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Lev Parnas, Key Player in Ukraine Affair, Completes Break With Trump and GiulianiLev Parnas, Key Player in Ukraine Affair, Completes Break With Trump and Giuliani

In an interview, he said the president knew everything about the effort to push Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election.

By Kenneth P. Vogel and Ben Protess – For: The New York Times

  • Published Jan. 15, 2020Updated Jan. 16, 2020, 12:18 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born businessman who played a central role in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals of President Trump, completed his break with the White House on Wednesday, asserting for the first time in public that the president was fully aware of the efforts to dig up damaging information on his behalf.

In an interview with The New York Times on the day the House transmitted articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump to the Senate, Mr. Parnas also expressed regret for having trusted Mr. Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and the architect of the Ukraine pressure campaign. His lawyer said he was eager to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Parnas made his remarks as House impeachment investigators released more material he had turned over to them. The material, including text messages, photos and calendar entries, underscored how deeply Mr. Parnas and others were involved in carrying out the pressure campaign and how new information continues to surface even as the Senate prepares to begin Mr. Trump’s trial next week. And it provided additional evidence that the effort to win political advantage for Mr. Trump was widely known among his allies, showing that Mr. Parnas communicated regularly with two top Republican fund-raisers about what he was up to.

Text messages and call logs show that Mr. Parnas was in contact with Tom Hicks Jr., a donor and Trump family friend, and Joseph Ahearn, who raised money for pro-Trump political groups, about developments in the Ukraine pressure campaign.

In the text messages, Mr. Parnas kept Mr. Hicks and Mr. Ahearn apprised of efforts to disseminate damaging information about targets of Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, including the United States ambassador to Kyiv, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Ukrainians who spread information about Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman.

The records seem to expand the circle of people around Mr. Trump who were aware in real time of the pressure campaign. The campaign led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment in the House last month and a Senate trial that will start next week just as the 2020 presidential campaign is moving into high gear.

In the interview with The Times, Mr. Parnas said that although he did not speak with Mr. Trump directly about the efforts, he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Mr. Giuliani that Mr. Trump was kept in the loop. Mr. Parnas pointed in particular to text messages, released by the House this week, in which Mr. Giuliani refers to an effort to obtain a visa for a former Ukrainian official who leveled corruption allegations against Mr. Biden.

In the messages, Mr. Giuliani boasted of the effort to secure the visa: “It’s going to work I have no 1 in it.” Mr. Parnas said the reference to No. 1 was to Mr. Trump.

“I am betting my whole life that Trump knew exactly everything that was going on that Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine,” Mr. Parnas said.

Mr. Parnas, an American citizen who was arrested in October on largely unrelated federal criminal charges, expressed remorse for his role in helping the Ukrainian pressure campaign, but pinned blame on the president and Mr. Giuliani.

“My biggest regret is trusting so much,” he said. “I thought I was being a patriot and helping the president,” he said, adding that he “thought by listening to the president and his attorney that I couldn’t possibly get in trouble or do anything wrong.”

Now that he faces criminal charges in the Southern District of New York, Mr. Parnas, who has pleaded not guilty, is looking to cooperate with prosecutors in his case, who are conducting a broader investigation into Mr. Giuliani and his dealings in Ukraine.

“We very much want to be heard in the Southern District,” Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, said in the interview with The Times. “We very much want to provide substantial assistance to the government.”

Taken together, the comments on Wednesday capped a stunning turnabout for a man who was a Trump donor and once considered himself a close friend of Mr. Giuliani, who is a godfather to his son.

Mr. Giuliani said in a text message on Wednesday that it was “sad to watch how the Trump haters are using” Mr. Parnas. He attributed Mr. Parnas’s willingness to share documents with congressional Democrats to a desire for “attention.”

He called Mr. Parnas “a proven liar,” and suggested he was undermining his credibility as a potential witness. “Let him run himself out then I’ll respond if necessary,” Mr. Giuliani said.

During the interview with The Times, as well as in a taped interview Mr. Parnas gave on Wednesday to the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, Mr. Parnas emphasized that he was always acting on behalf of Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani.

When asked by The Times how he knew that Mr. Trump was aware of the pressure campaign, he said that Mr. Giuliani assured him that was the case.

Before taking his first trip to Ukraine in February 2019, Mr. Parnas said that he met with Mr. Giuliani at the Grand Havana Room, a smoke-filled private club high above Midtown Manhattan, and relayed a concern that he and an associate, Igor Fruman, lacked the diplomatic credentials to carry out their task. Mr. Parnas said he proposed that the president designate them “special envoys” to ensure their safety and access.

Then, Mr. Parnas said, Mr. Giuliani walked away to call Mr. Trump, and returned with a new plan: He would represent Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, as well as the president, a move that might afford their shared mission the confidentiality of attorney-client privilege. Mr. Giuliani has denied Mr. Parnas’s account.

Days later, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman embarked for Eastern Europe.

Upon his return, Mr. Parnas began working with influential conservatives to disseminate the information and claims he helped collect from Ukraine. The materials released Wednesday also show him maintaining regular communication with Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s chief prosecutor at the time, who was advocating the removal of the United States ambassador in Kyiv and was promising help in getting information about Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

By late March, as the claims began to circulate widely in the pro-Trump conservative news media, Mr. Parnas texted an associate, “I’m officially part of team trump,” according to the records released Wednesday.

In addition to the text messages, Mr. Parnas, who was indicted in October on campaign finance charges, provided Democrats in the House with voice mail messages left on his phone by Mr. Giuliani and another lawyer who worked on the Ukraine effort, emails, calendar entries and a bevy of photographs of Mr. Parnas with Trump allies.

In one photograph, which appears to be from May 2018, Mr. Parnas poses at a restaurant table with Mr. Fruman, who was also charged in the campaign finance case, as well as Mr. Hicks and the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

That same month, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman donated $325,000 in the name of a newly-created energy company, Global Energy Producers, to a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, with which Mr. Hicks and Mr. Ahearn were affiliated.

In February, Mr. Hicks sent Mr. Parnas a video of a segment on the conservative television channel One America News Network that criticized a Ukrainian lawmaker who disseminated information about cash payments earmarked for Mr. Manafort by a Russia-aligned Ukrainian political party.

“Show Rudy,” Mr. Hicks wrote.

“On it now,” Mr. Parnas responded.

Mr. Hicks, who is friendly with Donald Trump Jr., later suggested that Mr. Parnas share “what we know at right time” with the editor and owner of the conservative Daily Caller website, whom he called “a friend. I trust him 100%.”

The next month, after the publication of a series of articles critical of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, on which Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani had worked with a conservative journalist, Mr. Parnas shared a tweet on a related subject by the Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“You should retweet it,” Mr. Parnas wrote.

Mr. Hicks responded “I should probably keep my hands clean on that!”

That day, Mr. Ahearn texted Mr. Parnas asking “What should I send Don to tweet,” an apparent reference to Donald Trump Jr.

Mr. Parnas responded with links to tweets highlighting the articles about Ms. Yovanovitch, and a Ukrainian official who released the documents about the payments earmarked for Mr. Manafort. “Have jr retweet it,” Mr. Parnas wrote.

“Sent,” Mr. Ahearn responded.

It is unclear if Mr. Ahearn passed along the request to Donald Trump Jr., though Mr. Trump did retweet a Republican strategist criticizing Ms. Yovanovitch.

And a few days later, Mr. Parnas texted Mr. Ahearn another article about calls to remove Ms. Yovanovitch, which Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, commenting that the United States needs “less of these jokers as ambassadors.”

Mr. Parnas then sent an image of Mr. Trump’s tweet to Mr. Ahearn.

Mr. Trump ordered Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall in late April amid mounting calls for him to do so from conservative figures.

Peter Chavkin, a lawyer for Mr. Ahearn, said, “Nothing in the communications seems out of the ordinary or sparks any concern.”

Mr. Hicks, who was the chairman of America First Action before stepping aside to become a co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for America First declined to comment. The organization has provided documents to prosecutors investigating the campaign finance charges against Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman. And two people who have helped raise money for America First Action were subpoenaed by the prosecutors last year.

Kenneth P. Vogel reported from Washington, and Ben Protess from New York. William K. Rashbaum and Michael Rothfeld contributed reporting from New York.The Impeachment InvestigationNew information emerges as the focus shifts to the Senate.

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