Giuliani associate says Trump was aware of pressure from Ukraine

A close associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer says he delivered an ultimatum in May to the incoming president of Ukraine that no senior US official would attend his inauguration and that all US aid to the war-torn country would be withheld if investigated to Joe Biden. It was not announced.

Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, made several potentially explosive statements in a televised interview Wednesday night with Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.

The day after Parnas said he delivered the message, the US State Department. UU. He announced that Vice President Mike Pence would no longer attend the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy.

Parnas alleged that Trump ordered Pence to stay away at the request of Giuliani to send a clear message to the incoming Ukrainian administration that they needed to take seriously the demand for an investigation into Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate seen as a potential threat to Trump. 2020 re-election

Parnas said that every communication he had with Zelenskiy’s team was directed by Giuliani, whom he listened to regularly inform Trump about his progress over the phone.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” said Parnas, a Florida-born businessman from the Soviet Union who faces a series of criminal charges related to campaign financing violations.

“I was aware of all my movements. I would do nothing without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the President. “

If true, Parnas’s account undermines a key Republican Trump defense deployed during the ongoing impeachment fight: that Trump’s retention of vital military aid to Ukraine last summer was not a quid pro quo for Biden’s investigations because Zelenskiy did not know that the money was withheld.

Giuliani called Parnas’ statements “sad.” “I’m sorry for him,” Giuliani said Wednesday in a text message to an AP journalist.

“I thought he was an honorable man. I was wrong.”

When asked directly if Parnas was lying, Trump’s lawyer replied: “I’m still not responding.”

Parnas said he also listened to Giuliani and another Trump-lined defense attorney, Victoria Toensing, by reporting to Attorney General William Barr by telephone about his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce the investigation into the business of Biden and his son Hunter.

“Barr was basically on the team,” Parnas said.

The Justice Department said in September that Trump had not spoken with Barr about Ukraine investigating the Bidens and that the Attorney General had not discussed Ukraine with Giuliani.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday that Parnas’ claims were “100% false.”

The new accusations came when the House Democrats released a treasure trove of documents, text messages and photos of Parnas smartphones that seem to verify parts of their account.

A federal judge earlier this month ruled that Parnas could provide the materials to Congress as part of the political trial procedures.

Democrats voted in December to accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

A chairman of the House of Representatives committee said Wednesday that his panel will investigate what he says are “deeply alarming” text messages among recently disclosed materials that have raised questions about the possible surveillance of the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, before the Trump administration overthrew it last spring. .

The messages show that Robert F. Hyde, a Republican candidate for the Connecticut Congress, denounced Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on his location and cell phone use.

Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, said Wednesday that the messages are “deeply alarming” and “suggest a possible risk” to Yovanovitch’s security in Kiev before To be removed from her post.

“These threats occurred at the same time that the two men were also discussing President Trump’s efforts, through Rudy Giuliani, to stain the ambassador’s reputation.”

Engel said.

He said the committee staff marked the information for the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security and is seeking assurances that adequate measures have been taken to ensure the safety of Yovanovitch and the committee staff. He said he also wanted to know what, if anything, the State Department knew about the situation.

“This unprecedented threat to our diplomats must be thoroughly investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Engel.

Democrats published the archives on Tuesday and Wednesday as they prepared to send articles of political judgment to the Senate for the Trump trial. The documents could increase pressure on the Senate while discussing whether to hear witnesses at the trial. The text and telephone records show that Parnas communicates with Giuliani several times a day before the removal of Yovanovitch, as well as a handwritten note that mentions the request of the President of Ukraine to investigate “the Biden case.”

Among the documents is a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Zelenskiy dated May 10, 2019, which was shortly after Zelenskiy was elected, but before taking office.

In the letter, Giuliani requests a meeting with Zelenskiy “as personal advisor to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.”

The Associated Press reported in October that Zelenskiy had curled up three days earlier, on May 7, with a small group of key advisors in Kiev to seek advice on how to avoid Trump and Giuliani’s insistence for an investigation into the Bidens.

He expressed concern about becoming entangled in the US elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the three-hour meeting. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, which has affected relations between the United States and Ukraine. One of the documents published by the Democrats is a handwritten note at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel stationery in Vienna that says “take Zalensky to Annonce to investigate the Biden case.”

Parnas told Maddow that he took the notes while talking on the phone with Giuliani, receiving precise instructions about the demands Trump wanted to convey to the Zelenskiy team.

Trump asked Zelenskiy in a July 25 call to investigate the Bidens. Hunter Biden was a board member of a gas company based in Ukraine.

The documents were sent to the Judicial Committee of the Chamber by three other panels of the Chamber “to be included as part of the official record that will be transmitted to the Senate along with the Articles of Accusation,” according to a statement. Some of the materials were made public, while others were darkened and marked as sensitive.

Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, both American citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, were charged last year on charges of conspiracy, false statements and falsification of records.

Prosecutors allege they made large campaign donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars from Russia. Men have pleaded not guilty. In several of the documents, Parnas communicated with Giuliani about the elimination of Yovanovich. The expulsion of the ambassador, ordered by Trump, was the center of the political trial investigation of the Democrats.

Yovanovitch testified at the political trial hearings that he was the victim of a “smear campaign.” Trump in the July call told Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch “was going to go through some things.” She had been removed from her diplomatic post approximately three months earlier. .

On April 23, just before Yovanovich received instructions to return to the United States, Giuliani sent a text message to Parnas: “He fired her again.” Parnas replied: “I pray to happen this time, I will call you tomorrow my brother.” Parnas also received messages from Hyde, who referred to Yovanovitch as a “b *** h”. Hyde, a Republican, is now running for a position in the United States House of Representatives in Connecticut.

After sending text messages about the ambassador, Hyde gave Parnas detailed updates that suggested he was looking at her. In one text, Hyde wrote: “She has spoken with three people. Her phone is off. Her computer is off.

He said he was under strong security and “we have a person inside.” Hyde at one point sent a text message to Parnas that “they are willing to help if we want / want a price” and “I suppose you can do anything in Ukraine with money.” … is what they told me. “

Parnas replied: “haha.” Lawrence Robbins, Yovanovitch’s lawyer, requested an investigation into the messages.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Hyde called Parnas “moron” and suggested that the messages about monitoring the ambassador were a joke. He said he welcomed an investigation.

Parnas, in turn, also said Wednesday that Hyde’s text messages should not be taken seriously.

Text messages show that Parnas consulted Giuliani in January 2019 after the United States denied a visa to former Ukrainian Attorney General Viktor Shokin. Giuliani replied: “I can revive it.” The next day, Giuliani told Parnas: “It will work, I don’t have 1”. Giuliani predicted “you will get one,” before giving Parnas Jay Sekulow’s phone number. , the president’s personal legal team leader.

Sekulow is expected to be part of Trump’s legal team during the political trial. Trump has repeatedly denied meeting Parnas and Fruman, despite the many photos that have emerged of the men together. Among the materials published by Parnas’ phone this week were more photos of him with Trump, as well as the son of President Donald Trump Jr., the first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.

When Maddow asked about Trump’s denials of meeting him, Parnas said he had spoken in person with the president on numerous occasions.

“He lied,” Parnas said of the president. “I mean, we’re not friends. He and I didn’t watch football games together, we didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were, who I was especially.”

— Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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