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Opinion Four big takeaways from the explosive Lev Parnas documents

Rudy Giuliani, right, arrives with associate Lev Parnas before a state funeral service for former President George H.W. Bush in 2018. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)

In a functional political environment, the explosive new documents from Lev Parnas just released by House investigators would rock the ongoing impeachment saga. They leave almost zero doubt that the scandal that got President Trump impeached will continue getting worse — substantially so — for him and his defenders.

Parnas had helped orchestrate Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani’s negotiations with Ukrainian officials pursuant to Trump’s wide-ranging plot to pressure Ukraine into doing his corrupt political bidding.

One of the new documents reinforces this point. It’s a handwritten note by Parnas, telling himself to “get” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “to announce that the Biden case will be investigated.”

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That shows Parnas working to carry out Giuliani’s plot to pressure Zelensky to validate the Trump/Giuliani narrative of corruption designed to smear Joe Biden, a narrative that is entirely fabricated.

Parnas, who was indicted last fall on campaign finance charges, got approval from a court to hand the documents over to House impeachment investigators. Here are four big takeaways:

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The documents blow up one of Trump’s main defenses.

The documents contain a letter from Giuliani to Zelensky, dated May 10, in which Giuliani requests a meeting. The New York Times had just reported that Giuliani was set to undertake his pressure campaign.

In the letter, Giuliani explicitly states that he was representing Trump “as a private citizen, not as the president of the United States,” and also that Giuliani was carrying out this mission with Trump’s “knowledge and consent.”

That confirms in Giuliani’s own words that his scheme was geared toward satisfying Trump’s personal interests, even as Giuliani was in effect carrying out U.S. foreign relations with an ally. Our national interests were subverted to Trump’s own, at Trump’s explicit direction.

One of Trump’s main defenses is that, in pressing Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden — and another that would absolve Russia of 2016 electoral sabotage — he was merely acting as a responsible leader. Yes, Trump froze hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid while demanding these investigations, but only because he reasonably wanted Ukraine to clean up “corruption”!

That has always been obvious nonsense, but the letter forcefully underscores the point: Trump’s defenders cannot explain why, if he was merely acting in the national interest throughout, he needed his private attorney to orchestrate the whole scheme, all to his private benefit.

Businessman Lev Parnas just tied the president and his lawyer to an effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump's political rival. (Video: Greg Sargent/The Washington Post, Photo: Courtesy House Intelligence Committee/The Washington Post)

The menacing texts about Yovanovitch raise questions that will yield more revelations.

The documents contain menacing-sounding text messages between Parnas and an associate, Robert Hyde, who appeared to be tracking the movements of Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine removed by Trump.

Some texts seem to capture Hyde relating his communications with people tailing Yovanovitch. One said: “They will let me know when she’s on the move.”

Separately, a text from a former top Ukrainian prosecutor shows him pushing Parnas to help oust Yovanovitch so he can then carry out efforts to dig dirt on Biden.

Recall: Giuliani wanted Yovanovitch out of the way so he could implement his corrupt pressure on Ukraine. Also, Trump told Zelensky on July 25 that “she’s going to go through some things,” which made Yovanovitch feel threatened.

It’s not clear what that meant, but at a minimum, we know Giuliani launched an ugly smear campaign to oust Yovanovitch, and plainly, Trump was aware of it in some way before removing her himself.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will, in coming hours, demand that the State Department provide information on its knowledge of any security threats to Yovanovitch during that campaign against her.

In a statement sent my way, Rep. Eliot Engel, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the menacing texts are “profoundly alarming,” and noted that texts between Parnas and Hyde “occurred at the same time that the two men were also discussing President Trump’s efforts, through Rudy Giuliani, to smear the ambassador’s reputation.”

Engel added:

The Foreign Affairs Committee will now seek to learn what, if anything, the State Department knew about this situation at the time these messages were sent. Today, I will convey a formal request for documents, information, and a briefing from senior officials related to this matter. This unprecedented threat to our diplomats must be thoroughly investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Engel said an initial contact with department security had drawn a response, which he said left him “confident” that this matter would get attention.

Still, in light of these new revelations, the State Department’s stonewalling of ongoing investigations looks a lot worse.

As part of the impeachment inquiry, Democrats had subpoenaed the State Department for documents that could shed light on any knowledge that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had of this ongoing campaign, on Giuliani’s communications with the State Department about it, and on efforts by Trump and other henchmen to pressure Ukraine more generally.

The State Department defied this subpoena, and Pompeo just blew off a request that he testify to the Foreign Affairs Committee about Trump’s Iran policies. The State Department is responding to journalistic inquiries with radio silence:

Democrats will simply have to go on an investigative war footing that will continue after the impeachment saga, and it is likely to produce new revelations.

Senate Republicans should be nervous, because time is not on Trump’s side.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is protecting vulnerable senators by postponing votes on whether to hear witnesses and new evidence at Trump’s impeachment trial until after opening statements, in hopes that they’ll then be able to claim, “we’ve heard enough,” and vote “no."

Good luck with that.

Time is working against Trump. The revelations we’ve seen since the House passed articles of impeachment have been extraordinary.

First, the New York Times extensively documented that concerns about the legality and propriety of Trump’s freezing of military aid ran far deeper inside the administration than previously known. Then the Just Security website released a batch of new documents illustrating this in even more incriminating detail.

Now we’re learning both that Giuliani’s hijacking of U.S. foreign policy — which was run at Trump’s direction, to realize his corrupt personal ends — was far more nefarious than we thought, and that enormous unanswered questions still remain about it.

The time lag has focused intense public attention on whether GOP senators will admit at Trump’s trial new witnesses and evidence that Trump himself blocked during the House impeachment inquiry, and now doesn’t want senators to see.

Vulnerable GOP senators preparing to vote on this suddenly have reason to be a lot more queasy — if they vote no, future revelations will get hung around the necks of those senators as an example of what they tried to cover up on Trump’s behalf.

More is coming. A lot more.

An official involved with the impeachment inquiry says more documents are coming from Parnas soon. Meanwhile, there will be extensive investigative media digging that will almost certainly establish more about what, precisely, Giuliani ordered done on Trump’s behalf.

Say it with me this time: All throughout, Giuliani ran this scheme at Trump’s direction. So we will surely learn more soon enough about what Trump himself knew, and when.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: New evidence of impeachable conduct — could it get worse for Trump?

Dana Milbank: This has to be one of the most successful failures in modern political history

Ruth Marcus: John Roberts won’t save the country from Trump

Harry Litman: Democrats can get witnesses with 50 votes — if Roberts does his job

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