Chuck Ross, DCNF
- A lawyer for Lev Parnas on Saturday released an 84-minute audio recording of a private dinner held with President Donald Trump on April 30, 2018.
- Parnas focuses on two main topics during the event. He mentions he is starting an energy firm in Ukraine, and he tells Trump that then-U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had been bad-mouthing him.
- Parnas’s remarks provide possible insight into why he wanted Yovanovitch removed from her post. He is under indictment in New York on campaign finance charges.
Lev Parnas said few words during an April 30, 2018, dinner with President Donald Trump and a small group of associates, according to an audio recording of the event, which Parnas’s lawyer provided the media Saturday.
But what Parnas did say in the 84-minute recording could shed light on why the Soviet-born businessman might have been interested in the removal of Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. His remarks also appear to conflict with his claims in interviews earlier in January that his Ukraine-related efforts were merely intended to help Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Parnas made two main points during the event, in which attendees discussed golf, China, the border wall and other topics of the day: He and his partner, Igor Fruman, were in the process of purchasing a Ukrainian energy company, and Yovanovitch was bad-mouthing Trump and needed to be removed from her post in Kyiv.
Parnas’s unprompted remarks about Yovanovitch are the first known evidence of Trump being told derogatory information about the career diplomat. His comments also raises the question of why Parnas was interested in getting rid of her.
Prosecutors in New York appear interested in the same question.
A federal grand jury in New York indicted Parnas and Fruman on Oct. 10, 2019, on charges that they made illegal campaign contributions to Republican lawmakers and political action committees. Prosecutors allege that the duo took part in the scheme in order to advance personal and business interests, as well as to force Yovanovitch’s removal as ambassador.
The indictment alleges that Parnas was operating on behalf of “one or more” Ukrainian officials to force Yovanovitch’s removal. Days after the dinner with Trump, Parnas met with then-Rep. Pete Sessions. After the meeting, Sessions wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to recall Yovanovitch.
Parnas contributed a maximum donation to Sessions’s campaign in June 2018. Prosecutors allege that Parnas pledged to raise another $20,000 for the Republican.
Trump eventually removed Yovanovitch from her post in Kyiv, but not until April 24, 2019. In the months leading up to the decision, Parnas and Fruman worked closely with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to collect and disseminate derogatory information about Yovanovitch, much of it unverified. The also alleged that Joe Biden intervened to shut down investigation in Ukraine of Burisma Holdings, an energy company that had Hunter Biden as a director.
How and exactly when Parnas and Fruman began working with Giuliani on Ukraine-related matters is not entirely clear. But Bondy, the lawyer, for Parnas, said in an interview Saturday with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that they were not working with Giuliani at the time the dinner took place.
In the recording, Parnas is heard broaching the topic of Ukraine during a discussion about the oil and gas business, and Germany’s partnership with Russia on a pipeline.
“We’re in the process of purchasing an energy company in Ukraine right now, that should help cut off Russia’s … ” Parnas is heard saying in the tape.
“How’s Ukraine doing?” Trump interrupted.
Parnas said Ukraine “loves” Trump and is dependent on U.S. support, especially in its ongoing fight with Russia. Parnas then shifted gears to Yovanovitch.
“The biggest problem there, I think, where we, where you, need to start is we gotta get rid of the ambassador,” Parnas is heard saying on the recording, which Parnas lawyer Joseph Bondy released Saturday.
“She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait,’” Parnas asserted.
Trump responded by apparently ordering Yovanovitch fired.
“Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”
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