Lev Parnas is scared. Scared of what may happen to him and his family. But mostly he’s scared of what Attorney General William Barr’s Department of Justice could do to him.
In the second part of his interview with Rachel Maddow Thursday, the indicted Rudy Giuliani employee/client got to the point of why, while under federal indictment in New York for separate campaign finance violations, he is speaking publicly about his role in the Ukraine conspiracy. Describing Trump more as “a cult leader” than an organized crime figure, Parnas told Maddow (emphasis mine):
“There’s a lot of Republicans that would go against [Trump],” Parnas continued. “If you take a look, the difference between why Trump is so powerful now, he wasn’t so powerful in ’16 and ’17, he became that powerful when he got William Barr.“
“I think I’m more scared of our own Justice Department than I am scared of these criminals right now,” Parnas said. “The scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong. That’s the tool they’re using. They tried to scare me into not talking.”
“With God’s help and my lawyer next to me who I know will go to bat for me no matter what with the truth,” Parnas added, “I’m taking a chance. My wife is scared. My kids are nervous.”
Parnas felt he’d done nothing wrong and felt himself under the White House’s protection of Trump’s lawyers. Until Trump attorneys John Dowd and Kevin Downing came to him in jail:
“I called Dowd to come there. And I started seeing in the process of the bail stuff, the way things were going on … I didn’t feel they were trying to get me out,” Parnas said. “John Dowd instead of comforting me and trying to calm me down and telling me I’m going to be OK, he started talking to me like a drill sergeant.”
Parnas quickly realized they were not there on his behalf but to protect the president. They were there to keep him quiet.
Parnas is speaking publicly because he fears his fate is in William Barr’s hands. Southern District of New York prosecutors (DOJ) have his materials and can hang him out to dry if Barr involves himself in the case. Parnas is trying to set the public narrative on his role in the conspiracy before Barr can. And perhaps to earn himself some form of indemnity on other charges by giving up bigger fish before that happens.
Untangling the Gordian Knot of Donald Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy will take more space and time than we have here. Some of what he told Maddow is self-serving and false, journalist Marcy Wheeler believes.
Wheeler fact-checked the interview in real time and notes that Parnas’s claims that he got his negative views of Ambassador Yovanovitch from those around him are untrue. “He was a leader, not a follower, on attacking Yovanovitch,” Wheeler writes, and was active in that effort long before it began in earnest with Giuliani’s involvement.
With the impeachment case focused on Trump and the Biden-Burisma smear campaign, people are missing how much this conspiracy began as an attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation, Wheeler adds. Constructing an interlocking set of attorney-client and executive privileges had helped the Trump team fend off Mueller. (Read her analysis of their effort to “throw everyone into the same conflict-ridden Joint Defense Agreement, and sink or swim together.“)
Parnas’s “silences–eg, abt Firtash–are all the more telling,” Wheeler tweeted about Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with Russian mob connections. Firtash is holed-up in Vienna fighting extradition to the U.S. on bribery conspiracy charges.
Josh Marshall adds detail on how Parnas’s revelations regarding Firtash implicate Barr in a deeper conspiracy:
The allegation is this: Trump and his legal team offered to have federal foreign bribery charges against Firtash dropped if the oligarch, described by federal prosecutors as an “upper-echelon” associate of the Russian mafia, helped Trump discredit the Mueller investigation and Joe Biden.
If corroborated, Parnas’ allegations would implicate Attorney General Bill Barr in the scandal in a deeper way than previously known, and would suggest that federal indictments are up for grabs as a bargaining chip for Trump’s political fortunes.
Firtash is represented by Fox News lawyers Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing via a Parnas introduction. Three people familiar with their meeting with Barr told the Washington Post Barr declined to intercede.
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Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.