Watch AC360: The Lev Parnas Interview on CNN Friday night at 11 p.m. ET
Revealing what he claims is a previously undisclosed meeting, Parnas told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he met Poroshenko in early 2019, during the final weeks of Ukraine’s presidential campaign, and tried to broker a political arrangement on behalf of Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
“If he would make the announcement … Trump would either invite him to the White House or make a statement for him, but basically would start supporting him for president,” Parnas said.
The new allegations could expand the understanding of the Trump-backed pressure campaign to secure political favors from Ukraine. These efforts included a direct request from Trump to Zelensky for a Biden investigation, and a series of meetings between Trump emissaries and Zelensky aides, according to testimony from key witnesses.
Trump fired Yovanovitch in spring 2019. Parnas said all his dealings with Ukrainian officials were approved by Giuliani, who Parnas says provided regular updates to Trump. Trump has repeatedly denied knowing Parnas and Giuliani rejects many of Parnas’ latest claims. Parnas has since expressed regret for his role in the scheme to oust Yovanovitch.
Forging ties with Trump
Along with his business partner Igor Fruman, Parnas shelled out more than $570,000 to Republican campaigns before the 2018 midterm elections, according to federal records. This included a $325,000 donation from their company to the most prominent pro-Trump super PAC.
Parnas said their goal was to use their newfound political ties, and invitations to exclusive dinners and roundtables with lawmakers, to pursue business in the lucrative energy sector.
“Two worlds collided as me and Igor were trying to build a business,” he told CNN. “…I went from being a top donor, to being at all the events where we would just socialize, to becoming a close friend of Rudy Giuliani, to eventually becoming his ally and his asset on the ground in Ukraine.”
Giuliani started asking him to “translate a piece of paper” or “validate some things,” Parnas said. “Then all of a sudden … Rudy was able to see that Igor knew everybody in Ukraine. And it slowly, slowly merged into a situation where we started merging and becoming very useful.”
That’s when Parnas said he started to get more direct access to Trump, brokered by Giuliani.
Parnas said they didn’t discuss Ukraine — because Giuliani would brief Trump privately.
“He thanked us,” Parnas said. “He said, ‘Thank you for everything you are doing.’ … There wasn’t a full-blown conversation. But Rudy filled in the dots afterwards when we stayed there.”
In the CNN interview, Parnas explained how he quietly worked alongside Giuliani to try to secure a US visa for a former Ukrainian prosecutor who was dangling information about Biden.
After learning from Shokin that his application was denied by US authorities, Parnas said he informed Giuliani, who responded, “don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” His efforts apparently included direct appeals to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, including a face-to-face meeting.
“Rudy decided that he got pissed off and had the President call Pompeo,” Parnas said. “…He went to meet Pompeo … basically, it was supposed to happen again. He came back, told me, ‘Done.’ There are text messages, obviously, you could see. And again, (the visa) didn’t happen.”
The State Department did not reply to CNN’s request for comment about Pompeo’s role. Under federal law, the secretary of state doesn’t have the power to personally overturn visa rejections.
In radio interviews Friday, Pompeo said he never met or spoke with Parnas “to the best of my recollection” and dismissed the Ukraine dealings that led to Trump’s impeachment as “noise.”
Negotiating with oligarchs
Some of Shokin’s allegations about Biden were included in court filings in an ongoing criminal case involving Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who now lives in Vienna.
An arrangement was made, Parnas said: diGenova and Toensing would use their Trump-world contacts to resolve Firtash’s legal problems. Firtash would give them any dirt he had on Biden.
In the CNN interview, Parnas hinted that Attorney General Bill Barr was aware of that secret arrangement. Parnas also told MSNBC that Barr was “basically on the team,” though he didn’t provide evidence to back up his assertion, and Barr has denied discussing Ukraine with Giuliani.
A Justice Department spokeswoman told CNN that if there was an arrangement for anyone to get political dirt from Firtash, the department and Barr “did not know about it.”
“Bill Barr basically did (the meeting) as a favor to Joe diGenova,” Parnas said.
Meanwhile, Firtash “opened up all his records to us,” Parnas said, including affidavits from Shokin and other former Ukrainian officials who alleged wrongdoing against Biden and the Obama administration. Trump and Giuliani publicly spread these allegations, even though many of the claims were discredited or debunked by witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry. For his part Parnas now says he doesn’t think that Biden did anything wrong.
“Mr. Firtash started realizing that all they cared about” was the information on Biden, Parnas said, “though he never wanted to help with that, never wanted to get involved in that. But he started… helping with that situation because that was what (the new legal team) wanted.”
CNN’s Nicolle Okoren, Olanma Mang, Jennifer Hansler and David Shortell contributed to this report.