Leading the charge is Trump, who insisted repeatedly Thursday afternoon about Parnas, “I don’t know the guy,” and “I don’t know him.” Trump, in fact, said some version of that nine times in just two minutes.
It was par-for-course for a president who essentially suggested that Paul Manafort was a temp on his 2016 campaign rather than the campaign chairman for several months, turned George Papadopoulos into a “low-level volunteer” and suggested Michael Cohen was simply one of many Trump attorneys. But in this case, it’s particularly implausible.
There are, of course, the photographs of Trump and Parnas that have made the rounds.
But it’s also difficult to square Trump’s claim with The Washington Post’s November scoop that Parnas badmouthed then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch directly to Trump at an April 2018 donor event. The Post reported that Trump, in response, suggested that Yovanovitch be fired.
And then, after Trump relegated Parnas on Thursday to a guy he didn’t know, Parnas’s attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, posted a 2017 video of them again hobnobbing at an event.
Bondy has a similar response to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s similar claim Wednesday night on CNN. After Conway twice said, “I don’t know Lev Parnas,” Bondy posted an undated image of the two of them together.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has struggled through his own questions about how close he is to Parnas — and it all led to a suspiciously timed disclosure Wednesday night.
When Parnas’s phone records came out last month, it showed contacts with Nunes. That was particularly stunning, given that Nunes was a leader of Trump’s impeachment defense as the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. The idea that he might be wrapped up in all this but didn’t disclose it would have been big. But Nunes begged off the questions, saying in early December that he didn’t “recall” Parnas’s name and hadn’t yet confirmed that he had spoken with Parnas.
Then, with Parnas’s MSNBC interview being announced Wednesday afternoon, Nunes suddenly decided to confirm it. He told Fox News beforehand that they did speak on the phone but maintained they weren’t really working together. “I remember that call, which was very odd, random, talking about random things,” Nunes said. “And I said, ‘Great, just talk to my staff,’ and boom boom boom.”
To which Parnas responded on MSNBC: “He knew what’s happening. He knows who I am.”
And finally is the case of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). McCarthy said about Parnas last week, “I guess I met him one time, and he came to an event and took a picture with me.” It turns out that they have attended at least three events together, according to Courthouse News.
Courthouse News’s Adam Klasfeld pressed McCarthy on it Thursday, and McCarthy grew testy and said he didn’t know how many times he’d met Parnas “because I don’t know him.” McCarthy added: “People come to events, and they take photos with me. This seems to be the case.”
The thing is: That’s plausible! It’s entirely possible that McCarthy and Conway don’t really know Parnas. It’s possible that Parnas combined working with Trump personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani on Ukraine with being a gadfly at Republican political events, where people want to be pictured with powerful people. But when you deny you know someone or say you met them only once, you should probably ensure that’s the case.
From there, it becomes a question of what does it mean to “know” someone. If you’ve met them once, do you really “know” them, or do you just “know of” them. This is the semantic and philosophical debate the Trump team is leaning on.
But that debate tends more toward the ridiculous when it comes to Nunes and Trump. Parnas is in Nunes’s phone records, and Nunes has been anything but forthcoming about it. Parnas has also been shoulder-to-shoulder with Trump — the man whose personal attorney he worked directly with — on at least two occasions apart from just being in a photo.
It’s just the kind of thing the lends itself to suspicion.