The White House on Thursday dismissed allegations from Lev Parnas that President Trump was aware of a scheme to get Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals as a media blitz from the indicted businessman threatened to shake up impeachment proceedings.
Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman and former associate of the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, turned over evidence to House investigators that detailed the pressure campaign against Ukraine and alleged in an interview late Wednesday that Trump was fully aware of the efforts.
In response, multiple White House officials attacked Parnas’s credibility, accused him of seeking attention on anti-Trump media outlets and pointed to Trump’s denials that he knows the businessman despite the two appearing in photos together.
“This is a man who’s under indictment and who’s actually out on bail,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Thursday morning on Fox News. “This is a man who owns a company called Fraud Inc., so I think that’s something that people should be thinking about. We’re not too concerned about it.”
“It’s unfortunate that he’s now making a media tour with a lot of the outlets that are, you know, against the president,” she added. “I think that shows exactly what he’s doing.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway described Parnas as “desperate” and accused the media of giving him outsized attention.
“He’s desperate, and it looks like he’s facing some serious criminal charges,” Conway told reporters at the White House.
The trove of documents and text messages provided by Parnas offers additional, corroborating details over issues 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.
Grisham downplayed the reliability of Parnas’s notes and text message exchanges with Giuliani, who multiple former administration officials testified led a shadow foreign policy campaign in Ukraine to secure investigations and oust Yovanovitch.
“I’ve got to say, just to say Rudy told me these things doesn’t mean that it has anything to do with the president, and it certainly doesn’t mean the president was directing him to do anything,” Grisham said.
“We stand by exactly what we’ve been saying,” she added. “The president did nothing wrong.”
Trump has not publicly commented on the Parnas allegations, but he has previously said he does not know the businessman. Parnas has posted photos of the two together.
The documents from Parnas were made public on Tuesday night, one day before the House voted to send two articles of impeachment against Trump over to the Senate ahead of a trial.
Parnas, who was indicted in October on charges of violating campaign finance laws, appeared late Wednesday on Rachel Maddow‘s show on MSNBC, where he 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’s chief of staff and a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice have denied Parnas’s claims.
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.
Rebecca Klar contributed. Updated at 11:51 a.m.