Democrats are suddenly obsessed with Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate who was indicted on federal campaign charges last fall.
The Ukrainian-born Parnas was a gopher for Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, who wanted to investigate possible leads in preparing a defense against charges of Russia collusion.
Parnas agreed to testify during the House impeachment inquiry, and a federal judge let him hand over documents and text messages last week.
But it is not clear Parnas has anything to offer.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is dumping documents, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did her best in an interview with Parnas on Wednesday evening.
However, there are serious questions about Parnas’s credibility, and many of his claims about Trump are dubious or contradicted by other evidence.
Here are ten key facts about Parnas’s “evidence,” as provided to Maddow:
1. This is the Michael Cohen playbook. We have seen this movie before. A year ago, Democrats staged a hearing with disgraced former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen, who had already pleaded guilty on federal campaign finance charges. Cohen, who had also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, provided nothing of value to Democrats in his testimony. They seem to hope this time will be different, once again using a desperate and dubious witness to fling dirt at the president.
2. Rachel Maddow has no credibility. Maddow’s reputation has never recovered from her years-long obsession with the “Russia collusion” conspiracy theory. In fact, she continues to obsess about it: last month, she tried to link Russia to Trump’s alleged effort to pressure Ukraine. In 2017, Maddow earned mockery from the left for releasing one of Trump’s tax returns, showing merely that he paid a lot of taxes. Parnas could not have chosen a worse forum if he wanted to be taken seriously.
3. Parnas claims he acted at Trump’s direction. The problem is that Parnas’s only evidence of that is that Ukrainian officials agreed to meet with him. “They have no reason to speak to me. … Who am I?” He offered no evidence of private or direct conversations with Trump. Though he claims Trump is lying about not knowing him, the best Parnas offered Maddow was conversations at “roundtables” — i.e. with many others present — and overhearing Giulaini talking to the president.
4. Parnas claims that Trump knew about Giuliani’s investigations, which were “never about corruption” in general. We already know, from the closed-door testimony of Catherine Croft (whom Democrats deliberately omitted from public hearings), that Trump had an independent concern about corruption in Ukraine, and raised it with the previous president. We also know that Giuliani’s task was preparing a legal defense for Trump, one Trump knew about. Nothing about that is new.
5. Parnas claims that he presented himself to Ukrainian officials as the president’s representative. Unfortunately for Maddow, he presented himself as working for the president’s personal attorney — something he said that Giuliani reiterated in every interaction with Ukrainian officials. Neither Parnas nor Giuliani ever presented themselves as representing the U.S. And as Trump’s personal attorney, Giuliani had an ethical obligation to investigate whatever he could to help his client.
6. Parnas claims that he conveyed a threat to Ukrainian official Sergei Shaffer. Parnas said that he told Shaffer, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelesnky, that all U.S. aid was at risk unless Ukraine announced an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. The claim contrasts with claims by President Zelensky himself, who has said numerous times that he felt no pressure from the United States whatsoever, and that there was never any “quid pro quo” tied to U.S. assistance.
7. Parnas claims that Vice President Mike Pence stayed away from Zelensky’s inauguration to apply pressure. Pence flatly denied that on Wednesday. In addition, testimony by Pence aide Jennifer Williams suggested scheduling conflicts were an issue. (She also said she had heard Trump told Pence not to attend, but did not know why.) Parnas also said Trump did not cancel a Poland trip because of a hurricane — a dubious claim, given the political importance of hurricanes in the U.S.
8. Parnas actually shut down Maddow’s claims about “menacing” text messages about former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Democrats accused a former Republican congressional candidate, a man named Robert Hyde, of conducting mob-style surveillance on Yovanovitch. But Parnas said he never took Hyde’s texts seriously because he was “a weird character,” and “he was always drunk,” starting at 6:00 in the morning. “I’ve never seen him not drunk.”
9. Parnas claims Attorney General William Barr was “on the team” in Ukraine. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) referred to that claim in her press briefing Wednesday morning, saying Barr was “implicated.” But Parnas said he never spoke to Barr, and did not know whether Barr had ever spoken to any Ukrainian officials. President Trump had told Zelensky that Barr would work with him — which would be entirely legal, but which supposedly never happened anyway.
10. Maddow never asked Parnas about CNN’s claim about Devin Nunes going to Vienna. Recently, House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) sued CNN for defamation for claiming he had gone to Vienna to meet with a former Ukrainian prosecutor. Parnas was allegedly CNN’s source, the lawsuit states. (Nunes says that he was in Benghazi, Libya at the time.) Maddow asked about Nunes, but not about that; Parnas said he did not know Nunes too well.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.