David A. Graham: Trump wanted an announcement—not an investigation
Parnas also produced a May 2019 letter from Giuliani to Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky requesting a meeting with him. Giuliani began the letter, “I am private counsel to President Donald J. Trump. Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as President of the United States.” This is the latest evidence to debunk Trump’s claim to have been acting in an official capacity when he pressured Ukraine.
In an interview with The New York Times, Parnas also explained how Giuliani came to represent him and his partner, Igor Fruman. In Parnas’s telling, he was worried about acting as go-betweens for Trump without an official capacity to ensure their safety and access. Parnas first proposed that Trump make the two men special envoys, but after speaking with Trump, Giuliani offered a new idea: He would represent Fruman and Parnas, as well as the president, thus making them all subject to shared attorney-client privilege.
The Parnas allegations go on and on. Parnas has said that Trump was kept apprised of all of his actions by Giuliani, although Parnas said he did not communicate directly with the president about them. (Though Trump has claimed not to know Parnas, there are many photos floating around of them together.) If true, this would also debunk any claim (already implausible) by Trump that he was unaware of Giuliani’s actions.
As the Senate prepares to hold a trial for Trump, with acquittal a foregone conclusion, impeachment remains a strange duck. For anyone who has seriously considered the evidence, it’s impossible to conclude that Trump’s behavior was appropriate (although it remains possible to conclude that impeachment, or removal, is still excessive.) Yet even though the House has finished impeaching Trump, and despite the appalling facts uncovered, there is much that remains unknown about the president’s actions with regard to Ukraine, thanks to both Trump’s obstruction and the haste of the Democratic House.
David A. Graham: The arrests of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman
This makes it impossible to ignore Parnas’s claims. If true, they make the case against Trump that much more damning. They help to fill in some of the missing information, they underscore the president’s abuse of office, and they come from someone with firsthand knowledge.
And yet it’s also impossible to take Parnas at face value. Parnas, you may recall, first became a household name in October, when he was arrested with Fruman while attempting to leave the country, and charged with violations of election-related laws. This is a man who started a company called “Fraud Guarantee,” reportedly so that he could bury Google results about his own previous shady actions. If he is telling the truth now, he was both involved in a dastardly and preposterous scheme, and lied about it in the past.