Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian-born American who has photos and video to prove that he knows President Donald Trump, showed up outside the Senate impeachment trial on Wednesday.
Parnas couldn’t get into the chamber because the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani was wearing an ankle monitor as a condition of his bail. But he was able to tell reporters how much he really wants to testify under oath.
Two weeks ago, Parnas was all over cable TV as the House impeachment managers’ great hope to nail their case for impeachment.
That was before news of a tell-all book by former national security adviser John Bolton ended their need to rely on a man who was indicted in October on federal campaign finance charges, making false statements, and filing false records.
Parnas pleaded not guilty, but his lawyer has been talking about how his Senate testimony could facilitate a plea bargain.
“When I started this case, Lev was a figure on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ He was the gangster with unpaid debts. Now he’s become perhaps the most pivotal witness that could be offered in a trial,” Joseph A. Brody told CNN.
In October, authorities arrested Parnas and his partner Igor Fruman at Washington Dulles International Airport as they were headed to Vienna on one-way tickets. They also issued charges against two other associates.
But before Vienna, there was Las Vegas. The indictment charges that in July 2018, Parnas, Fruman, and two associates visited Las Vegas, where recreational marijuana is legal, where they decided to go into the pot business with $1 million of someone else’s money, in fed parlance, “Foreign National-1.”
Problem: According to the indictment, they missed the September 2018 deadline to apply for a license — which doesn’t speak to their business acumen.
No worries, an associate told “Foreign National-1” they were “two months too late to the game unless we change the rules,” in late October.
Then they donated $10,000 to the campaigns of both Adam Laxalt, the former Nevada attorney general then running for governor, and Wes Duncan, the Republican running to replace Laxalt. But they never applied for a license, according to the state Department of Taxation.
When Laxalt and Duncan learned about the indictment, their campaigns returned the money.
“As I said when all this broke, the indictment said the defendants concealed the scheme from candidates, campaigns, federal regulators and the public,” Laxalt told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
So: No business acumen and a zeal for throwing around money to look like big shots. They’re just the kind of people a shrewd aide would want to keep away from a president of the United States, if the president didn’t have the good sense to avoid them. Instead, Giuliani brought them to the Trump table.
And they returned the favor by secretly recording table talk.
There’s a video for that, too. Fruman used his cellphone to record a dinner for big donors at the Trump International Hotel on April 30, 2018. Bondy released the video.
You can hear Parnas badmouthing then-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom he saw as an impediment to a natural gas scheme Fruman and Parnas had hatched. Parnas said that Yovanovitch was telling people not to work with Trump because he was “going to get impeached.”
“Get rid of her,” Trump reacts. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay. Do it.”
Trump told reporters he doesn’t really know Parnas, even if there are photos of the two together. Which means he talks like that to people he barely knows.
The video is not a smoking gun. It’s not even cause and effect. The Trump administration did not recall Yovanovitch until 2019, a whole year later. And, of course, Trump had every right to end his ambassador’s tenure in Kyiv.
But you can’t watch and listen without thinking: How did these two snakes get so near the president? If there was no one who exercised seasoned judgment, and there wasn’t, then really, where was security?
Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
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