- An MSNBC panel grilled the lawyer for Lev Parnas Friday over why the Soviet-born businessman was so interested in getting rid of Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
- Bondy appeared on MSNBC to discuss the release of an audio recording from April 2018 in which Parnas is heard telling President Donald Trump that Yovanovitch was bad-mouthing him.
- Federal prosecutors have alleged that Parnas was working at the behest of Ukrainian government officials to have Yovanovitch recalled from Kyiv.
- Bondy disputed the allegation Friday.
A lawyer for Lev Parnas disputed Friday that the former Rudy Giuliani associate was doing the bidding of Ukrainians when he pressed for Marie Yovanovitch’s removal as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, though he acknowledged “it might seem that way” to outside observers.
“It wasn’t some plot from Ukrainian people that was fed to Lev Parnas in an effort to get rid of the ambassador,” Joseph Bondy, the lawyer for Parnas, said in an interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.
“It sounds like it might be,” a skeptical Maddow told Bondy.
“It wasn’t though,” he replied.
Bondy’s remarks are a rebuttal to federal prosecutors’ allegation that Parnas was working at the behest of Ukrainian officials to somehow force Yovanovitch’s firing.
An Oct. 10 indictment against Parnas and his former associate, Igor Fruman, alleges that the pair made illegal campaign contributions to several lawmakers and political committees in order to advance their business interests, as well as to depose Yovanovitch. The indictment points to contributions that the pair made in June 2018 to then-Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. (RELATED: ‘Get Rid Of Her’: Trump Appears To Order Firing Of Marie Yovanovitch)
The indictment alleges that Parnas met with Sessions in May 2018 to seek the Republican’s “assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.”
“PARNAS’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials,” it said.
After meeting with Parnas, Sessions sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that he recall Yovanovitch from Kyiv.
Parnas broached the topic of Yovanovitch several days earlier, during a conversation with President Donald Trump and others at an event for America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC to which Parnas and Fruman contributed $325,000.
An audio recording surfaced Friday of Parnas telling Trump that Yovanovitch had been bad-mouthing him and saying that he would be impeached.
Trump is overheard then telling someone to “get rid of” Yovanovitch.
“Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it,” Trump is heard saying in the recording, which ABC News first reported.
The audio confirms some of what Parnas said in interviews last week about the conversation with Trump. But it has also raised new questions about why Parnas mentioned Yovanovitch to commander in chief in the first place.
“It feels like they’re carrying somebody’s water,” Claire McCaskill, an MSNBC analyst, said to Bondy of Parnas and Fruman.
The former Missouri senator said it seemed that Parnas and Fruman were providing Trump with information that was “fed to them by people in the Ukraine who wanted to get rid of the ambassador because of their focus on corruption.”
“Who wanted to get rid of her, and what was their motive?” she asked.
“Well, we don’t know,” Bondy said, as he paused and twisted in his chair. “And it might seem that way, but there’s really no evidence to support that.”
While Bondy disputed that Parnas was working on behalf of Ukrainian officials, he said Fruman seeded his client with the rumors about Yovanovitch, who was ultimately recalled from Kyiv on April 24, 2019.
“I believe that Mr. Fruman may have been a conduit for a lot of that information,” Bondy told Maddow.
Parnas seemingly has a legal interest in disputing that he was working on behalf of foreign officials to get rid of Yovanovitch. A prosecutor handling the Parnas-Fruman case told a federal judge on Dec. 2 that additional charges against the former associates is “likely.” The remark has led to some speculation that the duo could face charges that they were illegally operating as foreign agents on behalf of someone in Ukraine.
Both Parnas and Fruman have pleaded not guilty, though the former associates appear to have adopted polar opposite legal strategies in the case.
Bondy said on Jan. 15 that Parnas is willing to cooperate with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, where the investigation is unfolding. Parnas has also provided House Democrats with a trove of text messages he exchanged with Giuliani and other Trump allies in 2019 regarding Yovanovitch and other Ukraine-related matters.
In interviews last week with CNN and MSNBC, Parnas asserted that his Ukraine-related work was done at the behest of Giuliani and with the full knowledge of Trump.
For his part, Fruman has laid low. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
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