A video released over the weekend by lawyers for Giuliani associate Lev Parnas appears to reveal US President Donald Trump ordering the removal of former Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch.
Parnas has previously stated in interviews that Trump directed him to deal with Yovanovitch personally. However, Trump has denied knowing Parnas, a “fixer” and associate of his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
This video supports the accusation that the president had personal involvement in the harassment of a US ambassador, harassment that reportedly included stalking.
The video’s release came on the same weekend that Trump’s defensive team began their opening arguments in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.
What is on the Parnas video?
Despite having denied any personal knowledge of Parnas, there are multiple photographs of Trump posing with Parnas. In response, Trump has argued that he takes hundreds of pictures and isn’t on close terms with everyone he poses with.
However, a new video released by Parnas’ lawyers show Parnas at an April 2018 dinner with Trump where Yovanovitch was discussed.
The video, captured on a cell phone, records a conversation involving Trump, Parnas, and other attendees. In a subtitled edit of the video posted by the Guardian, an attendee is heard declaring that the ambassador is “the biggest problem over there” and has to be gotten rid of. Trump clarifies, “The ambassador for Ukraine?”
Trump then says, “Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care, get her out tomorrow. Take her out, OK?” Parnas can also be heard among the background chatter.
Yovanovitch testified before the House that she had been subjected to a smear campaign designed to undermine her service. She served as ambassador to Ukraine from August 2016 until May 2019, when Trump ordered her removed from her post.
This news made headlines first on Saturday, January 25, when ABC News reported that they had attained audio of the dinner. The following day, Sunday, a video containing the conversation was released. The full video of the dinner is nearly an hour and a half. While most of the footage is of the ceiling, the conversation can be heard in the background.
Parnas’s lawyers have stated that he has more recordings of Trump.
The Trump/Parnas connection
Parnas and an associate, Igor Fruman, were arrested in October for campaign finance violations. Since then, Parnas has been cooperating with an investigation into the actions Trump and Giuliani took involving Ukraine. In multiple interviews, including one with Rachel Maddow on January 15, Parnas claimed the president “knew exactly what was going on” regarding the activities involving Ukraine.
Parnas said he was ordered by Trump, via Giuliani, to arrange a meeting with Ukrainian officials. The goal was to arrange a deal in which the Ukrainian government would publicly open an investigation into one of Trump’s potential rivals for the presidency in 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Joe Biden has been accused of squashing an investigation into Burisma to protect his son, Hunter, who was serving on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. To date, investigators have found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Parnas has also claimed involvement in the removal of then-Ambassador Yovanovitch, who joined the United States Foreign Service under President Ronald Reagan. Released texts between Parnas and Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde suggest that Yovanovitch was also being watched.
Trump’s defense team has begun opening arguments
Trump is currently facing an impeachment trial in the Senate for abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The House managers, who are presenting the case against Trump, ended their opening arguments on Friday, January 24.
The following day, Saturday, Trump’s defense team began their opening arguments. Trump’s defense team includes Representative Devin Nunes and Ken Starr, the former special counsel who brought impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton in 1998. Their opening arguments will continue on Monday and Tuesday.
After the opening arguments, Senators will be allowed to ask written questions. Democrats had hoped to be allowed to present new evidence and call additional witnesses in the trial since new information has come out following the adoption of the original articles of impeachment in December 2019. However, the Senate voted along partisan lines to exclude new evidence or testimony from being included.
New revelations from John Bolton’s book
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said that Trump deliberately held onto military aid meant for Ukraine until Ukraine’s president agreed to publicly announce an investigation into Biden. That claim appears in an unpublished draft manuscript of a book Bolton has written about his time in Trump’s White House.
In response to the story, Trump tweeted a denial that he put any conditions on the aid. Previously, Trump claimed that he was holding onto aid in order to force Ukraine to address internal corruption.
Bolton was one of the witnesses that Democrats had specifically hoped to subpoena for the Senate trial.
In December, Bolton said he would testify in the trial if subpoenaed.