Lev Parnas is a Grifter and a Fraud and the Media Loves Him
The media christened Lev Parnas the kind of witness the Senate needs to hear from. Is he?
Nah. Lev Parnas is who we all hope is the last “Did too! Did Not!” player in the term-long effort to find some way to drive Trump from office. Parnas is a Ukrainian-born “businessman” who claims to be the missing link between Trump and the evidence needed to impeach. Parnas also happens to be under indictment for breaking campaign finance laws after disguising donations from foreign entities to a pro-Trump PAC, and so is singing like the girl from Frozen to be let go.
Parnas is mostly an opportunist, with notes of stalker, groupie, and crazy guy who imagines Jodi Foster is in love with him from afar. He takes his place as the last Hail Mary play in the gladiator games that is impeachment. In that, he joins James Comey, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti, aggrieved porn stars, Christopher Steele, the tattered Russian oligarchs still waiting for their checks from Christopher Steele, the Masked Whistleblower, and so many others who came before them.
Though the media label Parnas a Rudy Giuliani henchman, associate, or thug, and thus by extension a Trump henchman, associate, or thug, what Parnas did was to pay Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for “business and legal advice.” He didn’t work for Giuliani; Giuliani worked for him. And in the you-can’t-make-this-up category, Parnas’ company is called Fraud Guarantee.
Parnas was supposedly paying for the privilege of being used to gather dirt on Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, which raises the question of why. As America’s ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch served at the pleasure of the president. Trump did not need a reason to fire her. He did not need dirt gathered. He could simply instruct the State Department to recall her (or any other ambassador) and that’s that. It happens all the time without the need for third-party, cloak-and-dagger work by a B-grade Clouseau. Yet Parnas has since gone on at length about the process of firing Yovanovitch being so difficult that the most powerful man in the world with the Article II-guaranteed right to fire someone needed his help.
Actually the only “work” Parnas wanted in return for his generous payments to Rudy was the appearance of access, grip-and-grin photos, a sleazy form of currency in the circles people like him travel in Eastern Europe and Asia. They decorate the walls of fast talkers across the globe, like the “awards” small-town real estate agents and insurance brokers favor. So via his payments to Giuliani and his generous donations, Parnas amassed photos of himself and Trump. Those photos are the cornerstone of Democrats’ case against Trump, who says he really does not know Parnas. See, there are pictures, which the media insist now are to be called “receipts.”
Want some photos with the big boys and girls? Easy. You write a modest check. You get invited to a campaign event for a quick grip-and-grin picture, maybe at first with a tier-two Trump kid. You write a bigger check, you get invited to another event and maybe are led past the Man himself for a quick snap. More money, better photos. Start to bundle donors, and you get invites to “private” breakfasts attended by dozens of people with a drop-by from the candidate. None of this means you “know” Trump or he knows you. You may not exchange a word of greeting as the photos are taken in assembly-line fashion. And of course, if your politics run Democrat, those same photos are available with Biden, Clinton, or whomever. For a price. Now show us a photo of you with Trump in matching Speedos poolside, and you’ll have our attention.
Along with most of the media and the American public, sleazy businesspeople in Eastern Europe don’t seem to grasp the meaningless of these photos and imagine a guy like Trump isn’t using Parnas as an ATM while a guy like Parnas isn’t using Trump for pretend status. Meanwhile, as con men do, Parnas was going around Ukraine telling everyone, without any evidence but the photos, that he was working for Giuliani and Trump, gathering dirt on the American ambassador. But there was always a little wiggle room in the actual relationship—note the “like” when Parnas said, “I became like Rudy’s assistant.” How one works for someone one is paying is, like, unclear. Parnas, like generations of grifters before him, is free to go around claiming he is important and trying to tie himself to important people, but none of that makes it true.
In fact, perhaps having been introduced to the legal term “perjury” or its vernacular cousin “lying” by his defense attorney John Dowd, a former Trump lawyer he and the media have made a big deal out of, Parnas further qualified his relationship with Trump to say, “I mean, we’re not friends. Me and him didn’t watch football games together. We didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were.”
Following his indictment and ahead of impeachment proceedings, Parnas has become a one-man media event. He claimed to Rachel Maddow that he knew Trump knew everything bad that was going on, though he also admits he never spoke substantively to Trump and his knowledge is second- or third-hand at best. To say he was photographed with Trump at fundraisers is miles from claiming Trump directed him in the Ukraine caper, which even Parnas does not assert. The media has done that for him, imaging a selfie is a receipt for impeachable offenses.
And of course, there’s more, as the story oozes from drama into comedy. Remember how the Russians had Trump on tape with prostitutes? And how the media headlined that Michael Cohen had incriminating tapes of Trump that no one had ever heard? Parnas supposedly has tapes, too! Parnas, without evidence, accused Attorney General Bill Barr of being involved in all things Ukraine, and thus demanding that he recuse himself and the entire Department of Justice from Parnas’ unrelated campaign finance case due to this “conflict of interest.”
Parnas also accused Vice President Pence of “having to have known” about the Ukraine stuff. Parnas did dismiss hints by a drunk Trump supporter that Ambassador Yovanovitch was under Giuliani-ordered surveillance and/or the target of assassination. Democrats have called for an investigation anyway. The Dems have nothing to be proud of; Adam Schiff falsely claimed Parnas was in touch with the president of the Ukraine when he was actually texting about the head of the Ukrainian company Biden’s son works for.
And the fact Parnas revealed all on TV, as opposed to in a proffer, or under oath anywhere, should not distract from his credibility. Or maybe it should. The federal prosecutors at the Southern District of New York (yeah, that SDNY, the one which is supposed to take down Trump) turned down Parnas’ offer to spill all in return for a deal, sending him to testify on the Rachel Maddow show.
Enough. There is no evidence Parnas ever spoke substantively about Ukraine with Trump. There is no evidence supporting Parnas’ claims that he in any way worked with, at the direction of, or otherwise for Trump. His statements now, only after indictment, raise significant questions about his credibility and thus demand supporting evidence. Selfies with Trump are not supporting evidence. Nothing corroborates Parnas but Parnas.
That ends Parnas’ value as a potential witness in the impeachment trial. But what about his enablers in the media without whom he’d be telling his tall tales to the cafeteria ladies at some federal prison?
This all started three years ago with Christopher Steele, who at least had a nicely typed dossier and an MI6 pedigree. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a few of the others probably did know things, even if they didn’t snitch out like the media claimed they would. But now we’re down to the mainstream media primping a guy who before he was a recognized as a savior by CNN was called by CNN a radioactive wolf who shook down Ukrainians pretending he had a connection to the White House.
The old adage about not being able to cheat an honest person extends to the media; a con man can only be elevated to the national stage by a dishonest press willing to ignore his lack of credibility for its own agenda. And so the same people who drove the Russiagate train now switch their embrace to a bottom feeder like Parnas.
The New York Times‘ own queen of that particular swamp, Maggie Haberman, admitted, “One of the hallmarks of the Trump era is anybody who is oppositional to Trump gets instant credibility. We’ve seen it over and over again. Michael Avenatti, Cohen even at points, even when he was admitting he was lying to Congress at some point after he pleaded guilty to other charges.” That’s a hell of a thing for Haberman to say given how much credibility she and her paper of record have bestowed on a parade of transparent liars.
With impeachment soon to be over and the Democratic primaries starting, hopefully there won’t be bandwidth left for another round of this. The list of people who have been used to try to bring Trump down is long. Some of them are now in jail, many were fired or disgraced, and a few received Pulitzer Prizes. Time for this to end.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent.