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WASHINGTON — Lev Parnas just threw pretty much Trump’s entire inner circle under the bus.
In an astonishing hour of television Wednesday night, the indicted Soviet-born associate of Rudy Giuliani let loose a barrage of stunning accusations against Trumpworld, insisting President Trump and his top aides had detailed knowledge of his efforts to get Ukraine to announce an investigation of Trump's 2020 rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“It was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden," Parnas told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. He breezily dismissed the defense raised by Trump’s loyalists that Trump was just trying to root out corruption in Ukraine.
“It was never about corruption,” Parnas said.
Now, Trump officially has a massive new problem named Lev Parnas — right on the eve of his Senate impeachment trial, which will turn on exactly the kind of accusations Parnas just began delivering in spitfire fashion to the media.
Democrats voted to impeach Trump in December for abusing his office by pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation of Biden, and for then attempting to cover it up when Congress began investigating. Now, Trump faces a trial in the Senate over whether he should be removed from office for those accusations.
Parnas is clamoring to testify before Congress about his adventures in Ukraine at the elbow of Giuliani, Trump’s private attorney.
Parnas’ incendiary claims and credibility are sure to be questioned, in part thanks to the criminal charges he faces for allegedly funneling illegal donations to GOP candidates and campaigns on behalf of foreign interests.
But he’s already delivered a boatload of evidence that can back up what he told Maddow — in the form of texts, photographs, videos, WhatsApp records, and voicemails shipped to House impeachment investigators, right up to the night before they formally delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
And he’s got a bonkers story to tell.
“Everybody was in the loop.”
Parnas insisted Wednesday night that Trump and others knew every move he was making in Ukraine.
“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas said. “He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the president.”
Parnas said he told a top Ukrainian advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the U.S. was threatening to do more than just cut off the $391 million in vital military assistance, which Trump held up last summer in a move at the heart of Trump’s impeachment.
Ukrainian officials see American support as vital in helping to end their bloody conflict with Russia on the country’s eastern border and demonstrating strength to Moscow in talks aimed at stopping the fighting.
Parnas said he told a Ukrainian advisor to the newly-elected president Zalensky that the U.S. would cut off all types of assistance, including symbolically important diplomatic support for the country’s war with Russia-backed separatists, if the country didn’t announce an investigation of Biden.
Parnas said he got that message directly from Giuliani, who got it from Trump.
“Mayor Rudy Giuliani told me after, you know meeting with the president at The White House, the message was it wasn't just military aid, it was all aid,” Parnas said. “Basically their relationships would be sour, that we would stop giving them any kind of aid.”
Parnas said he delivered the message in a “heated” exchange, because that’s how Giuliani wanted it.
“I was told to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant way,” Parnas said.
Parnas says he warned the advisor, Shergey Shefir, that if an announcement about an investigation into Biden wasn’t made, Vice President Mike Pence would cancel plans to show up at the inauguration ceremony for Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
But Parnas warned in a “heated” exchange that Pence wouldn’t show up without an announcement of an investigation.
Sure enough, Pence opted not to show up.
Parnas insisted Wednesday night that Pence must have known exactly what was going on, and that his power move was part of the shadow campaign against Ukraine to force a Biden investigation statement.
“Trump called up and said, to make sure Pence doesn't go there,” Parnas said. Pence “couldn't have not known.”
Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, issued a brief statement after the interview that did not directly deny Parnas’ assertions, but sought to cast doubt on his credibility.
“Democrat witnesses have testified under oath in direct contradiction to Lev Parnas statements last night,” Short said, without specifying exactly which of Parnas’s statements he was referring to.
“This is very simple: Lev Parnas is under a multi-count indictment and will say anything to anybody who will listen in hopes of staying out of prison,” Short said. “It’s no surprise that only the liberal media is listening to him.”
“Attorney General Barr was basically on the team”
Pence wasn’t the only senior member of Trump’s inner circle Parnas threw under the bus. He also rolled over the top law enforcement official in the United States: Attorney General William Barr.
Barr was “in the loop,” Parnas claimed.
“Mr. Barr had to have known everything,” Parnas said. “Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.”
So was the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, whom Parnas said he met several times.
Parnas said it was “scary” to watch Nunes oversee the House impeachment investigations last year while pretending, according to Parnas, not to know what really happened.
“I was in shock when I was watching the hearings and when I saw Devin Nunes sitting up there,” Parnas said. “I texted my attorney I can't believe this is happening…. Because they were involved in getting all this stuff on Biden.”
Parnas said he arranged for a Nunes staffer named Derek Harvey to hold Skype interviews with “different prosecutors” in Ukraine as part of the general campaign to unearth dirt on the Bidens.
“It's hard to see them lie like that,” Parnas said. “He was sitting there and making all statements and all that when he knew very well that he knew what was going on. He knew what's happening. He knows who I am.”
Bolton “has a lot to say”
Parnas also said Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton was in the loop — and has a lot to tell Congress, if he gets the chance.
Bolton, who left the administration in mid-September 2019, was in Trump’s White House when the events Parnas described were unfolding. He has recently said he would agree to testify before the Senate if he’s given a subpoena.
The question now is whether enough Republican Senators can be convinced they need to hear from Bolton. For that to happen, Democrats need four Republicans to join them in the GOP-controlled Senate.
“I think he's a key witness,” Parnas said of Bolton. “I think he has a lot to say.”
Cover: Lev Parnas is surrounded by reporters as he arrives to court in New York, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)