Lev Parnas (born February 6, 1972) is an American businessman and associate of Rudy Giuliani along with Igor Fruman. Parnas, Giuliani, and Fruman are involved in the Trump–Ukraine scandal. President Trump claims he was not fully aware of their efforts in 2018 and 2019 to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation into a political rival.
Parnas was born in Odessa, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, in 1972 to a Jewish family. His family brought him at the age of three to the U.S., first to Detroit, and then a year later to Brooklyn. He was a student at Brooklyn College and Baruch College. He also worked at Kings Highway Realty, where he sold Trump Organization co-ops.
Parnas moved to Florida in 1995 and became a broker, working for firms including Euro-Atlantic Securities, Mammoth Bullion and Monolith Bullion. He later founded Parnas Holdings. After a failed film project, he partnered with Igor Fruman in an energy related venture. The Miami Herald maintains he "left a long trail of debts in Florida and beyond."
In 2013, Parnas founded a firm he named "Fraud Guarantee". Parnas had chosen the name after he personally experienced cleaning up his Google search results after accusations of fraud in previous ventures. Florida authorities had apparently dissolved Fraud Guarantee in September 2014 for failing to file an annual report, which would have limited the company to activities related to closing itself down.
In 2019, Parnas served as a translator for a legal case involving Dmytro Firtash, one of Ukraine's wealthiest oligarchs with self-admitted mob connections, who is fighting extradition to the U.S. to face bribery charges. Firtash has lived in Vienna for five years. "Mr. Parnas was retained by DiGenova & Toensing, LLP as an interpreter in order to communicate with their client Mr. Firtash. A Swiss lawyer for Firtash loaned $1 million to Parnas's wife in September 2019, according to Federal prosecutors.
Parnas has also been involved in Jewish charities and causes in the U.S., Ukraine and Israel. Parnas is on the board of a Ukrainian-Jewish charity, "Friends of Anatevka", founded by Ukrainian rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, to provide a refuge for Jews affected by the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Parnas and Fruman visited Israel in the summer of 2018 as a part of a delegation, led by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and joined by Anthony Scaramucci, of "right-wing Jewish and evangelical supporters of Trump." The group met with U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, Benjamin Netanyahu's son Yair Netanyahu, as well as billionaire Simon Falic, one of Netanyahu's most generous donors. Huckabee joined the two once again in March 2019 when they were awarded with the "Chovevei Zion" (Lovers of Zion) awards at a gala for the National Council of Young Israel, an event focused on supporting President Trump and Israeli West Bank settlements. Rudy Giuliani and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were in attendance as well. While in Israel Parnas and Fruman also met with oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, a wealthy Ukrainian under investigation by the Department of Justice for money laundering.
As early as April 2018, Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman had apparently decided to assist President Trump's re-election efforts and they identified Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as being a difficulty. On January 24, 2020 in the middle of the Trump impeachment trial, ABC News broke the story that led to this conclusion after ABC News reviewed a recording. Parnas' attorney claimed the recording was made by Fruman and shared with Parnas. The recording appears to be from a small gathering with President Trump and it may have been a dinner held April 30, 2018 at Trump Hotel Washington.
A voice that has been identified as Parnas' is heard to say to the President: "The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we gotta get rid of the Ambassador."
Late in 2018, Giuliani allegedly sent the two to Ukraine to search for damaging information on Trump's U.S. political rivals. According to The New York Times, "Their mission was to find people and information that could be used to undermine the Special Counsel's investigation, and also to damage former Vice President Joseph R. Biden." Both were allegedly also at the center of the pro-Trump forces' push to remove Ambassador Yovanovitch, because her loyalty to President Trump was deemed deficient as Trump pursued his agenda there. It is also alleged that the two pressed for support for allegations that former Ukrainian officials schemed to manipulate the 2016 election to support Hillary Clinton, by revealing adverse information about Paul Manafort, chairman of Trump's campaign, which became a central element in Mueller's special counsel investigation.
Also, over the course of a year beginning in 2018, the two men allegedly introduced Giuliani to Ukrainians who were working at exposing significant "corruption surrounding Hunter Biden and Burisma." These included Yuriy Lutsenko, a former Prosecutor General of Ukraine, who was crucial to Giuliani's efforts to produce damaging information. Viktor Shokin, also a former Prosecutor General of Ukraine, was part of this group.
In late September 2019 the whistleblower report was released and Parnas and Fruman were described as "two associates of Mr. Giuliani." They were soon identified by name.
On September 30, 2019, the House Intelligence Committee issued document requests to Parnas and Fruman. They were initially represented by John M. Dowd, who was Trump's personal attorney during part of the Mueller investigation in 2017-18. President Trump consented to this representation, as evidenced in an email from White House Counsel Jay Sekulow to the president. Parnas later disclosed that they met with Dowd in Dowd's home and conducted a conference call with Sekulow and Giuliani. They concluded they would claim immunity and not cooperate on the basis Giuliani was the President's attorney and they were working under the direction of Giuliani. On October 7, 2019, Dowd informed the Miami Herald newspaper there would be no cooperation, Mike Pompeo made a similar announcement, and State Department employee Charles Kent failed to appear before the House Intelligence Committee. On October 8, 2019, White House counsel Pat Cipollone issued a document that confirmed that Trump and his Administration would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry in any manner.
Arrest and prosecution
Parnas and Fruman were arrested on the evening of October 9, 2019, at Dulles International Airport, and charged with planning to direct funds from a foreign government "to U.S. politicians while trying to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations". They had one-way tickets to Frankfurt, Germany, and were reported to be going to Vienna, Austria. The reason for their arrest was described as a "complex web of financial and political interactions linking diplomacy to alleged violations of campaign finance law." The head of the New York's FBI office described the investigation as "about corrupt behavior, deliberate lawbreaking".
The charges have also allegedly connected Parnas and Fruman to the campaign to oust Ambassador Yovanovitch from her post and have her recalled. This occurred over many months. In 2018, the operation included Parnas and Fruman donating funds and pledging further additional moneys to an unnamed Congressman, who was recruited for the "campaign to oust her." Some of the funds violated campaign limits. The funds were funneled through a shell company, Global Energy Producers. Parnas and Fruman were also charged with unlawful campaign contributions. Based on campaign finance filings, former congressional Representative Pete Sessions (R-Texas) has been identified as the unnamed Congressman. In 2018, as the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that Ambassador Yovanovitch should be fired for privately expressing "disdain" for the Trump administration.
After the arrest, the House Intelligence Committee converted their request for production of documents from Parnas and Fruman into subpoenas on October 10th, 2019. The New York field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), along with SDNY prosecutors, were believed to be conducting a criminal investigation of Giuliani's relationship with Parnas and Fruman. Giuliani is under investigation for potentially violating lobbying laws.
Dowd's representation of Parnas were terminated and Parnas' new attorney, Joseph Bondy, announced on November 5, 2019 that Parnas "is now prepared to comply with requests for records and testimony from congressional impeachment investigators".
On November 22, 2019, Parnas stated to CNN that he would be willing to testify to Congress regarding his, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA), Giuliani's and Trump's role in the Ukraine affairs. Documents released to a watchdog group show communication took place between Giuliani and Pompeo shortly before Ambassador Yovanovitch was removed from her post. Memos from Giuliani to Pompeo regarding a Jan. 23, 2019, meeting with Ukraine's former prosecutor general Victor Shokin were included. Giuliani notes that Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas were present at the meeting. Shokin was ousted from his job in 2016 because of his lack of attention to corruption cases.
On January 20, 2020, Parnas' attorney filed a motion seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor outside the Justice Department and for US Attorney General William Barr to recuse himself. The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman recused himself in the Michael Cohen case owing to his political support of Trump. Trump reportedly asked then acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to override Berman's recusal and to prosecute Cohen. To date, Berman has not recused himself in the Parnas case despite similar potential conflicts of interest as in the Cohen case. Additionally, Berman worked at the same law firm as Giuliani.
January 15, 2020, MSNBC interview and documentary evidence released by House
In early January 2020, an attorney for Parnas turned over photos, text messages and thousands of pages of documents to the House Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. On January 15 and 16, 2020 MSNBC aired segments of an interview of Parnas conducted by Rachel Maddow. This was Parnas' first television interview regarding his involvement in the Trump-Ukraine scandal. Some of Parnas' claims were supported by documentary evidence released by the House that same week. Elements of the interview including time lines that were cross-checked by some news organizations against event records such as the date Pence announced he would not be going to Ukraine. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, Pence spokesman Marc Short, and a Justice Department spokesman stressed the fact that Parnas was under indictment and therefore should not be believed. Trump repeated the claims he did not know Parnas, and denied he was aware of a key letter by Giuliani to the Ukrainian President wherein Giuliani claims he is acting on the behalf of Trump.
Parnas made many claims in the interview:
- "Trump knew exactly what was going on" and Parnas' efforts were coordinated with Trump's attorney Giuliani. He also said that "Attorney General Barr was basically on the team" and conferred with Giuliani frequently.
- Trump's counsel Jay Sekulow was also aware, however he "wanted to stay away from all this stuff involving Ukraine".
- Parnas met in Ukraine with a top Ukrainian official and informed him he was speaking on Trump's behalf; Parnas warned that all aid to Ukraine, as well as Pence's attendance at the inauguration of the new Ukrainian President, were contingent upon an announcement that Biden is being investigated.
- Pence was "in the loop" and knew the reason his trip to Ukraine was cancelled after the Ukrainian government failed to comply with Trump's demand as communicated by Parnas.
- The motivation to get rid of the Ambassador Yovanovitch was to obtain dirt on Joe Biden. Specifically, former Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko claimed he would deliver dirt on "B" after a decision was made about "madam". This particular claim was backed by a March 22, 2019, text from Lutsenko that was released by the House and discussed in the interview. Trump removed her from her post in May 2019.
- Parnas described a dinner with President Trump where the Ambassador was discussed and Trump said to fire her. This claim was substantiated further by an audio recording released on January 24, 2020 of this meeting.
- Ukrainian businessman Firtash claimed he could help discredit the Mueller investigation if charges against him were dropped.
- Parnas claimed he met Congressman Devin Nunes "several times at the Trump Hotel", but that most of his interactions were with Nunes' aide Derek Harvey. Parnas' claim that "they were involved in getting all this stuff on Biden" was substantiated by records released by the House after the interview.
- Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who did attend the Ukrainian President's inauguration, informed the Ukrainians that there would be no aid unless an announcement was made to investigate Biden.
- Parnas was initially pleased to have Trump's former adviser Dowd represent him and believed that it demonstrated he had the President's support. However, it became clear Parnas' interests were not in mind when Dowd visited Parnas in prison. Parnas claimed Dowd "basically start talking to me like a drill sergeant and telling me, giving me orders, like, you know, be a good boy, like, you know."
One of the significant documents discussed during the interview was Giuliani's letter to President-Elect Zelensky that was released by the House Intelligence Committe. The letter was seen as evidence that President Trump knew of his attorney's activities on his behalf. Giuliani wrote that he represented the private interests of President Trump with his "knowledge and consent". The letter was presented to the US Senate during the impeachment trial of President Trump.
Possible surveillance and threat against U.S. ambassador to Ukraine
Included within the documents released by the House in January 2020 were text messages between Parnas and Robert F. Hyde, a Republican candidate for Congress in Connecticut. The messages indicated that Ambassador Yovanovitch was under surveillance and implied she was in possible danger. During the interview with Maddow, Parnas largely discounted this possibility and said Hyde drank a lot. However, during her testimony, the Ambassador stated that she was advised to leave Ukraine on “the next plane” in April 2019 because her security was at risk. Maddow played clips of this testimony during the airing of the interview. The FBI finally visited Hyde to make inquiries on January 16, 2020—the day after the first segment of the interview aired—even though they reportedly had the messages in hand since Parnas' arrest in October 2019. Ukrainian authorities announced they were conducting an investigation that same day. Hyde claimed he was getting the information he was giving to Parnas from a Belgium citizen named Anthony de Caluwe he had met at GOP functions. Initially, de Caluwe denied any involvement and then later claimed it was all a "joke" after evidenced was released by the House that supported Hyde's assertions.
An official from the Department of Justice attributed the delay between when they received the messages and finally acted down to Parnas and claimed they were unable to read the messages contained within Parnas' iPhone until recently. Parnas' attorney in turn wrote that the Department of Justice sat on documents since December 3, 2019 when the messages from the iPhone were first extracted. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement a full two days after the texts were revealed and stated "to the best of (his) recollection" never heard all of this. He announced he would look into it but also stated he didn't think anything would come of the investigation.
January 16, 2020 CNN interview
Parnas was also interviewed by Anderson Cooper of CNN on January 16, 2020. The primary different claims made by Parnas during this interview were as follows:
- The first effort to effect a quid pro quo was with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Poroshenko was asked to support Trump's efforts in exchange for a meeting with the US President in the White House, and other official support of Ukraine.
- In his interview with Maddow, Parnas already said Ukraine would face losing support and that Vice President Pence would not attend the inauguration of the newly elected President Zelensky unless he announced an investigation into the Biden. In the CNN interview, Parnas added that the announcement needed to be made within 24 hours or that there would be no chance of any White House visits while Trump was in office.
- Cooper stated Zelensky was also being asked "to get rid of some folks" that were around Zelensky that were not fond of Trump. Parnas did not make that statement, however, Parnas replied "Correct."
- Parnas said there was no other reason than winning the 2020 election and another 4 years.
- When Cooper asked Parnas how he knew that Pence was aware of the quid pro quo, Parnas said he and Giuliani were together essentially from morning to night and that Parnas was the first person that Giuliani saw after Giuliani met with White House officials.
- Parnas said that then National Security Advisor John Bolton did not agree with what was going on.
- In a meeting with Ukrainian officials, Parnas put Giuliani on the speakerphone, and Giuliani stated that he represented the interests of the President, that Parnas worked for Giuliani and that everything Parnas says should be taken with that authority. Essentially Parnas voice and authority was that of POTUS.
- Parnas repeated a similar statement that he made in the Maddow interview. That it is owing to the authority with which he spoke that he "got out of there alive". Neither Maddow nor Cooper asked what Parnas meant by this. He later in the interview claimed his life was threatened, and again Cooper did not ask for details.
- Parnas said Giuliani was in constant contact with Trump, sometimes calling several times a day.
On January 20, 2020, Giuliani appeared on Fox News' The Ingraham Angle and claimed he was "heartbroken" by the "stupid lies" told by Parnas the previous week. Giuliani said he was very close with Parnas, even god-father to his child, and very disappointed. He said Parnas was just trying to avoid jail and was telling lies like Michael Cohen. He also said he would not get into a point by point rebuttal of all the claims Parnas made, but would testify to all the facts if he was called as a witness. He welcomed an opportunity to testify where he would inform everyone about "unbelievable amount of corruption that went on between the Democratic Party and Ukraine". Giuliani wanted to stress two areas where Parnas had "lied".
- During a White House party, Trump did not "deputize" Parnas as a "representative".
- In 2018, Devin Nunes did not travel to Vienna to meet with former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin and his passport proves that.
Giuliani stressed that owing to these two "lies" that nothing in the two Parnas interviews should be believed. Giuliani also insisted that Parnas was wrong when he implicated William Barr. Giuliani said he never spoke to Barr about it and that it was wrong to accuse Barr of being part of it. When he was asked if he directed the surveillance of the Ambassador to Ukraine, Giuliani replied “I can definitely tell you I didn’t.”
Some of the money to potentially fund efforts by Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman appears to have come from a Republican donor and Trump supporter Charles Gucciardo. Gucciardo’s attorney claimed his client's $500,000 was an investment made in 2018 with Parnas' firm Fraud Guarantee. These funds in turn were claimed to be a retainer fee from Fraud Guarantee to Giuliani. According to Giulani, he was "ramping up" the business.
Harry Sargeant III, a billionaire Republican donor, helped bankroll the travels of Parnas and Fruman, thereby supporting their overall efforts to pressure Ukraine to help with Trump's re-election effort. An attorney representing Sargeant said the funds were loans. Dmytro Firtash's Swiss attorney also described a $1 million dollar payment made to Parnas' wife as being a "loan".
Reporters in a Bloomberg News article wrote that it was unlikely President Trump paid for Giuliani's Parnas' and Fruman's expensive travels and stays at expensive hotels. Therefore, monies and loans to fund their work in Ukraine on his behalf to win a Federal election appear to be reportable campaign contributions. Further any foreign contributions would have been illegal. Bloomberg News is named for, and partly owned by, Michael Bloomberg who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against President Trump.
Evidence Parnas and Fruman met with Trump and discussed Ambassador Yovanovitch
On January 24, 2020, ABC News released an audio recording that appeared to be a conversation between Parnas and President Trump. The recording may have been made at a dinner gathering held on April 30, 2018 at the Trump International Hotel. On the recording, President Trump can be heard ordering someone, who may have been Johnny DeStefano, to fire Ambassador Yovanovitch. Trump's order came after Parnas said something to the effect that it was important to get rid of her first. Parnas' attorney appeared on the Rachel Maddow show that same evening and stated the tape was made by Fruman and given to Parnas. Parnas in turn uploaded it to his document cloud. Parnas' attorney stated that Parnas didn't provide the tape to ABC News. Apparently, the ABC News article prompted Parnas to search his document cloud where he located the full tape that is over an hour long. Parnas' attorney stated the whole tape has been given to the House Intelligence Committee.
The tape was made public on 25 January. Trump is heard discussing golf with Jack Nicklaus III (grandson of golfer Jack Nicklaus), and trade deals and steel quotas with Barry Zekelman.
Lev Parnas lives with his wife and five of his six children in Boca Raton, Florida. When asked by Rachel Maddow, Mr. Parnas claimed that his decision to speak out was made to protect this country from President Trump and his allies, stating that they are all part of one large "cult."