In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lev Parnas—an ex-associate of Rudy Giuliani’s who’s at the heart of the impeachment scandal—said he’s determined to keep speaking out about his work in Trump World on Ukraine despite the backlash.
Parnas sat with Rachel Maddow for an MSNBC interview that aired Wednesday, and then with CNN’s Anderson Cooper for another interview set to run Thursday night. In his conversation with Maddow, he said President Donald Trump knew all about his efforts to pressure Kyiv to give him political favors. And he said Giuliani told Ukrainian leaders that Parnas specifically spoke on the president’s behalf. The comments drew attention from Capitol Hill, and Democratic congressional investigators have pointed to them as good reason for the Senate to call witnesses in its impeachment trial of Trump.
In another portion of the interview with Maddow aired late Thursday, Parnas likened Trump to a “cult leader” and said he was “more scared of our own Justice Department” than criminals.
He went on to claim that he’d “fired” lawyers connected to Trump after getting the feeling that they “tried to keep me quiet.”
Parnas told The Daily Beast that his former friends’ reaction to his arrest has strengthened his resolve to speak out. Parnas said that after he and his associate Igor Fruman were arrested at Dulles Airport on Oct. 9 and charged with campaign finance violations, he was disappointed with Giuliani’s silence. He said Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing—a Trump-friendly husband-and-wife legal team with deep and long-standing ties in Washington’s conservative legal world—also kept mum about their relationship with him. That silence, he said, left him feeling betrayed.
“I felt like my family left me,” he said.
He noted that the trio rarely shy away from defending controversial clients and allies on TV. But in his case, Parnas said, they were silent.
“Knowing everything about me, knowing that this was probably a hit job, they all just clammed up,” he said.
He noted that the president also disavowed knowing him, despite pictures of them together at multiple events. And he said he’d hoped to cooperate with congressional investigators as soon as they asked for his help.
Toensing, diGenova, and Giuliani did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump said on Thursday afternoon that he does not know Parnas and does not “know what he’s about.” Earlier this week, Giuliani—who was shown to be in close contact with Parnas in text messages released by House Democrats this week—dismissed Parnas as a “proven liar,” claiming his decision to provide documents to congressional Democrats was a bid for “attention.
While Parnas has provided a trove of documents detailing his and Giuliani’s dealings with Ukrainian officials, he also has come under scrutiny for a past that is checkered with legal and financial troubles.
The White House pointed to that past on Thursday to dismiss Parnas’ credibility.
“This is a man who owns a company called Fraud Inc., so I think that’s something that people should be thinking about,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News.
In addition to charges of violating campaign-finance laws, Parnas has repeatedly been hit with lawsuits accusing him of failing to pay rent or live up to his end of various business deals. As recently as 2016, he was ordered by a federal judge to pay more than $500,000 to a family trust after he borrowed money for a movie that never ended up being made.
It is not clear if Giuliani was aware of Parnas’ past business troubles when he teamed up with him to seek kompromat on Joe Biden in Ukraine, but Giuliani himself did consulting work for Parnas’ Fraud Guarantee firm in 2018.
— Justin Baragona contributed reporting