Key things we learned from Lev Parnas' revealing MSNBC interview

President Donald Trump "knew exactly what was going on" in Ukraine, Parnas told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.
Image: Lev Parnas during an interview on The Rachel Maddow Show on Jan. 15, 2020.
Lev Parnas in an interview on 'The Rachel Maddow Show' on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.NBC News

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By Allan Smith

Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, unleashed a series of explosive allegations against top members of the administration during an interview Wednesday with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, among them that Trump knew "exactly" what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine.

Parnas also said Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr were "in the loop" as far as the Ukraine effort went.

The interview came as House Democrats released new records detailing Parnas' role in the effort to have Ukraine investigate Trump's political rivals. Parnas and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, face federal campaign finance charges in the Southern District of New York.

The Trump administration swiftly pushed back against Parnas' claims. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Parnas' claims "are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison." Marc Short, Pence's chief of staff, said Parnas "will say anything to anybody who will listen in hopes of staying out of prison." Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said Parnas' comments were "100 percent false."

Giuliani, meanwhile, told NBC News that Parnas is "a very sad situation."

Here's a look at some of the top allegations made during the interview and their context in the investigation:

Trump knew everything

Parnas told Maddow that Trump "knew exactly what was going on" in Ukraine.

"He was aware of all my movements," Parnas said, adding, "I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president."

Trump has denied knowing Parnas and Fruman, although multiple photos show the president with one or both of the men. Trump has said that "it's possible I have a picture with them, because I have a picture with everybody."

"He lied," Parnas said of Trump. "I mean, we're not friends. ... But he knows exactly who we were. He knows exactly who I was, especially because I interacted with him at a lot of events."

Everybody was in the loop

Pence, Barr and John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser at the time, were all keyed in on what was going on, Parnas said, echoing the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, before investigators in the inquiry into whether to impeach Trump.

"I'm going to use a famous quote by Mr. Sondland: Everybody was in the loop," Parnas said.

Parnas said Trump ordered Pence not to attend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's inauguration in May because the investigations that Trump wanted of former Vice President Joe Biden, his son, Hunter Biden, and other Democrats were not announced.

"I know [Pence] went to Poland also to discuss this on Trump's behalf, so he couldn't have not known," Parnas said, citing Pence's discussion with Zelenskiy in September, which has come under scrutiny in the impeachment process.

Sondland testified last year that he talked to Pence about the investigation into Burisma — the Ukrainian gas company whose board Hunter Biden served on during his father's vice presidency — before the vice president met with Zelenskiy in Poland on Sept. 1. Sondland said he told Pence "before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations."

At the time, Short, Pence's chief of staff, pushed back, saying such a conversation never took place.

Parnas also pointed to Bolton, who was in Poland as part of the delegation, saying he believes Bolton "has a lot to say."

Bolton said he would testify in Trump's impeachment trial on the Senate if he is subpoenaed. Trump indicated that he would block Bolton's testimony.

"I'm not going to talk on this ... but I think he's a key witness to his conversation with Zelenskiy, and when he came back and why he left or got fired or however you want to look at that," Parnas said.

Parnas said Giuliani "absolutely" interacted with Barr regarding the announcement of Ukrainian investigations, saying Barr "had to have known everything."

"Attorney General Barr was basically on the team," Parnas said.

Hurricane Dorian merely an 'excuse'

Trump had been scheduled to join the Poland trip, but he canceled, citing a need to stay in the United States to monitor Hurricane Dorian. Parnas said that, according to Giuliani, the hurricane was merely an "excuse."

"It was because he was angry that Zelenskiy still didn't make any attempt or effort to make any announcement before he was going to meet him," Parnas said.

'Never about corruption'

For months, Trump and his allies have insisted that the effort to have Ukraine announce investigations was to fight corruption in the country, not to damage political opponents.

But Parnas said the effort was "all about" the Bidens and "never about corruption."

"It was never — it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden," Parnas said.

'All aid'

In a new claim, Parnas said that not only was military aid being threatened but that all U.S. aid to Ukraine was on the table.

Parnas said Giuliani ordered him to deliver a message to Zelenskiy through one of Zelenskiy's top aides. Parnas said he gave the aide "a very harsh message."

"Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after, you know, meeting with the president at the White House, he called me," Parnas said. "The message was, it wasn't just military aid, it was all aid. Basically, their relationships would be sour, that he would, that we would stop giving them any kind of aid" unless "several demands" were met, most important among them "the announcement of the Biden investigation."

A Ukrainian oligarch

Parnas also detailed Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash's role in the Ukraine puzzle.

Firtash, one of Ukraine's wealthiest businessman, has battled extradition to the United States for the past two years as the Justice Department seeks to prosecute him on bribery and racketeering charges. Federal prosecutors labeled him an "upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime," an allegation that Firtash has denied.

Last summer, Firtash swapped out his team of U.S. attorneys and hired Joe diGevona and Victoria Toensing, a pair of pro-Trump lawyers close to Giuliani. Parnas served as a translator in their communications.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the Ukraine scandal

Parnas said diGevona and Toensing told Firtash that they could get his charges dropped if he provided information that could prove damaging to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

"For us to be able to receive information from Firtash, we had to promise Firtash something," Parnas said.

Parnas added that getting Ukraine to announce the Biden investigation was linked to having the United States drop charges against Firtash.

"It was all connected," Parnas said. "I mean, it was all — at the end of the day, it was all — the agenda was to make sure that the Ukrainians announced the Biden investigation."

Giuliani has denied being involved with Firtash, telling NBC News last year that he has "nothing to do" with the oligarch.

"This is a smear job. The Firtash thing is a smear job. I have nothing to do with him. The president has nothing to do with him," Giuliani said. "The fact is, I know his case because it's very famous."

Federal prosecutors said in court last month that Parnas had received a $1 million payment from an attorney for Firtash.

Yovanovitch and Robert Hyde

Parnas addressed one of the more eye-opening revelations from his recently released records — claims that Marie Yovanovitch, then the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was being closely monitored by a Republican congressional candidate from Connecticut, Robert Hyde.

Democrats called for an inquiry into Hyde, while Ukraine announced that it will investigate the alleged surveillance.

But Parnas, like Hyde this week, said he strongly doubted that any such surveillance took place.

Parnas, who texted with him about Yovanovitch, called Hyde "a weird character" whom he met at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

"Well, I don't believe it's true," he said of Hyde's claims of tracking Yovanovitch. "I think he was either drunk or he was trying to make himself bigger than he was, so I didn't take it seriously."

Hyde told reporters that he was just playing around with Parnas and had been drinking when he sent the messages.

"He was drunk the whole time," Parnas said. "He wakes up and he's drunk — he starts at 6 — I mean, I've never seen him not drunk."

Giuliani said in interviews last month that Yovanovitch was an obstacle to getting Ukraine to announce the investigations that Trump wanted. He later walked the assertion back, tweeting that she "needed to be removed for many reasons."

Parnas apologized to Yovanovitch for having believed that she had bad-mouthed Trump, an allegation that she denied to impeachment investigators. He said the Burisma inquiry was the sole reason she was recalled.

"That was the only motivation," he said.