WASHINGTON – Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born businessman who played a central role in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals of President Donald Trump, completed his break with the White House on Wednesday, asserting for the first time in public that the president was fully aware of the efforts to dig up damaging information on his behalf.
In an interview with the New York Times on the day the House transmitted articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate, Parnas also expressed regret for having trusted Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer and the architect of the Ukraine pressure campaign. His lawyer said he was eager to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Giuliani.
Parnas made his remarks as House impeachment investigators released more material he had turned over to them. The material, including text messages, photos and calendar entries, underscored how deeply Parnas and others were involved in carrying out the pressure campaign and how new information continues to surface even as the Senate prepares to begin Trump's trial next week.
And it provided additional evidence that the effort to win political advantage for Trump was widely known among his allies, showing that Parnas communicated regularly with two top Republican fundraisers about what he was up to.
Text messages and call logs show that Parnas was in contact with Tom Hicks Jr., a donor and Trump family friend, and Joseph Ahearn, who raised money for pro-Trump political groups, about developments in the Ukraine pressure campaign.
In the text messages, Parnas kept Hicks and Ahearn apprised of efforts to disseminate damaging information about targets of Trump and Giuliani, including the U.S. ambassador to Kiev, former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainians who spread information about Paul Manafort, Trump's 2016 campaign chairman.
The records seem to expand the circle of people around Trump who were aware in real time of the pressure campaign.
In the interview with the Times, Parnas said that although he did not speak with Trump directly about the efforts, he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Giuliani that Trump was kept in the loop. Parnas pointed in particular to text messages, released by the House this week, in which Giuliani refers to an effort to obtain a visa for a former Ukrainian official who leveled corruption allegations against Biden.
In the messages, Giuliani boasted of the effort to secure the visa: "It's going to work I have no 1 in it." Parnas said the reference to No. 1 was to Trump.
"I am betting my whole life that Trump knew exactly everything that was going on that Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine," Parnas said.
Parnas, who was arrested in October on largely unrelated federal criminal charges, expressed remorse for his role in helping the Ukrainian pressure campaign, but he pinned blame on the president and Giuliani.
"My biggest regret is trusting so much," he said. "I thought I was being a patriot and helping the president," he said, adding that he "thought by listening to the president and his attorney, that I couldn't possibly get in trouble or do anything wrong."
Now that he faces criminal charges in the Southern District of New York, Parnas, who has pleaded not guilty, is looking to cooperate with prosecutors in his case, who are conducting a broader investigation into Giuliani and his dealings in Ukraine.
"We very much want to be heard in the Southern District," Parnas' lawyer, Joseph Bondy, said in the interview with the Times. "We very much want to provide substantial assistance to the government."
Taken together, the comments Wednesday capped a stunning turnabout for a man who was a Trump donor and once considered himself a close friend of Giuliani, who is a godfather to his son.
Giuliani said in a text message Wednesday that it was "sad how the Trump haters are using" Parnas. He attributed Parnas' willingness to share documents with congressional Democrats to a desire for "attention."
During the interview with the Times, as well as in a taped interview Parnas gave on Wednesday to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, Parnas emphasized that he was always acting on behalf of Trump and Giuliani.
When asked by the Times how he knew that Trump was aware of the pressure campaign, he said that Giuliani assured him that was the case.
Before taking his first trip to Ukraine in February 2019, Parnas said that he met with Giuliani at the Grand Havana Room, a smoke-filled private club high above Midtown Manhattan, and relayed a concern that he and an associate, Igor Fruman, lacked the diplomatic credentials to carry out their task. Parnas said he proposed that the president designate them "special envoys" to ensure their safety and access.
Then, Parnas said, Giuliani walked away to call Trump, and returned with a new plan: He would represent Parnas and Fruman, as well as the president, a move that might afford their shared mission the confidentiality of attorney-client privilege. Giuliani has denied Parnas' account.
Days later, Parnas and Fruman set off for Eastern Europe.
Upon his return, Parnas began working with influential conservatives to disseminate the information and claims he helped collect from Ukraine. The materials released Wednesday also show him maintaining regular communication with Yuri Lutsenko, Ukraine's chief prosecutor at the time, who was advocating the removal of the United States ambassador in Kiev and was promising help in getting information about Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
By late March, as the claims began to circulate widely in the pro-Trump conservative news media, Parnas texted an associate, "I'm officially part of team trump," according to the records released Wednesday.
In addition to the text messages, Parnas, who was indicted in October on campaign finance charges, provided Democrats in the House with voice-mail messages left on his phone by Giuliani and another lawyer who worked on the Ukraine effort, as well as e-mails, calendar entries and a bevy of photographs of Parnas with Trump allies.
In one photograph, which appears to be from May 2018, Parnas poses at a restaurant table with Fruman, who was also charged in the campaign finance case, as well as Hicks and the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.