But it’s the White House’s reaction to Parnas’s new loquaciousness that is both fascinating and disturbing, in a way that highlights how the Trump era is affecting us all.
“The president has said he did not know him,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, which is true in that he did say that. “I don’t know them, I don’t know about them, I don’t know what they do,” Trump has said about Parnas and his partner Igor Fruman. “I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy’s.”
Grisham added that there’s no need to believe what Parnas has to say, because “this is a man who’s under indictment and who’s actually out on bail.”
That’s also true. But that’s like a mob boss saying, “How can you trust all these guys who have turned state’s evidence against me? They’re a bunch of gangsters!”
And it has become so familiar that we expect it: Whenever one of Trump’s goons gets arrested, Trump says he barely knows the guy. And if that person should start to talk about Trump, then it’s obvious the person is a liar.
Like Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer. “Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” Trump said when Cohen began to reveal how Trump did business.
How about Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman who is now in federal prison? “I didn’t know Manafort well. He wasn’t with the campaign very long,” Trump said.
How about U.S Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, with whom Trump had regular phone conversations about the effort to strong-arm Ukraine? “I have not spoken to him much, this is not a man I know well,” Trump said.
But Trump does know Parnas, because of Parnas’s close relationship with Rudolph W. Giuliani and his work on their Biden-Ukraine project. At one point, Trump personally consented to have his former lawyer John Dowd represent Parnas and Fruman. Dowd then told Congress that Parnas “assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump,” and therefore he could not answer questions because of attorney-client privilege.
And Parnas seems to know everyone around Trump. Here’s a pic of Lev with Vice President Pence and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Here’s a pic of Lev with Kellyanne Conway. Here’s a pic of Lev with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Here’s a pic of Lev with Donald Trump Jr.
And no, Parnas is not particularly trustworthy. Which makes him fit right in with Trump’s employees and associates. That’s the point.
Yet I can pretty much promise you that a week from now, Parnas will fade from our attention. Whenever you find yourself saying about the day’s news, “If this were any other president it would be a gigantic scandal in and of itself,” you probably then remember that you said the same thing the day before and the day before that. And that’s exactly what’s so demoralizing, so spiritually enervating, about this whole era.
It’s the way specific outrages get swallowed by the corrupt totality of the Trump presidency, precisely because there is so much to be outraged about.
The raging river of Trump’s lies is so broad and deep and swift that any one lie simply shoots past us, glimpsed for a moment and then forgotten. Trump’s corruption is so profound and relentless that any single corrupt act seems almost inconsequential, worth no more than a day or two of indignation. Trump has surrounded himself with so many criminals and grifters and goons; what’s one more?
So if I reminded you that, say, Trump was actively pursuing a deal potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars to build a Trump Tower in Russia while running for president and lying about it to the public, you’d probably say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.” Each one of these hundreds of stories coasts past us, our ability to muster the appropriate urgency getting a little weaker every time.
The result is that because Trump’s corruption and dishonesty are so encompassing, he obtains a kind of immunity to any new scandal. “Didn’t we know that already?” we wind up asking ourselves, looking for an excuse not to get our dander up for the thousandth time.
The answer is yes, we knew already. We knew that he’s a con man and a liar and a tax cheat and a bigot. We knew that he abused women and that he’d abuse his office. We knew it all.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop being angry, no matter how hard it can be to stay that way for four years. If we do, then he has truly won.