15 Questions the Media Should Be Asking Lev Parnas

Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas and his attorney have made extraordinary efforts in recent weeks to save his skin as he confronts federal prosecution. Parnas has been unusually verbose in his first wave of television interviews. With more interviews on the horizon, we provide a list of specific questions reporters (and perhaps members of Congress, if the time comes) should be asking him.

Background

In contrast to the usual strategy of someone under indictment, Parnas has started to conduct one news media interview after another, including an extensive and riveting session with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. But Parnas’s situation is also unusual, including congressional oversight and impeachment hearings running in parallel with his criminal case.  

Immediately after receiving permission from a federal court, Parnas provided his documents, including streams of text messages, to House investigators. This step comes months after the House issued a subpoena following Parnas’s October arrest on an indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. He and associate Igor Fruman are free on $1 million bond as they face charges of funneling illegal campaign contributions in support of Trump’s election and other politicians. The two were arrested at Washington Dulles Airport as they were awaiting a flight to Vienna with one-way tickets.

Carefully crafted questions and keen follow-up by the array of journalists who’ve interviewed Parnas this week have yielded a number of potential bombshells (depending on whether his claims can be corroborated). One is that Parnas was communicating with a U.S. congressional candidate, Robert Hyde, a Connecticut Republican, who last year discussed in messages with Parnas having active surveillance of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in Kyiv and even suggesting threats against her. Parnas told Maddow that he didn’t take Hyde seriously, was just playing along and didn’t really believe Yovanovitch was ever under surveillance or in physical danger. But the correspondence between Parnas and Hyde went on for a week. And the Ukrainian government has taken the news seriously enough to open an investigation, the FBI has now visited Hyde’s residence and office, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee has demanded documents from the State Department about the matter. All of that is in contrast to persistent silence from the U.S. State Department and denials of any knowledge by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Yovanovitch, too, has publicly called for her U.S. government employers to investigate.

Parnas also declared to Maddow, “President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the President.” Parnas told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the pressure on Ukraine was “all about 2020,” and not about any general concerns over corruption in Ukraine or otherwise working in the interest of the United States. “That was the way everyone viewed it,” Parnas said. “That was the most important thing — for him to stay on for four years and keep the fight going. I mean, there was no other reason for doing it.”

Parnas also intensified suspicion that Vice President Mike Pence was more aware of the scheme to pressure Ukraine than he has admitted since the scandal began to unfold. Parnas told Maddow that it was “100 percent” certain that the U.S. was threatening to withhold all funding even last spring if the Biden investigation wasn’t announced, and that the cancellation of Pence’s participation in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s May inauguration — administration officials have testified that it was Trump who decided that Pence shouldn’t lead the delegation — was intended as a signal that the administration was serious about its threat. “Pence wouldn’t be at the inauguration. And there would be no visit to the White House. They would basically have no communication,” Parnas told Cooper.

There are a host of other revelations and potential bombshells, including Giuliani’s signed letter to Ukraine’s president stating he was acting for Trump’s personal interests not for the office of the presidency (what former FBI General Counsel and top Mueller lieutenant Andrew Weissmann called “a real smoking gun”), and Parnas’s claims implicating Attorney General William Barr and former Secretary Rick Perry.

Despite these extensive interviews and others with news outlets including the New York Times and the emptywheel blog, earlier profiles of Parnas by the New Yorker and the Washington Post, and document deep dives by organizations like American Oversight, many questions remain beyond the most obvious of whether or how much Parnas is telling the truth now. 

It seems clear, for example, that we still don’t really know the full origin story of Parnas’s relationship with Trump and Giuliani, much less the other characters in this saga. And while there has been a fair amount of reporting about the membership of the pro-Trump “team” that was collaborating on the Ukraine scheme, including Republican Rep. Devin Nunes aide Derek Harvey, it’s unclear that we know the full roster.

As journalists keep digging, here are some of the questions for which we haven’t found answers. Just Security welcomes any feedback on this list of questions.

The Questions

1. List all the individuals who can corroborate your specific claims. What other specific documents and records that have not been released to the public would corroborate your claims?

2. Exactly when and how did you first meet Rudy Giuliani?

3. Exactly when and how did the idea of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe and/or Hunter Biden first arise, to your knowledge?

Background: The New York Times has referred to Parnas’s “first trip to Ukraine in February 2019,” but it’s unclear whether that was his first time in Ukraine on this mission or just his first time there that year. Parnas was born in Ukraine, though he has long lived in the United States and is a U.S. citizen.

4. Was Rudy Giuliani involved in other work in Ukraine that you had any connection with or knowledge of, other than this mission to persuade the Ukrainian government to announce investigations of Biden? 

5. Can you speak to whether Trump thought that the efforts with Ukraine authorities could benefit your or Giuliani’s or others’ business dealings?

6. Similarly, do you know whether Trump thought that the efforts with Ukraine could benefit Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, or Joe DiGenova in their being hired by former and incumbent Ukraine officials (per the NYT and Post’s reporting a few months ago)? Where any of those contracts with the Ukrainian the former and incumbent officials completed and carried out? 

Background for Questions 5 & 6: If Trump knew an effect would be to direct business toward Giuliani or Parnas, it may trigger liability for the President under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). See Susan Simpson’s important analysis of Giuliani and Parnas’s activities in relation to the Ukraine effort and the FCPA.

7. You have talked almost exclusively about your and your associates’ roles in relation to the effort to persuade the Ukrainian government to announce investigations into Joe and/or Hunter Biden. What discussions did you have with anyone about Giuliani’s and Trump’s belief that the Ukrainian government tried to interfere in the 2016 election in opposition to Trump and in favor of Hillary Clinton?

8. Who all was part of the “team” that you have mentioned that was involved in carrying out this mission? Name all the members and their roles.

9. You have been described at times by pro-Trump Washington lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, as well as Giuliani and others as a “translator,” but your role extended at least to that of a fixer, right? How would you describe your role in this effort?

10. Where exactly did you travel in the course of this mission, and who paid for the travel in each instance? Who paid for Giuliani’s travel and other expenses?

11. The WhatsApp messages that the House committees released on Jan. 14 show that Giuliani messaged you on July 3, 2019, asking, “Where are you guys?” And you responded, “Going to Vienna.” And he replied, “Wow!” Who were “you guys,” and why did Giuliani respond with that kind of excitement?

Background: This was around the time that Kremlin-linked Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a fugitive fighting U.S. extradition while living in Vienna, hired Toensing and DiGenova in the scheme to get dirt on the Bidens. Firtash later says he paid the couple $1.2 million as of November 2019, including a referral fee for Parnas.

12. What is your understanding of the arrangement between Giuliani, Toensing, DiGenova? Was the arrangement deliberately structured so that the team would have the “cover” of attorney-client privilege to not disclose their foreign clients and their being directed by the Trump legal team?

Background: Before taking the February 2019 trip to Ukraine, Parnas met with Giuliani in Manhattan to discuss details. Parnas told Giuliani that he and Fruman were concerned about not having diplomatic credentials for their mission, according to the Times:

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.

13. Why was Toensing, as indicated in several of the texts you provided to the House committees, so desperate for Yovanovitch to be removed? Did Toensing’s retention of Ukrainian or other clients require Yovanovitch’s removal? Which clients? Why?

14. What was/is Toensing and DiGenova’s connection to Trump’s legal team?

15. You have said you were lobbying Trump in April 2018 to have Marie Yovanovitch removed as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. That was almost a year before your efforts with Giuliani to have the Ukrainian government announce a Biden investigation. Why, and on whose behalf, were you seeking Yovanovitch’s removal in the spring of 2018?

Background: Parnas told Maddow that he personally told Trump at a dinner at the Trump hotel on April 30, 2018, that Yovanovitch was badmouthing him and saying he was going to get impeached, and Trump responded by turning to an aide and saying “fire her.” Also, the federal indictment of Parnas alleges that he was lobbying a member of Congress as early as April 2018 to have Yovanovitch removed at the behest of one or more Ukrainian officials, at least one of which apparently was then-Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.

  

About the Author(s)

Viola Gienger

Washington Editor for Just Security and research scholar at NYU School of Law. Follow her on Twitter (@violagienger).

Laura Rozen

Diplomatic Correspondent for Al-Monitor, Former Senior Foreign Policy Reporter for Politico, Yahoo News, and Foreign Policy Magazine. Member of the editorial board of Just Security. Follow her on Twitter (@LRozen).