Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, on Wednesday night unequivocally undercut House Democrats’ explosive new suggestion that Trump associates had the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch under surveillance, saying text messages that seemingly suggested Yovanovitch was being monitored were just the ramblings of a “drunk.”
Speaking to MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Parnas repeatedly said prominent Trump donor Robert F. Hyde wasn’t being serious when he claimed to know Yovanovitch’s whereabouts. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif, wrote Tuesday that Hyde’s texts indicated “that he had Ambassador Yovanovitch under physical surveillance.”
“I don’t believe it was true, I think he was either drunk or was trying to make himself bigger than he was,” Parnas told Rachel Maddow, adding that he was “disturbed” by the “crazy” text messages. “I didn’t take it seriously, and if you see, I didn’t even respond to it most of the time.”
Parnas, who laughed as soon as Maddow mentioned Hyde’s name and called him a “weird individual,” added: “Eventually, as you can see, I cut him off.” (“She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Computer is off,” Hyde wrote to Parnas on March 25, 2019. It was unclear how he would know that her computer was not on. “She’s next to the embassy. … Not in the embassy. Private security. Been there since Thursday.”)
When Maddow pointed out that Hyde’s texts went on for several days, and doubted that someone could be drunk for so long, Parnas quickly disabused her of that notion.
“He’s drunk the whole time,” Parnas said flatly. “He wakes up and he’s drunk. He starts at 6. I’ve never seen him not drunk.”
At the same time, Parnas said the Trump team publicly accused Yovanovitch of corruption because she stood in the way of the plot to get an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden started.
“That was the only motivation,” Parnas said.
However, the Trump administration has openly been trying to oust Yovanovitch since early 2018, with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions even sending a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to that effect. And, contrary to Parnas’ claims Wednesday, prosecutors have said Parnas was acting in part at the direction of a Ukrainian official in seeking to the diplomat’s removal. Maddow did not ask Parnas at all about his own pending criminal case, or the administration’s previous efforts regarding Yovanovitch.
Giuliani has since acknowledged his role in Yovanovitch’s ouster, calling her corrupt. In his infamous July 2019 call with Ukraine’s president, Trump remarked: “She’s going to go through some things,” referring to Yovanovitch.
The show began with Maddow noting Parnas and his business partner Igor Fruman, both U.S. citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet bloc, have been indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records related to allegations that they made outsized campaign donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars originating from Russia.
Additionally, Maddow pointed out, Parnas has sought to testify in the impeachment probe — although Maddow did not mention the reports of a possible immunity deal to secure his appearance that could save Parnas from prison time. Republicans have said Parnas has no credibility left.
Separately, Parnas told Maddow that Trump was contemplating cutting all forms of financial assistance to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into Joe Biden, not just military aid — and, Parnas said, the plot had a clear political motivation. (Trump has raised concerns over Biden’s recorded 2018 boast of having Ukraine’s top prosecutor fired, as well as Hunter Biden’s lucrative role on a Ukrainian company’s board while his father was directing Ukraine policy as vice president.)
“Yeah, it was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and also Rudy had a personal thing with the [Paul] Manafort black ledger stuff,” Parnas claimed. “But, it was never about corruption, it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.” The so-called “black ledger” purportedly showed millions of dollars from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman.
Parnas said Giuliani told him to deliver a “harsh” message to Ukraine that “all aid” to the country would be halted unless “there was an announcement of the Biden investigation,” among other demands.
“He was aware of all of my movements,” Parnas said, referring to Trump. Parnas added that Giuliani had informed Ukrainian officials that he represented Trump and had his imprimatur.
“He’s drunk the whole time. He wakes up and he’s drunk. He starts at 6. I’ve never seen him not drunk.”
Attorney General Bill Barr was “basically” part of the “team,” and closely involved in all Ukraine dealings, Parnas said he had surmised. In fact, it would be inconceivable to imagine otherwise, Parnas asserted, although he did not provide direct evidence.
Department of Justice Spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told Fox News on Wednedsay night that Maddow’s show had sent the following request for information: “Today, we interviewed Lev Parnas. He told us Attorney General Barr was basically on the same team and best of friends with Rudy Giuliani, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova. He said AG Barr knew, through contact with Rudy Giuliani, about the effort to get the Ukrainians to announce an investigation of Vice President Joe Biden. We welcome any comment you have for us about this.”
Kupec then provided Fox News the same statement that Maddow read on-air: “100% false.”
Additonally, Kupec said nothing had changed from the DOJ’s September 2019 statement, which read: “The Attorney General was first notified of the President’s conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky several weeks after the call took place, when the Department of Justice learned of a potential referral. The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine – on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine – on this or any other subject. Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.
“A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” the statement continued. “While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”
Elsewhere in the interview, apparently his first on national television, Parnas alleged that former national security adviser John Bolton was “in the loop” on Trump’s alleged scheme to obtain the Biden investigation, “100 percent.” Bolton has been suggested as a possible witness in the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, and he has said he would be willing to testify.
Parnas also claimed Trump had “lied” when he told reporters on Oct. 10 that he didn’t “know” Parnas. (“Now it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody,” Trump had said. “I have a picture with everybody here.”)
According to Schiff, Parnas’ documents showed that on Oct. 2, 2019, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told former Trump attorney John Dowd that he had discussed “the issue of representation” with Trump, the Democrats said. Trump responded that he “consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. [Igor] Fruman.”
Among the other records Parnas produced were “handwritten notes on stationary from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna, Austria,” Schiff wrote, including a note that read, “get [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] [Zelensky] to [announce] that the Biden case will Be Investigated; start commun[icating] with Zalensky [sic] without [Pinchuk or Kolomoisky].” An undated photograph of the note was included in the Democrats’ documents.
Victor Pinchuk and Ihor Kolomoisky are Ukrainian oligarchs, and Democrats have alleged that Parnas wanted Kolomoisky’s help “in facilitating a meeting” between Giuliani and Zelensky.
Parnas told Maddow the notes were from a “phone conversation” with Giuliani, and the “main objective” was always to get Zelensky to announce the probe.
The note by itself did not provide a major new revelation, as Giuliani has long acknowledged heading to Ukraine to seek investigations of Joe Biden — a 2020 presidential candidate — and other possible corruption in the country. The Trump team strenuously has denied delaying military aid to Ukraine in order to obtain an investigation of Biden specifically, although some Trump associates have argued that endemic corruption has been considered a valid reason to withhold aid.
At the close of her show Wednesday night, Maddow read aloud response from Giuliani to Parnas’ comments, in which he simply called Parnas a “sad situation.”
Fox News’ Jake Gibson and Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report.