Lev Parnas arrives at Federal Court on December 17, 2019 in New York City. Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, appears in court on Tuesday as federal prosecutors seek to have his bail revoked for allegedly concealing a $1 million payment they say he received from Russia before his arrest.
Stephanie Keith | Getty Images
Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, claimed in an interview that aired Thursday that President Donald Trump fired, or believed he fired, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine several times before her recall was publicly announced in April.
“He fired her probably, at least — to my knowledge — at least four, five times,” Parnas said in the second part of an interview on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” according to a transcript. Parnas and another man have been charged with allegedly funneling money from foreign entities to U.S. candidates in a scheme to buy political influence.
Parnas did not say how he knew Trump previously tried to fire Marie Yovanovitch, but he appeared to indicate he learned about it at a dinner.
“I don’t know how the issue is — the conversation came up, but I do remember me telling the president that the ambassador was badmouthing him and saying that he was going to get impeached. Something to that effect,” Parnas told Maddow.
“And at that point, he turned around to John DeStefano, who was his aide at the time, and said, ‘Fire her.’ And we all, there was silence in the room,” Parnas said.
He said DeStefano replied it couldn’t happen at the time because Mike Pompeo had not yet been confirmed as secretary of state. “I don’t know how many times at that dinner, once or twice, three times, but he fired her several times at that dinner,” Parnas said, speaking of Trump.
Yovanovitch, who has been lauded for anti-corruption work, was allegedly targeted for removal by a campaign led by Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.
“He even had a breakdown and screams, ‘Fire her!'” to another assistant, Parnas claimed, and the assistant replied, “Mr. President, I can’t do that.'” Parnas said Trump was directing the State Department to fire Yovanovitch, and the department was refusing to do it.
The effort to oust Yovanovitch is part of the allegations against Trump that led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives, and Yovanovitch testified in the impeachment inquiry.
Trump, in a reconstruction of a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy released by the White House, said of Yovanovitch, “she’s going to go through some things.”
In that call Trump and Zelenskiy discussed military aid to Ukraine and Trump asked for a “favor” and appeared to call for an investigation by Ukraine into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had been hired to the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Giuliani said in interviews last month that Yovanovitch was an obstacle to getting Ukraine to announce the investigations he said Trump desired. He later walked it back, tweeting that she “needed to be removed for many reasons.”
The impeachment articles in part allege that Trump held up Congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine as leverage to get the Ukrainians to announce investigations into the Bidens, in an attempt to abuse the power of the presidency for his personal political gain in the 2020 election.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a decision released Thursday that the Trump administration violated the law by withholding military aid to Ukraine.
Yovanovitch told House investigators her reputation was smeared by Giuliani, who seized on Ukrainian disinformation about her allegedly badmouthing the president, that she was blocking corruption investigations by circulating a “do not prosecute” list and stymying investigation into the Bidens.
She denied all the allegations under oath, and her colleagues have testified she was the victim of disinformation tactics that had been used on U.S. officials for years.
Parnas, in the first part of the interview that aired Wednesday, claimed “President Trump knew exactly what was going on” in Ukraine and that Trump “was aware of all my movements” and that “I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”
Parnas also said the effort to have the Ukrainians announce investigations was ” “all about” the Bidens and “never about corruption.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement Thursday cast doubt on Parnas’ credibility.
“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,” Grisham said.
Parnas also claimed that Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr were “in the loop” on the Ukraine effort and that Trump ordered Pence not to attend Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May because the investigations Trump wanted had not been announced.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said of Parnas’ claims about Barr: “100 percent false.”
Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, said Thursday that “Democrat witnesses have testified under oath in direct contradiction to Lev Parnas’ statements last night.”
“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,” Short said. “It’s no surprise that only the liberal media is listening to him.”
Giuliani denied to the show Wednesday that he told Ukrainian officials Parnas spoke on behalf of Trump. When asked if Parnas was lying, Giuliani said, “All I can say is the truth.”
When the Department of Justice announced charges against Parnas and another man, Igor Fruman, in October, it said the pair could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
Federal prosecutors in December argued Parnas was untruthful with Justice Department officials and concealed assets, including $1 million from a Russian oligarch with ties to Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in an attempt to have his bail revoked. Parnas was allowed to remain free on bail.
Trump has defended his July phone call with Zelenskiy as “perfect” and said he did nothing wrong. Trump tweeted Thursday “I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL!”
The House voted on Wednesday to send the impeachment articles to the Senate, which will hold a trial, and the senators were sworn in Thursday by Chief Justice John Roberts. The two articles of impeachment allege abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Parnas, in the portion of the interview that aired Thursday, said he had conversations with Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, who was aware of the alleged effort to get Ukraine to announce investigations.
Parnas said Sekulow was “in the loop” and that Parnas was a witness to conversations.
He said Sekulow “didn’t agree with what Rudy was doing, but he knew what he was doing” because “I heard him talk about it.”
“He didn’t want to be involved in the Ukraine stuff,” Parnas claimed of Sekulow.
Then former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s name emerged as a figure in the impeachment inquiry. A State Department official who had been interviewed by House Democrats investigating the matter has said Perry was part of a trio who called themselves “the three amigos” and appointed by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to spearhead Trump’s efforts in Ukraine.
Parnas said he never interacted with Perry, but Perry called Giuliani when Perry was headed to Ukraine to attend the inauguration, and Giuliani told Perry to get an investigation announced.
Perry has denied playing any role in the alleged scheme.
Perry announced his resignation in October, and it took effect at the end of 2019.