Trump denies speaking to Parnas after new materials turned over
President Trump on Thursday maintained that he did not know Lev Parnas, a former associate of his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, beyond posing for a photo with the businessman, who has since alleged the president knew about a scheme at the heart of the impeachment proceedings.
“I don’t even know who this man is, other than I guess he attended fundraisers so I take a picture with him,” Trump told reporters at an Oval Office event to announce protections for prayer in public schools. “I take thousands and thousand of pictures with people all the time. Thousands during the course of a year.”
“I don’t know him at all,” Trump continued. “Don’t know what he’s about. Don’t know where he comes from. Know nothing about him. I can only tell you this thing is a big hoax.”
An attorney representing Parnas has posted photos of the Soviet-born businessman and Trump on social media, but Trump on Thursday denied ever speaking with Parnas.
“I don’t know him. Perhaps he’s a fine man, perhaps he’s not,” Trump said.
Parnas turned over a trove of documents and text messages to House investigators that were released Tuesday night, and he sat for an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that aired on Wednesday evening.
The materials released by House investigators offer additional details and corroborate certain allegations at the heart of Trump’s impeachment, including efforts to remove U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and create conditions to push for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden to benefit Trump’s reelection prospects.
The documents say that Giuliani was acting with Trump’s “knowledge and consent” to pursue a shadow foreign policy, with a letter signed by Giuliani asking for a meeting with Zelensky and with the approval of Trump.
In the MSNBC interview aired Wednesday night, Parnas alleged Trump “knew exactly what was going on” in Ukraine. He further claimed that Vice President Pence and Attorney General William Barr were likely aware of the scheme.
Pence, asked about the allegations during a stop in Florida on Thursday, called it “completely false” that he was aware of outreach to the Ukrainian president about investigations into Trump’s rivals.
“I don’t know the guy,” Pence said of Parnas.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice also denied Parnas’s claims.
The White House has largely avoided addressing the substance of Parnas’s allegations, instead attacking his credibility. Multiple officials on Thursday morning cited his indictment last year on charges of violating campaign finance laws and accused him of being “desperate” for media attention.
Parnas’s allegations have stirred up fresh discussion of allegations of wrongdoing against Trump ahead of his impeachment trial in the Senate, which will begin in earnest on Tuesday.
Democrats have argued Parnas’s allegations strengthen their case against the president, which they will present beginning next week in the Senate trial.
But Republicans have initially expressed skepticism about allowing Parnas’s new information to factor into the trial and questioned why it was only coming to light now.
Updated: 4:44 p.m.
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