Conveniently, he said exactly what House Democrats and Rachel Maddow were desperate to hear.
Which doesn’t mean it’s untrue, of course.
Here’s the key Q&A from last night’s MSNBC interview. As with Michael Cohen after his break-up with Trump, there’s no way to trust that what he’s saying is true. He’s too sleazy a character to rely on, and his criminal jeopardy gives him an obvious incentive to ingratiate himself to authorities. But Jim Geraghty’s twist on that is compelling: “If these guys [Parnas and his crony, Igor Fruman] are so obviously, glaringly, flashing-red-warning-sign untrustworthy, why did the president trust them?” To which I’d add: If Parnas’s account can be discounted because of bad character, what do we do with the thousands of criminal convictions in America that have been secured with the help of co-conspirators who turned state’s evidence?
What we normally say when the prosecution wants to call a witness whose credibility is easily attacked is that it’s for the jury to decide whether they’re trustworthy. Take three minutes to watch, then read on:
In a way it’s beside the point whether Parnas is telling the truth or not. Trump won’t be removed by the Senate no matter what. The question is how much or how little political pain will be inflicted on Senate Republicans by voting “not guilty.” Calling Parnas as a witness at Trump’s trial risks significantly increasing that pain if the public, the real jury, finds him credible enough. Doubtless Susan Collins and Cory Gardner would prefer to avoid that problem by not calling him to begin with.
But how do they do that now, with Parnas all over the media appearing to confirm the Democrats’ theory of the Ukraine pressure campaign? It’s John Bolton 2.0. Just as Bolton put them in a bind by signaling that he’ll testify if called, here’s a known associate of the president’s lawyer who worked with him on Ukraine corroborating the prosecution’s charges. He’s unquestionably a material witness. If you’re Collins and you’re laser-focused on showing your voters at home that you’re taking the trial seriously, how do you justify not hearing from him? Gotta do better than “Well, House Democrats never called him,” especially since House Democrats couldn’t have called him in November while the hearings were going on. Parnas wasn’t free to turn over evidence to the House until a federal judge gave permission on January 3. Saying “Democrats should have waited, then” isn’t going to cut it as an excuse for flatly refusing to consider what Parnas has to say.
Collins is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. If she votes to call him and he repeats all of this stuff on the stand, voting for acquittal becomes harder to defend. If she votes not to call him and he ends up blocked from testifying, voting for acquittal looks like it was based on incomplete facts, an act of willful blindness by Republican jurors.
Her best option, I think, is to call him and let Trump’s lawyers try to destroy him on cross-examination. At least one claim he made last night, about the reason Marie Yovanovitch was ousted, is already being challenged, but Ed has a post coming up on that at noon and I don’t want to step on it. Stay tuned. This answer, given to CNN in a separate interview last night, can also be challenged:
Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani's associate, said their efforts were "all about 2020."
"That was the way everyone viewed it," Parnas added, disputing Trump's claim that the push for investigating the Bidens stemmed from concerns about corruption in Ukraine. https://t.co/xhuMLPQFQM pic.twitter.com/EZGOZMPiIb
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 16, 2020
It sounds like Parnas arrived at the conclusion that the pressure campaign was designed purely to benefit Trump personally only after the fact, conveniently. Is that because he was slow on the uptake or because it benefits him now to tell the left whatever it wants to hear in the name of hopefully earning some leniency for himself during his eventual sentencing? Either way, it doesn’t sound like he heard anything firsthand from Trump about his motives, a key point in GOP attacks on the Democratic case. A vigorous attack on Parnas’s credibility at trial (which won’t be hard) gives Collins an opening to say, “I listened and I just don’t think he’s credible.” Refusing to call him in the first place looks dismissive by comparison, the opposite of the image she’s trying to project to voters.
Some things he said last night, like the claim that Bill Barr was in on the scheme (“Barr had to have known everything”), seem obviously dubious. Barr hasn’t been a key player in any of the months of reporting on the Ukraine business. Other claims, like Mike Pence’s trip to Ukraine being canceled in order to put more pressure on Zelensky to play ball, are much more believable. Parnas was also asked about the freaky deaky text exchanges he had with Robert Hyde last March, in which Hyde appeared to be orchestrating surveillance of Yovanovitch in Ukraine. “I think he was either drunk or he was trying to make himself bigger than he was,” Parnas said of Hyde, adding, “I didn’t take him seriously.” Ukraine is going to investigate that, but if you’re of the belief that Parnas is willing to lie about everything at this point in the name of making Trump and Rudy look bad, it’s odd that he wouldn’t also seize that opportunity to say, “Sure, Hyde was stalking Yovanovitch on the president’s orders.”
I’ll leave you with one more clip. This also corroborates previous reporting on the Ukraine matter, that the military aid was one part of the deal but not the whole deal. Really, good relations with the United States writ large were on the line, including an Oval Office photo op for Zelensky with Trump at some point. That was the point of canceling Pence’s trip, to show that the entire relationship was at risk if Zelensky didn’t cooperate on Biden and Burisma. Whether Parnas is corroborating that because he knows it firsthand or because he’s molding his story to fit with the reporting, only he knows.
"It wasn't just military aid. It was all aid," Parnas tells @maddow. "Basically the relationships would be sour. We would stop giving them any kind of aid, unless… there were several demands at the point — the most important one was the announcement of the Biden investigation." pic.twitter.com/DYwDUofVnl
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 16, 2020