Lev Parnas, an associate of Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is speaking out. In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night, the man who was reportedly a go-between for the Trump administration and Ukraine said, "President Trump knew exactly what was going on."
Parnas and fellow Ukrainian-American businessman Igor Fruman were arrested in October of last year and indicted for campaign finance fraud. Since then he's been implicated in Giuliani's behind-the-scenes efforts to influence U.S.-Ukrainian relations—a shadow campaign that involved Trump's threat to withhold military aid from the country unless president Volodymyr Zelensky opened a corruption investigation against former vice president Joe Biden's son Hunter for his business dealing in Ukraine.
Trump, for his part, has denied that he ever knew Parnas and Fruman. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham responded to MSNBC, saying, "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." When Maddow asked about the president's denial, Parnas was blunt: "He lied."
The biggest issue Parnas wanted to correct, he told Maddow, was the White House's claim that Trump was in the dark about demanding political favors in exchange for aid: "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." He added, "I mean, they have no reason to speak to me. Why would President Zelensky'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."
Furthermore, the Trump administration was allegedly willing to withhold more than military aid. "It wasn’t just military aid," he said. "It was all aid. Basically the relationship would be sour. We would stop giving them any kind of aid."
Parnas also disputed the Trump administration's claim that the president was primarily concerned with corruption in Ukraine—a claim that strains credulity considering how little Trump seems to care about corruption in his own administration. "It was never about corruption. It was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden," Parnas said.
The most potentially explosive part of Parnas's interview, though, is the revelation that other Trump officials and Republicans were well aware of the pressure campaign against Ukraine, including Attorney General Bill Barr. "Barr had to have known everything," he said. "Barr was basically on the team."
California congressman Devin Nunes, a Trump ally, has also been implicated. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News last month, Nunes claimed he couldn't remember ever speaking to Parnas. A cache of phone records released this week confirms that the two had been in touch, though, and Parnas told Maddow that Nunes was well aware of his and the administration's work to pressure Ukraine: "I was in shock when I was watching the hearings and when I saw Devin Nunes sitting up there. I texted my attorney. I said, 'I can’t believe this is happening.’ ” In a Fox News interview on Wednesday, Nunes said he now remembers talking to Parnas: "I just didn’t know the name—this name 'Par-nas.' "
The most unexpected accusation is against a member of the administration who, so far, has managed to keep his hands clean of any Trump scandal. "Do you know if Vice President Pence was aware that that was the quid pro quo?" Maddow asked, referring to the allegation that Pence's presence at Zelensky's inauguration was dependent on the Ukrainian president announcing an investigation against the Bidens. "Everybody was in the loop," Parnas replied.
The former New York City mayor once polled as the most popular politician in America—of either party. Today, he’s at the center of the scandal that threatens to bring down a presidency.
Originally Appeared on GQ