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Parnas: Trump, Pence in Ukraine Plan   01/17 06:30

   A close associate of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani 
is claiming Trump was directly involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine to 
investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A close associate of President Donald Trump's personal 
lawyer Rudy Giuliani is claiming Trump was directly involved in the effort to 
pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.

   Lev Parnas says he delivered an ultimatum in May, at Giuliani's behest, to 
the incoming president of Ukraine that no senior U.S. officials would attend 
his inauguration and vital American security aid would be withheld if an 
investigation into Biden wasn't announced. 

   He said Trump was aware of Giuliani's efforts to secure an investigation and 
the president was briefed regularly. 

   If true, Parnas' account undercuts a key Republican defense of Trump during 
the impeachment investigation --- that Trump's withholding of vital military 
aid to Ukraine last summer wasn't a quid pro quo for Biden investigations.

   "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 wouldn't do anything 
without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the president."

   For his part, Trump on Thursday repeated denials that he is acquainted with 
Parnas, despite numerous photos that have emerged of the two men together , 
including at a April 2018 dinner with about a half dozen others at the 
president's Washington hotel.

   "I meet thousands and thousands of people as president. I take thousands of 
pictures," Trump said, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office. "I don't know 
him, I never had a conversation that I remember with him."

   Parnas made several potentially explosive claims in an extended interview 
with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, segments of which were aired Wednesday and 

   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 Trump's 2020 

   Parnas said every communication he had with Zelenskiy's team was at the 
direction of Giuliani, whom he regularly overheard briefing Trump about their 
progress by phone.

   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."

   Asked directly if Parnas was lying, Trump's lawyer replied, "I'm not 
responding yet."

   Parnas said he also heard Giuliani and another Trump-aligned defense lawyer, 
Victoria Toensing, briefing Attorney General William Barr by phone about their 
efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce the investigation into 
Biden and his son Hunter's business dealings.

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

   The Justice Department said in September that Trump had not spoken to Barr 
about having Ukraine investigate the Bidens and that the attorney general had 
not discussed Ukraine with Giuliani. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec 
said Wednesday that Parnas' claims were "100% false."

   Toensing posted on Twitter that Parnas "absolutely lied" about her 
conversations with Barr.

   Pence, who Parnas said raised the need for an investigation into the Bidens 
in a September meeting with Zelenskiy in Poland, added to the flurry of denials 
issued Thursday.

   "I don't know the guy," said Pence, who has himself been photographed 
standing with Parnas. The vice president called Parnas' claim that he had 
participated in the effort to spur the Ukrainians to open an investigation into 
the Bidens "completely false."

   Parnas also said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Energy Secretary 
Rick Perry played roles in the scheme. Both have denied wrongdoing.

   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. 

   The documents, released just ahead of the start of Trump's Senate 
impeachment trial, could raise pressure on the Senate as it debates whether to 
hear witnesses.

   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.

   House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, one of seven Democratic 
impeachment managers who will effectively act as prosecutors during Trump's 
Senate trial, said Thursday they are reviewing Parnas' interviews and documents 
"to evaluate his potential testimony." It is likely that the House managers, 
not senators, would make a motion to call witnesses such as Parnas.

   "Mr. Parnas' public interviews in the last 24 hours shed additional insights 
into the origins of the scheme, the work he and Rudy Giuliani were doing on the 
president's behalf, and other members of the administration who were 
knowledgeable," Schiff said.

   But Senate Republicans appeared largely unmoved, with some suggesting they 
were unfamiliar with who Parnas is, despite months of media coverage and prior 
testimony in the House about his ties to Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine.

    "If I had ever heard of him before yesterday I'm not aware of it," said 
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican. "This is the indicted guy, right?"

   House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy deflected questions about donations 
from Parnas to a political action committee he runs and a photo of him with 
Parnas at Trump's inauguration in 2017.

   "People come to events, and they take photos with me," McCarthy said. The 
GOP leader added that in his view Parnas "lacks all credibility'' and accused 
the news media of trying to build him up.

   Democrats, meanwhile, pointed to 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 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.

   FBI investigators were observed Thursday morning at Hyde's home and business 
addresses. Charles Grady, a spokesman for the FBI in Connecticut, confirmed 
that agents had been at the locations tied to Hyde but said he could not 
provide additional information. 

   The text and phone records show Parnas communicating with Giuliani multiple 
times a day before Yovanovitch's removal, as well as a handwritten note that 
mentions asking Ukraine's 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."

   The Associated Press reported in October that Zelenskiy had huddled three 
days earlier, on May 7, with a small group of key advisers in Kyiv to seek 
advice about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and Giuliani for a probe 
into the Bidens. He expressed his unease about becoming entangled in the 
American elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the 
three-hour meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the 
diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, which has roiled U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

   One of the documents released by Democrats is a note from Parnas handwritten 
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 Zelenskiy's 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.

   In a segment aired Thursday, Parnas said he no longer believes that former 
Vice President Biden did anything improper and said the concerted effort he'd 
been involved in to push for an investigation was just about politics.

   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 

   In several of the documents released as part of the impeachment inquiry, 
Parnas communicated with Giuliani about the removal of Yovanovitch. The 
ambassador's 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.

   Parnas told Maddow that Trump actually ordered Yovanovitch fired several 
times, including once in his presence, but Pompeo and then-national security 
adviser John Bolton refused to go along. Democrats and a handful of Republicans 
have been calling for Bolton to testify as part of Trump's Senate trial.

   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 I'll call you tomorrow my brother."

   After texting about the ambassador, Hyde gave Parnas detailed updates that 
suggested he was watching her. In one text, Hyde wrote: "She's talked to three 
people. Her phone is off. Her computer is off." He said she was under heavy 
security and "we have a person inside."

   Hyde texted Parnas that ''they are willing to help if we/you would like a 
price," and "guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money ... is what I was 

   In a Twitter post Tuesday, Hyde called Parnas a "dweeb" and suggested the 
messages about surveilling the ambassador were a joke. He said he welcomed an 

   Parnas, in turn, also said Wednesday that Hyde's texts shouldn't be taken 

   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, "It's 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 president's personal legal team. 
Sekulow is expected to be part of Trump's legal team during the impeachment 

   Among the materials released from Parnas' phone this week were more photos 
of him with Trump, as well as the president's son Donald Trump Jr., first 
daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner.

   Asked by Maddow about Trump's denial 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, we're not friends. Me and 
him didn't watch football games together, we didn't eat hot dogs. But he knew 
exactly who we were, who I was especially."


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