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Opinion Thanks to Trump, we are living in a world of sleaze

Lev Parnas outside the federal courthouse in New York last October. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Thanks to President Trump, we are living in a world of sleaze.

It’s tough enough keeping count of the former Trump associates who’ve been indicted, convicted or imprisoned. With startling regularity, new names emerge on what seems a bottomless list of scoundrels and grifters.

We began this presidential caper, after all, with revelations of a porn star paid off to keep silent about an alleged affair with Trump shortly after Melania Trump had given birth to their son. Never wonder why so many Americans are disgusted by this president. But what might finally bring Trump down are not alleged sins of the flesh but abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — the two charges laid out in articles of impeachment now before the U.S. Senate.

The latest Trump impeachment trial updates

Last week, following the slow tortures of the House impeachment process, a new character emerged in the nick of time to bestir the swamp. In a perverse deus ex machina, this time surfacing from the bowels of the stage, Lev Parnas was this week’s man of the moment.

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

You remember ol’ Lev. He and Igor Fruman are the two Rudy Giuliani “associates” who were arrested last October as they were about to board a flight to Europe with one-way tickets. Parnas, who pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, false statements and falsification of records, is now suddenly the voice of reason and moral authority as he makes the cable-TV rounds. During an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, he nearly glowed with virtue as, referring to Trump, he helpfully intoned, “He’s not king,” as though America required someone of Parnas’s elevated stature to illuminate the masses.

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Yes, he told Cooper, he would be willing to testify if the Senate should call him as a witness. Yes, he would definitely connect all the dots. What a genuine, humble guy, no one was thinking.

Parnas must have taken acting lessons during his hiatus. As he was soft-spoken and almost contrite, it was briefly difficult to remember that he was the same guy who says he traveled abroad on behalf of Giuliani and Trump to convey to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that there would be no military aid until Zelensky announced an investigation into Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.

The funds, of course, were held up and released only after Trump learned of the whistleblower complaint that triggered the impeachment inquiry. After so many months of proceedings, posturing and the usual political hokey pokey on the Hill, one is almost tempted to query: Is that all you got? Not to minimize the seriousness of essentially inviting a foreign country to join the Trump campaign or bartering military aid for personal gain. But the answer, if we’re honest, is that Democrats will do whatever it takes to eradicate The Don and his minions.

Trump has inflicted his own crude, self-aggrandizing pathologies on the nation, and he brought along a revolving cadre of sycophants and criminals to enable his delusional ambitions. Parnas is but the latest. He was sent abroad to make an offer Zelensky presumably couldn’t refuse, plausibly delivered with the finesse of a gangster — Giuliani-style if not Corleone-style.

If Parnas is going down, he apparently doesn’t plan to be lonely. He has also implicated Attorney General William P. Barr and Vice President Pence, who, Parnas says, were both in the now-storied “loop.” Both Barr and Pence deny it. And, of course, there’s Giuliani, who has been tangled in his own web of weirdness for some time. Whatever legacy he once had as America’s mayor following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he has surrendered it to ego and a rapacious appetite for relevancy.

Whether Parnas will be invited to tell his tale under oath before the Senate seems doubtful, but he’ll find plenty of company among his predecessors in the presidential purgatory he has now entered. In Trump’s underworld, disloyalty is usually rewarded with some fresh new hell.

Read more from Kathleen Parker’s archive, follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

Read more:

Michael J. Gerhardt: What impeachment watchers are getting wrong about John Roberts’ role

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent: For impeachment defense team, Trump recruits from Fox News

Alexandra Petri: Sure, whatever, let’s have witnesses. Maybe that’ll finally convince me Trump is guilty.

Erik Wemple: Martha McSally insults reporter’s integrity, reaps windfall

The latest commentary on the Trump impeachment

Looking for more Trump impeachment coverage following the president’s acquittal?

See Dana Milbank’s Impeachment Diary: Find all the entries in our columnist’s feature.

Get the latest: See complete Opinions coverage from columnists, editorial cartoonists and the Editorial Board.

Read the most recent take from the Editorial Board: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.

The House impeachment managers weigh in in an op-ed: Trump won’t be vindicated. The Senate won’t be, either.

Stay informed: Read the latest reporting and analysis on impeachment from the Post newsroom.

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