The exchange in question concerns Trump’s freezing of military aid to Ukraine to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to carry out Trump’s dirty political deeds. Parnas ties Giuliani more directly to this act than anyone else has, and shares what appears to be new information about it, though this still needs to be confirmed.
The key exchange with Maddow comes after she asks Parnas if he met with Sergey Shaffer, a senior Zelensky aide. Maddow notes that it has been reported that Parnas conveyed to Schaffer that Zelensky must announce an investigation of Biden, in order to get the military aid released.
Then this happened:
PARNAS: The message that I was supposed -- that I gave Sergey Shaffer was a very harsh message. I was told to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant way.MADDOW: Who told you to give it to him a harsh way?PARNAS: Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after, you know, meeting the president at the White House. He called me. The message was, it wasn’t just military aid, it was all aid. Basically their relationships would be sour, that he would -- that we would stop giving them any kind of aid that --MADDOW: Unless?PARNAS: -- unless there was an announcement made.
The important thing here is that Parnas is alleging that Giuliani directly told him to convey the message to Ukraine that the military aid was contingent on announcing the investigations Trump wanted — after talking to Trump about it.
Let’s state clearly here that this is just Parnas’s word, and that we need more confirmation. Parnas, who had previously been working with Giuliani on the Ukraine scheme, is a slippery character who’s trying to cooperate with federal prosecutors, probably for reduced charges, having been indicted on campaign finance charges last fall.
Giuliani has generally responded that Parnas is lying, without offering a specific rebuttal.
But here’s the thing. We already know for a fact that this message — that Trump made the military aid conditional on announcing investigations that would smear Biden and absolve Russia of 2016 electoral sabotage — actually was delivered to Ukraine, by one of Trump’s top henchmen.
That henchman would be Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who has testified that he told a top Zelensky aide that the money was conditioned on Zelensky announcing those investigations.
Trump’s defense is collapsing
Trump’s defenders have seized on Sondland’s insistence that he merely “presumed” this to be the case. Their line is basically that Trump never explicitly commanded Sondland to use the frozen aid to openly strong-arm Zelensky on his behalf.
This argument has always been ridiculous. Sondland acted at Trump’s direction throughout. And Sondland himself testified that Trump actually did tell him to convey to Zelensky that he still had to do Trump’s bidding, at a time when Ukraine was desperate for the money, while absurdly denying any quid pro quo.
Crucially, Parnas is now claiming Giuliani told him to make the same demand, after discussing it with Trump.
The demand from Ukraine is almost certainly solicitation of a bribe. Federal statute makes “bribery” a crime if a public official “demands” or “seeks” anything “of value personally,” in exchange for performing “an official act,” provided this has been done “corruptly.” It defines “of value personally” broadly.
An announcement of these investigations plainly had personal value for Trump. Last spring, Giuliani candidly admitted that they would be “very helpful to my client.”
In this case, though, Parnas is also suggesting that Giuliani and Trump discussed this, and that after that happened, Giuliani instructed him to carry out an element of it.
That strongly suggests a criminal conspiracy to solicit a bribe, according to former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner.
“Parnas puts Giuliani in a firsthand way in a criminal conspiracy to bribe and extort Ukraine,” Kirschner told me, noting that this account suggests both solicitation of a bribe and extortion, which can both be applied to this act, though bribery is probably more accurate.
Randall Eliason, who teaches white-collar criminal law at George Washington University, added that Parnas had accused Giuliani of a crime.
"Maddow didn't exactly pin Parnas down on all the details,” Eliason told me. “But if it's true that Trump instructed Giuliani to tell Parnas to convey the message that aid would be withheld unless Ukraine announced the investigations, that potentially implicates all three of them in a conspiracy to solicit a bribe."
“A criminal conspiracy is two or more people agreeing to commit the crime, along with at least one of them taking at least one act in furtherance of the conspiracy,” Eliason continued.
Eliason added that “Giuliani conveying the message” to Parnas would constitute “an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy.” Eliason said that Parnas relaying it to the Zelensky aide could also constitute such an act.
As sitting president, Trump, of course, cannot be prosecuted. And let’s restate once again that we only have Parnas’s word for this.
But once again, the conditioning of the military aid on announcing the investigations that Trump wanted actually did happen. Sondland, acting on Trump’s behalf, conveyed that explicit message to Ukraine.
Now we have Parnas adding another piece to the puzzle, and doing so in a very specific way.
Over to you, GOP senators
All of this makes it even stranger that Republican senators might vote against hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. They probably have the most direct knowledge of Trump’s thinking as he froze the military aid of anyone alive.
If Parnas is lying, as very well might be the case, then they could testify to Trump’s true motives for that act. Isn’t that something GOP senators should want?