“Great job. Was fantastic,” Sargeant commented in a subsequent message.
Each of those cable-news alerts from Parnas came on March 20, 2019, and they were prescient: On his program that night, Fox News host Sean Hannity kicked things off with this blockbuster: “Breaking tonight, according to the Hill’s John Solomon, we now have major evidence of election collusion in 2016, real evidence to back it up,” said the host. “This collusion surrounds Hillary Clinton and a top Ukrainian government official that wanted her elected. We’re going to have all the details coming up with John Solomon.”
With his frothy presentation, Hannity was articulating an early framing of the Ukraine conspiracy theory that has landed on the Senate floor in the form of an impeachment trial. A key part of the story was Parnas himself, who worked with close associate Rudolph W. Giuliani, personal attorney for President Trump, to lobby Ukrainian officials to announce an investigation into the Bidens. The goal was to secure political advantage for Trump while advancing the notion that the real collusion in 2016 took place between the Clinton campaign and Ukraine.
The Parnas text messages hit the public realm via House Democrats this week. To contextualize all these Ukraine-oriented communications, Parnas has given interviews to Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Anderson Cooper of CNN, clarifying that the president himself was well aware of his efforts. “President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas told Maddow in an extraordinary interview that aired Wednesday night. “He was aware of all of my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”
Parnas is under federal indictment on campaign-finance charges — he has pleaded not guilty — and many of his allegations aren’t verified. Yet recent revelations round out his role in the media aspect of the Ukraine scandal, starting with those text messages. The back-and-forth demonstrates that Parnas helped Solomon, then an opinion contributor at the Hill, arrange an interview with then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko. “I sent you the questions and the invitation from the journalist, call me when you wake up,” Parnas wrote to Lutsenko on March 12.
Those messages explain why Parnas was so excited about that “Hannity” episode: His own legwork facilitated the story in the Hill that the Fox News host amplified. In turn, other voices in conservative media and Trump world promoted the story, such as it was. ProPublica reported in October that Parnas was so involved in the Lutsenko story that he watched the interview from the Hill TV control booth.
After witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry shredded Solomon’s Ukraine coverage, the Hill announced nearly two months ago that it would conduct a review of the reporting.
Whatever the internal review discovers, Solomon’s work in abetting a smear of former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had its intended result. She was recalled from her post months before completing her tour of duty. And the idea, hyped by Solomon, that Ukraine-Democratic collusion was a national scandal has colonized the scripts of “Hannity.”
In his interview with Maddow, Parnas added an unsubstantiated and complicated wrinkle to the story. It involves Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian energy mogul who is fighting an extradition effort from federal prosecutors in Chicago for bribery charges. Now for a wiring diagram: Firtash’s legal team includes Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, who are famous for their occasional pro-Trump appearances on Fox News. Their firm also represents Solomon, and worked with Parnas as well.
Another key person referenced in this tale is Andrew Weissmann, a top prosecutor for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. He served as a frequent punching bag in Hannity’s monologues seeking to undermine the Russia investigation.
With all that background, here’s Parnas explaining to Maddow the Solomon-Toensing-diGenova-Firtash scheme:
PARNAS: At that meeting with Rudy and Victoria and Joe, John brought up saying he had some incredible information from Firtash camp, which later we found out it was I think Lanny Davis gave it to him, but that it was — basically [that] showed that Andrew Weissmann was doing some legal stuff, and offering a deal, and it could blow up the Mueller investigation up the kazoo.MADDOW: Can I stop you there for a second?So, the allegation, as you understood it, was that Andrew Weissmann, one of the prosecutors working on the Mueller team, had made — had had an interaction with Dmytro Firtash, who’s under indictment by the Justice Department, who’s fighting extradition here, and that interaction Mr. Solomon was saying would be something scandalous that would discredit the Mueller investigation.PARNAS: Correct. So, we were tasked basically with trying to establish a relationship and —MADDOW: Specifically to get information to try to discredit the Mueller investigation.PARNAS: Absolutely, yes. And basically, we went to — I was given certain documents by John Solomon that would validate to Dmytro Firtash that I was in the loop and that I knew what was going on, because Mr. Firtash is a gentleman that just doesn’t see anybody, and that’s — you know, it’s impossible to even to get to meet with him.For us to be able to receive information from Firtash, we had to promise Firtash something.MADDOW: Uh-huh.PARNAS: So, for Firtash, it was basically telling him we knew his case is worthless here and that he’s being prosecuted for no reason and that basically it could get taken care of. That —MADDOW: That was your offer to Mr. Firtash.PARNAS: Correct, correct.MADDOW: That we can get this prosecution of you dropped.PARNAS: Your extradition case, correct, yes.So, that was basically the situation at that point.MADDOW: So the exchange with Mr. Firtash was going to be, you provide us information that would be detrimental to the public perception of the Mueller investigation, and we in turn will get your case dropped at the DOJ, so you won’t get extradited to the United States anymore?PARNAS: That’s how it began.
That allegation, again, is unsubstantiated. The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Solomon about it and is awaiting a reply.
When asked by ProPublica about his contacts with Parnas, Solomon insisted that he had acted appropriately. “No one knew there was anything wrong with Lev Parnas at the time,” Solomon said in reference to the fact that his work with Parnas predated the operative’s indictment. “Everybody who approaches me has an angle. My mother has an angle when she calls me.”
Consider, though, what has come of Solomon’s “angle.” Subsequent events have shown that the smear campaign that he ignited against Yovanovitch was a deep and slimy crock. She was pursuing her ambassadorial duties with her usual professionalism until a team of rogue freelancing white-collar thugs took her out. The Senate’s impeachment trial — and the House’s own investigative efforts — may well reveal yet more about how Solomon did his work.
The House impeachment report has this to say about Parnas and Solomon:
The Committees uncovered evidence of close ties and frequent contacts between Mr. Solomon and Mr. Parnas, who was assisting Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of the President. Phone records show that in the 48 hours before publication of The Hill opinion piece, Mr. Parnas spoke with Mr. Solomon. In addition, The Hill piece cited a letter dated May 9, 2018, from Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) to Secretary [Mike] Pompeo, in which Rep. Sessions accused Ambassador Yovanovitch of speaking “privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current administration.” A federal criminal indictment alleges that in or about May 2018, Mr. Parnas sought a congressman’s assistance to remove Ambassador Yovanovitch, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials. On March 20, 2019, the day The Hill opinion piece was published, Mr. Parnas again spoke with Mr. Solomon for 11 minutes. Shortly after that phone call, President Trump promoted Mr. Solomon’s article in a tweet.
And on Jan. 16, the very day after Parnas surfaced his claim about Solomon and Firtash, an announcement came in over the wires: JusttheNews.com, Solomon’s start-up site, will be posting content within the next month. According to a news release, JusttheNews.com will commission work from folks like former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who is still seeking legal redress for her claims that the feds illegally surveilled her and her family as she investigated the Obama administration, and Peter Schweizer, whose book “Clinton Cash” kicked off Hillary Clinton’s Uranium One non-scandal.
Expect more such stuff from JusttheNews.com.