Lev Parnas claims to have been personally carrying out extensive efforts to discredit the Bidens in Ukraine at the direct behest of Mr Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, of whom he is a known associate.
“It was like being in a cult. When they say organised crime – I don’t think Trump is like organised crime, I think he’s like a cult leader,” Mr Parnas claimed to MSNBC on Thursday night.
“Right now the scary part … and what people don’t understand, is there’s a lot of Republicans that would go against him. The difference between why Trump is so powerful now – he wasn’t as powerful in ‘16 and ‘17, he became that powerful when he got [attorney general] William Barr.
“People are scared. Am I scared? Yes. I think I’m more scared of our justice department than these criminals right now. Because the scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you’ve done nothing wrong. And that’s the tool they’re using. Because they’re trying to scare me into not talking … My wife is scared, my kids are nervous.”
It is the Soviet-born businessman’s first round of interviews since being indicted for allegedly violating campaign finance laws by making outsize donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars from Russian sources.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records after being arrested trying to flee the US.
Mr Parnas claims to have been on a mission in Ukraine to dig dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden since 2018, meeting with top officials on the president’s behalf. On Wednesday claimed Mr Trump “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.
“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.”
Mr Trump has strenuously denied knowing Mr Parnas, despite there being extensive photo and video evidence of their having met on a multitude of occasions. Mr Parnas grew up in Brooklyn and has previously said he worked for the Trump Organisation in the Eighties selling real estate, but claimed he didn’t properly get to know Donald until the 2016 campaign.
“I don’t even know who this man is. I take thousands of pictures with people,” Mr Trump repeated on Thursday, having previously said: “Maybe you will have to ask Rudy.”
Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Mr Parnas addressed the president’s claims that they don’t know each other, saying: “I welcome him to say that even more. Every time he says that I’ll show him another picture. He’s lying.”
Mr Parnas gave the television interviews days after his lawyer submitted a series of documents from his client to Congress.
These included claims that Mr Giuliani told Ukrainian officials he was working on the president’s behalf and text messages suggesting Marie Yovanovitch – the ousted US ambassador to Ukraine – may have been under surveillance by a Republican donor named Robert Hyde.
It has been suggested that Ms Yovanovitch was removed because she would have blocked attempts by the Trump administration to pressure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing an investigation into the son of Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s potential 2020 election rival, who worked on the board of an energy company in Ukraine called Burisma.
While underplaying the gravity of the text messages, saying Mr Hyde “was drunk the whole time”, Mr Parnas did claim he witnessed a furious Mr Trump telling an aide to “get rid of” the ambassador during a private dinner in spring 2018, after Mr Parnas told the president she was badmouthing him in Ukraine.
Mr Giuliani has admitted he wanted Ms Yovanovitch “out of the way”, and she was abruptly recalled last year after a smear campaign against her – in which Mr Parnas appears to be admitting to having taken an active role.
“I never thought I was doing anything wrong,” he told MSNBC on Thursday. “I regret certain things, like hurting the ambassador, because … when you’re in a war, you think ‘casualties’ and things like that.”
Despite his assertions that he was fighting the president’s battles, Mr Trump and his allies have dismissed Mr Parnas’ claims as those of a desperate man seeking a plea deal.
After the businessman claimed vice president Mike Pence was also aware of what was happening in Ukraine, Mr Pence’s chief of staff said: “This is very simple: Lev Parnas is under a multi-count indictment and will say anything to anybody who will listen in hopes of staying out of prison. It’s no surprise that only the liberal media is listening to him.”
But on Tuesday, the House of Representatives provided additional evidence to be used in the Senate trial alongside the articles of impeachment, including Mr Parnas’ newly submitted documents.
In an indication of Washington’s polarisation as the trial begins, many Republicans railed against the inclusion of new evidence, yet provided few solid reasons why.
When asked by CNN reporters whether the Senate should consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial – such as Mr Parnas’ fresh documents – Republican senator Martha McSally replied: “Man, you’re a liberal hack, I’m not talking to you.”