Is this a cui bono question, or maybe more of a cui non bono question? Lev Parnas appeared last night on MSNBC in his first major interview, telling Rachel Maddow that his efforts to get Marie Yovanovitch removed as US ambassador to Ukraine in 2019 had everything to do with Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
“Do you believe that part of the motivation to get rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” Maddow asks Parnas, “was she was in the way of this effort to get the government of Ukraine to announce investigations of Joe Biden?”
“That was the only motivation,” Parnas replies. “There was no other motivation.”
That doesn’t quite add up, Daily Caller reporter Chuck Ross pointed out immediately afterward. For one thing, the pending indictment against Parnas put his efforts against Yovanovitch at least a year earlier, and on behalf of a Ukrainian official (via Twitchy):
Lev Parnas claims the effort to get rid of Yovanovitch was solely to get her out of the way so investigations of Biden could be opened.
Except Parnas was pushing for Yovanovitch's removal way back in May 2018, and his indictment says he did it at direction of Ukrainian official pic.twitter.com/3RHlLrwCnk
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) January 16, 2020
The indictment has been a public record for three months, and on this point is crystal clear. The theory of the crime allegedly committed by Parnas and Fruman is that they took Ukrainian money and passed it off as domestic contributions to benefit a “then-sitting U.S. Congressman” in the spring of 2018. The entire point of this operation was an effort by one or more Ukrainian officials to get this congressman to urge Trump to recall Yovanovitch, and that effort had nothing to do with the Bidens:
Furthermore, last November, Parnas himself put the effort in April 2018 rather than spring of 2019. At a super-PAC event, Parnas and Fruman told Trump that Yovanovitch was bad news, without mentioning anything about the Bidens (also via Chuck Ross):
One of the men, Lev Parnas, has described to associates that he and his business partner, Igor Fruman, told Trump at the dinner that they thought the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was unfriendly to the president and his interests.
According to Parnas, the president reacted strongly to the news: Trump immediately suggested that then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who had been in the Foreign Service for 32 years and served under Democratic and Republican presidents, should be fired, people familiar with his account said.
It’s very curious that Maddow didn’t ask about this indictment or Parnas’ own previous account when Parnas claimed that the Biden probe was the “only motivation.” The Department of Justice never alleges that this had anything to do with an investigation of any other US person, but only intended for the removal of Yovanovitch (unnamed) for the unknown purposes of one or more officials in the Ukrainian government — at the time, the government of Petro Poroshenko. Both the timing and the specifics of Parnas’ straw-man actions tend to corroborate that point far more than they do Parnas’ later claim that this had to do with Trump’s 2019 interest in getting Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue a Biden probe.
A better question might have been which Ukrainian official wanted Yovanovitch out, and why? That could be one of the purposes of a new investigation of Parnas in Ukraine, although they’re also interested in what happened in 2019 too:
Ukrainian authorities said Thursday they had opened a criminal investigation into whether the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch was under surveillance by associates of Rudy Giuliani while in Kyiv last spring.
Officials from Ukraine’s interior ministry announced the investigation in a televised briefing, citing a trove of documents released by House Democrats on Tuesday that included several cryptic WhatsApp messages between Lev Parnas and Robert Hyde that discussed monitoring Yovanovitch’s physical movements and electronic devices.
“Ukraine’s position is to not interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States,” an interior ministry official said. “However, the published records contain the fact of a possible violation of the legislation of Ukraine and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects the rights of a diplomat on the territory of another country.
“Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on its territory.”
It’s worth noting that these are not mutually exclusive conclusions. Parnas might have decided by 2019 that he was more interested in the Biden angle. Either that, or having had no luck with the attempts to get a congressman to push Yovanovitch out, Parnas’ Ukrainian patron might have thought the Giuliani angle was a lot more promising. That’s one reason why sending Giuliani to Ukraine on that kind of mission was not a particularly good idea, and largely unnecessary since the Robert Mueller report turned up nothing on the Russia-collusion hypothesis. Giuliani apparently stumbled into a hornet’s nest of corrupt actors and wound up linking himself to Parnas and Fruman without doing enough due diligence to comprehend the risk involved. It certainly appears that at some level Giuliani got suckered into a long-standing effort to get rid of Yovanovitch by Ukrainians unhappy with her for their own reasons.
However, it is clear that the DoJ has established that Parnas had “other motivations” for seeking Yovanovitch’s ouster well before the Biden angle emerged. Parnas lied in this claim, and either Maddow didn’t know enough about Parnas to realize it … or she didn’t care, as long as it made Trump look bad.