Republicans say they have no concerns about Trump-Parnas tape

"That video was more than a year before he asked Marie Yovanovitch to be removed," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Image: President Donald Trump leaves the White House on Jan. 23, 2020.
President Donald Trump leaves the White House on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP

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By Allan Smith

Republicans said Sunday that they weren't worried about a newly revealed recording that appeared to show President Donald Trump discussing Ukraine with two indicted associates of his attorney Rudy Giuliani during a dinner in April 2018.

On the recording, which was obtained by NBC News, Trump appeared to call for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, then the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and asked the room full of donors for their thoughts on how long Ukraine could survive against Russia. Trump has asserted publicly that he doesn't know the Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, although the tape appears to shows the men speaking at length during the dinner.

At one point, a voice thought to be Parnas' tells Trump that Yovanovitch was badmouthing him and was "basically walking around telling everybody 'Wait, he's gonna get impeached, just wait.'"

Trump then appears to asks for her removal, saying: "Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK?"

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said the tape "reminds me a lot of what happened" during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process, when the judge faced a steady stream of sexual misconduct allegations, adding that "all we're missing is Michael Avenatti."

"That video was more than a year before he asked Marie Yovanovitch to be removed," Cotton said, noting that the president is within his rights to remove an ambassador for any reason. "An ambassador badmouthing the president is a pretty sound reason to remove an ambassador."

Cotton pointed to the timeline of Yovanovitch's removal as proving that the president "was not hasty" and "didn't just act on the word of these people."

Yovanovitch denied having badmouthed Trump in testimony before impeachment investigators. Parnas, speaking with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, said he no longer believes that Yovanovitch was badmouthing the president. Meanwhile, Giuliani said in interviews last month that Yovanovitch was an obstacle to getting Ukraine to announce the investigations Trump sought. He later walked the assertion back, tweeting that she "needed to be removed for many reasons."

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On CNN's "State of the Union," Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said the tape doesn't show that Trump was lying when he said he didn't know Parnas.

"It's hard to be able to say to the president, who meets 1,000 people a day, OK, do you know this person that was at a dinner with you a year and a half ago and to say you have a relationship?" Lankford said.

"Certainly, the president meets a lot of people," Lankford added. "And it's hard to be able to say I know somebody that attended a fund-raising dinner, got a picture made or attended a different time and got a picture when you sure do meet a lot of people."

NBC News has not confirmed that the voices on the tape are those of Trump, Parnas and Fruman, but Trump can be seen in early parts of the video. Neither he nor the White House have disputed that the recording is authentic.

Trump told Fox News on Friday that he "could be" with Parnas in that recording, although "you have to understand I would see thousands of people." He added that he "wouldn't have been" calling for Yovanovitch's removal unless someone like Giuliani was present at the dinner.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said she believed Parnas was at the dinner with Giuliani, "somebody that the president trusts." And she pointed to Trump's comment that he had already heard similar allegations about Yovanovitch by then.

"So if somebody that the president trusts has somebody else with him and he's giving you information that he's already heard ... I think it's very reasonable that the president would listen to that, no matter if he knows him or not,' Grisham said.

Giuliani told Fox News on Saturday that he was not at the April 2018 dinner where the recording was made, adding that he did not know Parnas at that time.

Speaking with MSNBC's Joy Reid on Sunday, Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., said the recording cannot be taken lightly.

"If it's authenticated, what bothers me the most ... is this line, 'take her out,'" said Demings, a House impeachment manager. "As a former law enforcement officer, that line usually comes out of the mouths of gangsters or mobsters or gang members."