.

"This is a smear job. The Firtash thing is a smear job. I have nothing to do with him. The president has nothing to do with him," Giuliani said. "The fact is, I know his case because it's very famous."


Federal prosecutors said in court last month that Parnas had received a $1 million payment from a Firtash attorney.

Yovanovitch and Robert Hyde

Parnas addressed one of the most eye-opening revelations from his recently released records — claims that Yovanovitch was being closely monitored by a Republican congressional candidate from Connecticut, Robert Hyde.

Democrats called for an investigation into Hyde while Ukraine announced it will probe the alleged surveillance.

But Parnas, like Hyde earlier this week, said he strongly doubted any such surveillance took place.

Parnas, who texted with Hyde about Yovanovitch, called Hyde "a weird character" he met at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.


"Well, I don't believe it's true," he said of Hyde's claims of surveilling Yovanovitch. "I think he was either drunk or he was trying to make himself bigger than he was, so I didn't take it seriously."

Hyde told reporters that he was just playing around with Parnas and was drinking when he sent the messages.

"He was drunk the whole time," Parnas said. "He wakes up and he's drunk — he starts at 6:00 — I mean, I've never seen him not drunk."

Giuliani said in interviewslast month that Yovanovitch was an obstacle to getting Ukraine to announce the investigations he said Trump desired. He later walked it back, tweeting that she "needed to be removed for many reasons."

But Parnas apologized to Yovanovitch for believing that she had bad-mouthed Trump, an allegation she denied to impeachment investigators. He said the Burisma probe was the sole reason for her ouster.


"That was the only motivation," he said.

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