Giuliani Ally Says Trump Lied About What He Knew About Ukraine

Chris Strohm and Billy House

(Bloomberg) -- Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, accused President Donald Trump of lying for saying that he didn’t know what Parnas and Giuliani were doing in Ukraine.

“I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas said in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” he added in the interview, which was broadcast on the day that Democratic members of the U.S. House walked across the Capitol to deliver the two impeachment articles against Trump to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Ukrainian police, meanwhile, opened a criminal investigation into possible illegal surveillance on the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, when she was serving her term in the former Soviet state after text messages between Parnas and an associate alluded to such monitoring.

“Our goal is to investigate whether there actually was a violation of Ukrainian and International law, which could be the subject for proper reaction,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement published on its website. “Or whether it is just a bravado and a fake information in the informal conversation between two U.S. citizens.”

Trump denied knowing Parnas after he and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, were charged with campaign finance violations in October, although there are photographs of the three men together.

Parnas worked with Giuliani to dig up political dirt in Ukraine on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

“We are continuing to review his interviews and the materials he has provided to evaluate his potential testimony in the Senate trial,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said of Parnas in a statement Thursday. Schiff is leading the House Democratic lawmakers presenting the case in the Senate for removing Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the assertions by Parnas should be examined as potential evidence but stopped short of declaring him a credible witness. “Credible relates to the documents and all the rest,” she said. “There seems to be documentation that would validate what Parnas is saying, but that all has to be subjected to scrutiny” by the House impeachment managers.

In the interview, his first since he was charged, Parnas said he was instructed by Giuliani to tell Ukrainian officials that all U.S. aid to Ukraine would be withheld if Ukraine didn’t announce an investigation into the Bidens.

Parnas said he was working as part of Trump’s legal team and that Giuliani would tell Ukrainian officials that Parnas was working on behalf of Trump so the Ukrainians would take him seriously.

He also said that Vice President Mike Pence was directed to try to secure an agreement from the Ukrainians during a meeting in early September.

Parnas said a trip that Pence was scheduled to make to attend the inauguration of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was canceled because Trump was mad that the Ukrainians hadn’t announced an investigation.

Parnas didn’t provide evidence of his accusations against Trump or his administration.

“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,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an emailed statement. “The facts haven’t changed -- the president did nothing wrong and this impeachment, which was manufactured and carried out by the Democrats has been a sham from the start.”

In a separate interview with CNN that aired Thursday, Parnas said the purpose of his activities in Ukraine was to help Trump win re-election in 2020 and that other White House officials were aware of what he was doing, including Pence, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

“Of course,” Pence was aware of the campaign to pressure Ukrainian officials, Parnas said. “I don’t know if he knew everything.”

“Bolton, I don’t think agreed with it,” he added.

The push to get the Ukrainians to investigate Biden was “all about 2020, to make sure he has another four years,” Parnas said. “There was no other reason for doing it.”

Parnas said he is willing to testify before the House impeachment inquiry.

“The truth is out now, thank God,” he told CNN. “I thought they were going to shut me up and make me look like the scapegoat and try and blame me for stuff.”

Parnas’ lawyer received permission from the judge in his case to give documents related to Ukraine to a House committee this week.

Some of that material prompted House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel to demand information from the State Department regarding possible security risks to U.S. embassy personnel in Kyiv, including Yovanovitch.

Parnas and Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut, were “exchanging apparently highly sensitive information regarding the whereabouts of and security protocols” for Yovanovitch when she was ambassador, Engel wrote. The exchanges took place last March.

The House released additional documents from Parnas on its website Wednesday, including text and telephone messages.

In messages released on Tuesday, Hyde suggested that someone had Yovanovitch under surveillance near Kyiv.

“They will let me know when she’s on the move,” he wrote to Parnas. Minutes later, Hyde wrote, “They are willing to help if we/you would like a price.” He added, “Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money... What I was told.”

The next day Hyde wrote, “my contacts are asking what is the next step because they cannot keep going to check people will start to ask questions.”

A lawyer for Yovanovitch called for an investigation.

“Needless to say, the notion that American citizens and others were monitoring Ambassador Yovanovitch’s movements for unknown purposes is disturbing,” the lawyer, Lawrence Robbins, said on Tuesday night. “We trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation to determine what happened.”

Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible campaign finance violations and a failure to register as a foreign agent as part of an active investigation into his financial dealings, according to three U.S. officials.

(Updates with Pelosi’s comment in ninth paragraph)

--With assistance from Kathleen Miller, Daryna Krasnolutska and Larry Liebert.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net;Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at mshepard7@bloomberg.net, Elizabeth Wasserman, Kathleen Hunter

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