A close associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is claiming Trump was directly involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Lev Parnas says he delivered an ultimatum in May, at Giuliani’s behest, to the incoming president of Ukraine that no senior U.S. officials would attend his inauguration and vital American security aid would be withheld if an investigation into Biden wasn’t announced.
He said Trump was aware of Giuliani’s efforts to secure an investigation and the president was briefed regularly.
If true, Parnas’ account undercuts a key Republican defense of Trump during the impeachment investigation — that Trump’s withholding of vital military aid to Ukraine last summer wasn’t a quid pro quo for Biden investigations.
“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” said Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman facing a raft of criminal charges related to campaign finance violations. “He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the President.”
Parnas made several potentially explosive claims in a televised interview Wednesday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The day after Parnas said he delivered the message, the State Department announced that Vice President Mike Pence would no longer be attending the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy.
Parnas alleged that Trump ordered Pence to stay away at the behest of Giuliani to send a clear message to the incoming Ukrainian administration that they needed to take seriously the demand for an investigation into Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate seen as a potential threat to Trump’s 2020 reelection.
Parnas said every communication he had with Zelenskiy’s team was at the direction of Giuliani, whom he regularly overheard briefing Trump about their progress by phone.
Giuliani called Parnas’ statements “sad.”
“I feel sorry for him,” Giuliani said Wednesday in a text message to an AP reporter. “I thought he was an honorable man. I was wrong.”
Asked directly if Parnas was lying, Trump’s lawyer replied, “I’m not responding yet.”
Parnas said he also heard Giuliani and another Trump-aligned defense lawyer, Victoria Toensing, briefing Attorney General William Barr by phone about their efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce the investigation into Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings.
“Barr was basically on the team,” Parnas said.
The Justice Department said in September that Trump had not spoken to Barr about having Ukraine investigate the Bidens and that the attorney general had not discussed Ukraine with Giuliani. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday that Parnas’ claims were “100% false.”
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