WASHINGTON — If Lev Parnas gets his way, he’ll march onto the Senate floor someday soon and drop incendiary impeachment testimony against President Trump on national TV.
He’s still got “a lot” more secrets about Trump to share, he says, even after throwing pretty much Trump’s entire inner circle under the bus in a series of blockbuster interviews and document dumps.
But Parnas, the Soviet-born businessman who helped Rudy Giuliani dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine before flipping hard on Trump, has a problem. He ditched his first Congressional subpoena last fall, when he was still cool with Trump. And now, he’s facing serious criminal charges in New York. And Democrats are nervous about hanging their case to impeach Trump on the word of an accused felon.
So Parnas has a plan to get their attention. It involves selfies. Lots, and lots, of selfies.
He’s snapping fresh ones with newly-minted fans to help build pressure for his appearance. Meanwhile, he’s carpet-bombing Trumpworld with old pics he took with Trump’s inner circle that bolster his incendiary claims — and show just how explosive his testimony could be.
It’s a wild, provocative legal strategy that’d give most defense attorneys the cold sweats. Federal prosecutors accuse Parnas of channeling campaign donations to prominent Republicans from a Russian investor who was trying to score legal marijuana licenses, among other claims. Defendants facing serious charges like that don’t typically give tell-all interviews to Rachel Maddow, like Parnas did last week, for fear their own words might later be used against them in court.
But Parnas, who’s pleaded not guilty, has a lot to gain from his risky, high-profile confrontation with Trump. Testifying before Congress could help him win leniency in his criminal case, in which prosecutors have been coy about letting him become a cooperating witness.
If he succeeds in winning entry to Congress, Parnas could potentially one day argue to his judge that he cooperated fully in a case that was much, much bigger than his own: the impeachment of an American president. And that he therefore deserves a much lighter sentence than he otherwise might get.
Parnas has already handed over a vast trove of evidence to House Democrats, who’ve used the text messages and photographs on Parnas’ iPhone to bolster their impeachment case against Trump.
Parnas’ claims dovetail with the impeachment case against Trump. In December, the House impeached Trump for abusing his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden. Democrats argue the caper represented an attempt by Trump to kneecap Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Parnas claims he personally pushed Ukrainian officials to announce an investigation of Biden on behalf of Trump and Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani — and that multiple key members of Trump’s team were all “in the loop.”
But before Parnas gets to deliver any such sworn testimony to Congress, he’s got to score an invitation. And to get one, he’s rolled out Operation Selfie.
His plan was in full effect Wednesday, when Parnas and his lawyers hit Capitol Hill, with a traveling circus of reporters, photographers and chanting supporters following along behind him.
He led them from Union Station to the Capitol building, pausing repeatedly for selfies with supporters on the street. Anti-Trump protestors banged drums and howled for Trump’s removal nearby, outside the Senate impeachment trial.
“The cover-up is getting bigger and bigger by the day.”
“I don’t consider it a trial yet,” Parnas said, since it lacks firsthand witnesses like himself. “The cover-up is getting bigger and bigger by the day.”
Parnas got special permission from the judge in his case to be there. But after flying in from his home in Florida, he wasn’t able to enter the Senate Gallery. The judge didn’t let him remove his GPS ankle tracker. No electronics are allowed inside. So he was refused entry.
His legal team went in without him, and Parnas watched for a part of the afternoon on a screen in a secluded room on Capitol Hill.
“They’re trying to cover it up,” Parnas said of Trump’s lawyers afterwards, standing on the street. “They’ve got to be scared that there’s a lot more that’s going to come out.”
He’s faced no such awkward restrictions on Twitter, however, where his lawyer has been blasting out evidence of Parnas’ once friendly relations with Trump’s team.
Most recently, he released a 124-minute tape of Trump enjoying a relaxed and jovial dinner with Parnas and others, cheerfully discussing whether marijuana costs smokers IQ points (Trump thinks it does) and Kim Jong Un’s golfing skills (which Trump said are strong). No one listening to that chummy dinner would think Trump and Parnas are total strangers.
Parnas has so many selfies with high-profile Trump aides, it’s ridiculous. The complete gallery amounts to a who’s-who of Trumpworld, including:
- Vice President Mike Pence
- Trump’s son Don Jr.
- Trump’s son Eric
- Trump’s daughter Ivanka
- Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner
- Trump’s former Attorney General Jeff Sessions
- Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani
- Trump’s lawyer Pam Bondi
- GOP Senator Rick Scott
- GOP Senator Mike Braun
- Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders
- White House communications advisor Kellyanne Conway
- GOP Rep. Steve Scalise
- House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy
And more may be coming, Parnas’ lawyer, Joe Bondy, said while standing outside the Capitol building on Wednesday.
“You’ve seen, time and time again, people in the Republican party say they don’t know Lev Parnas, only for us to put out a picture,” Bondy said. “We’ve got a lot of pictures.”
Even if Democrats want to call Parnas, they might not get the chance in Trump’s trial. The Senate may wrap the whole thing up this week with no witnesses at all. It remains unclear whether Mitch McConnell, the wily GOP Senate majority leader, will be able to muster the votes to close down Trump’s trial by this Friday without allowing any witnesses. But that’s what he’s trying to do.
If that happens, House Democrats may yet call Parnas to testify in the House, afterwards. Doing so could help illustrate their point that Trump’s senate trial was effectively just one big cover-up.
Such a spectacle wouldn’t help convince any wavering GOP Senators to vote to convict Trump and remove him from office, a result considered essentially impossible anyway given the two-third majority required to achieve it.
But given the other accusations Parnas has made, and the astonishing access he once enjoyed in Trump’s inner circle as documented in his selfie collection, it’s sure to be one hell of a show.
Cover: Lev Parnas, former associate of Rudy Giuliani, (L) answers questions from members of the media as his attorney Joseph Bondy listens on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol January 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)