Giuliani associate Parnas says Trump 'knew exactly what was going on'

Lev Parnas told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that he didn't do anything "without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president."

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By Phil Helsel

Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani who has been implicated in an alleged attempt to pressure the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, says, "President Trump knew exactly what was going on."

"He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials," Parnas, who faces campaign finance charges, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow in an interview that aired Wednesday night.

"I mean, they have no reason to speak to me. Why would President Zelenskiy's inner circle or Minister Avakov or all these people or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I? They were told to meet with me. And that's the secret that they're trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work," Parnas said.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected president in April, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Arsen Avakov is Ukraine's interior minister.

Parnas and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, have been charged with making $325,000 in illegal straw donations to a super PAC supporting President Donald Trump, as well as with giving $15,000 to a second committee, amid a flurry of political donations to help them advance the interests of a Ukrainian government official and a Russian national seeking to break into the cannabis industry.

On Tuesday, House Democrats released records as part of the evidence that attorneys for Parnas turned over to House impeachment investigators, which show that Giuliani requested a private meeting with Zelenskiy, then the president-elect, with Trump's "knowledge and consent."

The evidence appears to bolster Democrats' argument that Giuliani was doing Trump's bidding by trying to dig up dirt on Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

In response to Parnas' interview, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Thursday morning, "These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison."

"The facts haven’t changed — the president did nothing wrong and this impeachment, which was manufactured and carried out by the Democrats has been a sham from the start," Grisham said.

In a statement to "The Rachel Maddow Show" while the program was airing, Giuliani denied that he told Ukrainian officials that Parnas spoke on behalf of Trump.

"Never," Giuliani responded when asked whether Parnas was speaking for Trump.

Asked whether he believed Parnas was lying, Giuliani said, "All I can say is the truth." Giuliani said of Parnas, "He's a very sad situation."

The impeachment articles against Trump center on an alleged campaign by Trump to pressure Zelenskiy to announce investigations into Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma in 2014 until he left last year.

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Asked whether Trump specifically was aware that he and Giuliani were working on the effort in Ukraine specifically to hurt Joe Biden, Parnas said yes. Biden is among several candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

"Yeah, it was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and also Rudy had a personal thing with the Manafort stuff. The black ledger," Parnas said.

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Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, is serving a 7½-year prison sentence for tax evasion and violating federal lobbying laws after having been charged by special counsel Robert Mueller's office.

"And that was another thing that they were looking into, but it was never about corruption. It was never — it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden," Parnas said.

Parnas also said Vice President Mike Pence's planned trip to attend Zelenskiy's inauguration in May was canceled because the Ukrainians did not agree to the demand for an investigation of the Bidens. "Oh, I know 100 percent. It was 100 percent," he said.

Asked whether Pence was aware of a "quid pro quo" around the visit, Parnas replied by quoting Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who said during the House impeachment inquiry: "Everybody was in the loop."

Maddow said her show asked for comment from Pence and had not received a response.

Parnas said Attorney General William Barr was also likely aware of what was going on. Parnas said that he never spoke with Barr but that "I was involved with lots of conversations" that Giuliani and another person had with Barr in front of him.

"Mr. Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it's impossible,” Parnas said. "Attorney General Barr was basically on the team."

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department told "The Rachel Maddow Show" about Parnas' claims regarding Barr: "100 percent false."

Trump has denied knowing Parnas or Fruman. Photos that Parnas posted to Facebook in 2018 show him and Fruman with Trump and with the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. President Trump said that "it's possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody."

Asked about Trump's denial that he knows them, Parnas said, "He lied."

Parnas is a U.S. citizen who won a visa lottery to immigrate from the Soviet Union, his attorney has said.

Parnas also said he met several times with U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., one of Trump’s top defenders and ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, which investigated the Ukraine allegations.

Parnas said he was later referred to a Nunes aide, who was aware of what Parnas and Giuliani were doing. Parnas said the referral came because of something to do with an ethics committee, and Nunes "couldn't be in the spotlight.” Parnas said he was shocked to see Nunes and the aide during the impeachment hearings because "they were involved in getting all this stuff.”

A Nunes spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.

The House voted Wednesday to send impeachment articles against Trump to the Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the seven House Democrats who will serve as the "managers" in the trial, which is set to start next week.

The impeachment articles accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Parnas said he wants to testify. "I want to get the truth out," he said, "because I feel it's important for our country."

"There's a lot of things that are being said that are not accurate, and I just want to make sure that they're accurate, because things happened that need to get out, and I think the world needs to know," Parnas said.

It's not clear whether the Senate will call any witnesses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the "trial will commence in earnest on Tuesday."