WASHINGTON — Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian-born American who has photos and video to prove that he knows President Donald Trump, showed up outside the Senate impeachment trial last Wednesday.
Parnas couldn’t get into the chamber because the indicted Rudy Giuliani associate was wearing an ankle monitor as a condition of his bail. But he was able to tell reporters how much he really wanted to testify under oath.
Two weeks ago, Parnas was all over cable TV as the House impeachment managers’ great hope to nail their case.
That was before news of a tell-all book by former national security adviser John Bolton ended their need to rely on a man who was indicted in October on federal campaign finance charges, making false statements and filing false records.
Parnas pleaded not guilty.
In October, authorities arrested Parnas and his partner Igor Fruman at Washington Dulles International Airport as they were headed to Vienna on one-way tickets. They also charged two other associates.
But before Vienna, there was Las Vegas. The indictment charges that in July 2018, Parnas, Fruman and two associates visited Las Vegas, where they decided to go into the pot business with $1 million of someone else’s money, in fed parlance, “Foreign National-1.”
Problem: According to the indictment, they missed the September 2018 deadline to apply for a license — which doesn’t speak to their business acumen. No worries. An associate told “Foreign National 1” in late October they were “two months too late to the game unless we change the rules.”
Then they donated $10,000 to the campaigns of both Adam Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general then running for governor, and Wes Duncan, the Republican running to replace Laxalt. But they never applied for a license, according to the state Department of Taxation.
When Laxalt and Duncan learned about the indictment, their campaigns returned the money.“As I said when all this broke, the indictment said the defendants concealed the scheme from candidates, campaigns, federal regulators and the public,” Laxalt told the Review Journal.
So: No business acumen and a zeal for throwing around money to look like big shots. They’re just the kind of people a shrewd aide would want to keep away from a president of the United States, if the president didn’t have the good sense to avoid them. Instead, Giuliani brought them to the Trump table.
And they returned the favor by secretly recording and videotaping table talk during a dinner for big donors at the Trump International Hotel on April 30, 2018. You can hear Parnas badmouthing then-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom he saw as an impediment to a natural gas scheme Fruman and Parnas had hatched. Parnas said that Yovanovitch was telling people not to work with Trump because he was “going to get impeached.”
“Get rid of her,” Trump reacts. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay. Do it.”
Trump told reporters he doesn’t really know Parnas, even if there are photos of the two together. Which means he talks like that to people he barely knows.
The video is not a smoking gun. It’s not even cause and effect. The Trump administration did not recall Yovanovitch until 2019, a year later. And, of course, Trump had every right to end his ambassador’s tenure in Kyiv.
But you can’t watch and listen without thinking: How did these two snakes get so near the president? If there was no one who exercised seasoned judgment, and there wasn’t, then really, where was security?
“Question: Lev Parnas has come forward and said that you knew everything that he was doing in Ukraine.
POTUS: No, he’s a conman. Okay, you ready? Let me answer that one first.
Question: Okay, so would you say that’s not true?
POTUS: I don’t know him —
Question: Okay, you don’t know him.
POTUS: other than he’s sort of like a groupie. He shows up at fundraisers. Okay? So I don’t know anything about him.”
-From a Jan. 22 press conference in Davos