A crucial figure in the Ukraine scandal that sparked the impeachment of Donald Trump said the US president “knew exactly what was going on” in relation to efforts by Rudy Giuliani to pressure Kyiv to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.
Lev Parnas was central to the effort by Mr Giuliani, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Mr Biden, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He told MSNBC that Mr Trump was fully aware of the campaign despite his denials.
“President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all of my movements,” Mr Parnas, a Florida businessman, told the cable television network on Wednesday. “I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”
Mr Parnas, a Ukrainian-born American, became a central figure in the controversy after it emerged that he had been a go-between for Mr Giuliani. He was indicted last year with an associate on unrelated charges of violating campaign finance laws.
Mr Trump has denied knowing the men, despite having met Mr Parnas multiple times and being photographed together. “I don’t know them . . . Maybe they were clients of Rudy’s,” he said.
Asked whether Mr Trump was being truthful, Mr Parnas replied: “He lied.”
The claims from such a close associate of Mr Giuliani come just days before the Senate will hold an impeachment trial after the House passed articles of impeachment against the president for only the third occasion in US history.
The House impeached Mr Trump in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, delayed sending the articles to the Senate — the move that triggers a trial — in a failed bid to persuade Republicans to accept Democratic demands related to how it would be run.
Democrats want to question witnesses in public hearings, partly because they know they will be unable to get the 67 votes in the Republican-controlled chamber required to convict and remove him.
While the claims by Mr Parnas are unlikely to change the minds of many Republican senators, they will provide more political ammunition against Mr Trump as the Democrats campaign to oust the president at the ballot box on November 3. It could also hurt Republican senators who are seeking re-election in tight races.
The impeachment inquiry was sparked by a CIA whistleblower complaint about a July 25 call in which Mr Trump asked Mr Zelensky to open an investigation into Mr Biden and his son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Mr Trump has insisted that the call was “perfect”. But several current and former officials made clear in congressional testimony there had been a campaign orchestrated by Mr Giuliani to interfere in the US political process.
John Bolton, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, at one point described the effort by Mr Giuliani and Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU, as a “drug deal”. But Mr Parnas is the most significant participant in the pressure campaign to declare that Mr Trump was aware of what was occurring on his behalf.
Mr Parnas also told MSNBC that US attorney-general William Barr was “absolutely” aware of the pressure campaign and had held related discussions with Mr Giuliani.
“Attorney-general Barr was basically on the team,” Mr Parnas told the network.
Mr Parnas said Mike Pence, US vice-president, was also aware of the pressure campaign. At one point, the White House cancelled a visit by Mr Pence to Kyiv to attend Mr Zelensky’s inauguration. Mr Parnas alleged this was to raise pressure on Ukraine to announce a Biden probe and Mr Pence was aware of that.
“Everybody was in the loop,” Mr Parnas said.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi