WASHINGTON — Lev Parnas wants to tell his story about President Trump and Ukraine to Congress, and he’s reportedly already turned over a stack of evidence to back it up.
Parnas, a criminally-indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, handed audio, video, and photographs to the House Intelligence Committee, ABC News reported Sunday, including material featuring Trump and Giuliani.
The promise of new evidence arrives as Parnas’ New York-based defense attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, mounts a public campaign to convince the intel committee to call Parnas as a witness, tweeting directly at senior members of Congress with the hashtag #LetLevSpeak.
But Parnas has shown he’s not going to wait for their invitation to start throwing bombs. On Friday night, Bondy said Parnas was prepared to testify about events involving the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes.
That makes Parnas potentially dangerous for Trump and Giuliani — and, perhaps, for their staunchest allies in Congress, especially if he’s got the audio and visual evidence to prove it.
But he’s also a deeply complicated witness. While his narrative could provide a gripping eyewitness account of events at the center of the Trump team’s controversial interactions with Ukraine, his credibility is also likely to be questioned.
Parnas was indicted for allegedly funneling foreign money into GOP campaigns, and Bondy told VICE News earlier this month that his client would comply with Congressional subpoenas while maintaining his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Here’s what you need to know about Lev Parnas and why he's such a potentially explosive witness in the impeachment process.
For weeks, Parnas has claimed he’s ready to help Congress understand his complex role in the Ukraine saga. But he recently broadened his aim, by suggesting that one of Trump’s key defenders in Congress was more directly involved in the story than he’s let on: Nunes.
Bondy told CNN in a story published Friday that Parnas is prepared to tell Congress about meetings Nunes had with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December,” Bondy told CNN. That story followed an article in the Daily Beast which said Parnas helped Nunes arrange phone calls and meetings aimed at uncovering the origins of the Russia investigation into Trump. (Congressional records show that Nunes took a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018 with three aides.)
Nunes slammed both articles as false in an interview on Fox News over the weekend, but declined to explain exactly what happened.
“I really want to answer all of these questions and I promise you I absolutely will come back on the show and answer these questions,” Nunes said.
Nunes told Breitbart he was planning legal action against CNN and Daily Beast, claiming the allegations were defamatory. His communications director didn’t respond to a request for comment from VICE News.
The Rudy Work
While he may have thrown a bomb in Nunes’ direction, the person most likely to be threatened by Parnas’ newfound willingness to talk is Guiliani.
Parnas faces charges in New York over what prosecutors called a scheme to secure political influence through illegal campaign donations. Parnas has entered a plea of not guilty, and vowed to beat the rap.
But prosecutors are also reportedly taking a long, close look at Giuliani’s ties to his indicted associates, who have acknowledged helping Giuliani navigate Ukraine at a time when the president’s attorney was searching for damaging information about Biden.
On Monday, The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reported that investigators are scrutinizing Giuliani’s consulting business, and casting a wide net for potential wrongdoing as they examine Giuliani’s connections with Parnas and others.
Giuliani identified Parnas publicly as one of his “clients,” and has admitted being paid $500,000 by Parnas’ company, Fraud Guarantee, for what Giuliani called business and legal advice. Another former attorney for Parnas, John Dowd, told Congress in October that Parnas “assisted Mr. Giuliani in his representation of President Trump.”
In that sense, Parnas also poses a risk to Trump: His attorneys have said some documents in a huge trove of evidence collected by prosecutors may be covered by executive privilege, a claim that would tie his criminal case directly to Trump.
Audio-visual evidence documenting Parnas’ interactions with Giuliani and Trump has already been posted on the internet for the world to see, including on Parnas’ Instagram.
And Bondy has described his client as being upset that Trump backed away after Parnas, along with three other associates, were indicted last month. Trump responded by saying: “I don’t know those gentlemen.”
Now, the question becomes: How much more did Parnas actually record with his phone, and what’s been turned over to prosecutors in New York and investigators in the House of Representatives?
Parnas’ appearance before Congress would throw a dramatic and unpredictable new element into the impeachment process. But the fact that he’s also under federal indictment will surely raise questions about his motivations and commitment to telling a straight story.
That dynamic makes his documentary evidence all the more important: While Trump’s defenders have repeatedly slammed testimony against the president as “hearsay,” they’d have a harder time poking holes in an account supported by audio-visual evidence.
Parnas was subpoenaed for documents by Congressional investigators in early October after previously spurning House Democrats’ requests for information. But it remains to be seen if Democrats want to bring Parnas in for testimony, or are satisfied with the material he’s reportedly already turned over.
A spokesman for House Intel chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, declined to comment on whether Parnas will be brought forward to testify as a witness.
Instead, the spokesman pointed to Schiff’s comments in interviews over the weekend.
“We have subpoenaed Mr. Parnas and Mr. [Igor] Fruman for their records,” Schiff told CNN on Sunday. “We would like them to fully comply with those subpoenas.”
Cover: Lev Parnas leaves federal court following his arraignment, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in New York. Parnas and Igor Fruman are charged with conspiracy to make illegal contributions to political committees supporting President Donald Trump and other Republicans. Prosecutors say the pair wanted to use the donations to lobby U.S. politicians to oust the country's ambassador to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)