Giuliani associate Lev Parnas asks Attorney General Barr to recuse himself from his case

The letter was sent days after Parnas spoke publicly for the first time about his role helping Rudy Giuliani push Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
Image: William Barr
Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich and Attorney General William Barr at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Jan. 13, 2020, about the shooting in December at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images

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By Tom Winter

Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, has sent a letter requesting that Attorney General William Barr recuse himself from the investigation of Parnas and appoint a special prosecutor, according to a new court filing.

A copy of the letter, dated Monday, was filed on the docket of the federal campaign finance violation case that New York prosecutors have brought against Parnas.

"Given the totality of the circumstances, we believe it is appropriate for you to recuse yourself from the ongoing investigation and pending prosecution of Mr. Parnas," reads the three-paged letter, which was signed by Joseph Bondy, his defense attorney.

The letter was faxed to Barr days after Parnas spoke publicly for the first time about his role helping Giuliani push Ukrainian officials to investigate former Joe Vice President Biden.

In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that aired last Wednesday, Parnas alleged that Barr was aware of the effort, now at the center of Trump's impeachment.

"Mr. Barr had to have known everything," Parnas said, adding: "Attorney General Barr was basically on the team."

The Justice Department declined to comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York also declined to comment on Bondy's letter.

Parnas was charged in October with funneling foreign money to U.S. political candidates and campaigns. He has pleaded not guilty.

Parnas and a second man, Igor Fruman, were carrying one-way tickets to Vienna when they were arrested at Dulles International Airport outside Washington on Oct. 9.

An indictment unsealed the next day accused the pair of making illegal straw donations, including $325,000 to a pro-Trump political action committee. Federal prosecutors say the two also engaged in a scheme to force the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

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NBC News has previously reported that federal prosecutors in New York briefed Barr about the then-undisclosed case into Parnas when he took office last year.

In his letter to Barr, Parnas' attorney cites the president's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in July, in which Trump mentioned Barr as a point person for a possible investigation. It also noted a whistleblower's complaint in August, along with calls for recusal by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the New York City Bar Association.

The letter says federal prosecutors have refused to meet with Parnas and have delayed producing discovery evidence. As a result, Parnas "was rendered unable to comply with a duly-issued congressional subpoena in time for congressional investigators to make complete use of his material or properly assess Mr. Parnas as a potential witness," the letter says.

Federal prosecutors told the court several months ago that discovery evidence was delayed by issues with getting into Parnas' phone and that Parnas had received the congressional subpoena before he was arrested.

Rich Schapiro contributed.