Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog
Parnas has presented himself as bamboozled by Giuliani and others into thinking Yovanovitch was bad news. That’s why he tried to get her fired. In other words, he was following their lead. Now he realizes it was all lies and he’s sorry. But as Wheeler notes, this doesn’t match with Parnas’s own timeline. He describes a conversation with Trump all the way back in April 2018 in which he pushed Trump to fire Yovanovich. This is not a new claim from Parnas. A version of his account was published in the Post back in November of last year. It’s also backed up by what Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told Yovanovitch after her ouster, which is that the State Department “had been under pressure from the president to remove [her] since the summer of 2018.”
But this significantly predates the focus on Joe Biden or even, as far as we know, Giuliani’s involvement. Giuliani signed on as Trump’s lawyer in April 2018 as well. (It’s not clear whether it was just before or after the fundraiser dinner.) So Parnas’ and Fruman’s focus on Yovanovitch and their involvement in the effort seems to predate Giuliani coming into the picture at all, at least as Trump’s “lawyer.” Indeed, according to that Post, Giuliani said Parnas and Fruman were already in touch with the President when he met them a couple months after the aforementioned dinner and after he’d signed on as Trump’s lawyer.
Now what is the significance of Parnas’s deceptive comment here? I’m not sure it’s more than a little self-serving shading. The fact that Giuliani got involved a bit later doesn’t mean that Parnas wasn’t part of a clique that predated Giuliani’s involvement. It’s a self-serving comment regardless that I put little stock in. But doesn’t really need to concern us. The key I think is that this didn’t start with Rudy. To the extent Parnas was part of a clique that influenced his views, that clique seemed to clearly predate Giuliani’s involvement.
We don’t need to get tripped up in this spin about whether Parnas was influenced by bad people. That’s obviously just his spin on all this trying to appeal to an anti-Trump audience. What does seem clear is that that this predates Giuliani and largely predates a focus on Joe Biden. In Parnas’s interviews, the logic of the situation is that Lutsenko and Shokin both want Yovanovitch fired and that’s their price for making up allegations against Joe Biden. Parnas and his crew don’t really care about Yovanovitch one way or another. They’re after Biden and that’s what these two guys demand as the price for Biden. But that doesn’t quite add up if the push against Yovanovitch seems to predate the focus on Biden. So to the extent Parnas and Fruman are just hustlers with no obvious ideological axe to grind, who was driving this and why?
As Wheeler also notes, April is right around the time Ukraine stops cooperating with the Mueller probe. And here we get to the real main point. We have discussed at great length how this whole effort started as an effort to undermine the Mueller probe and specifically to exonerate Paul Manafort. Indeed, if you set aside the Manafort part, which is obviously not something he wants to focus on, Giuliani makes this point himself at every opportunity. His work in Ukraine, he claims, was aimed at defending the President from Mueller’s investigation.
So let’s step back a few paces. What does all this stuff mean? It means that this stuff started before it was about Joe Biden. And it appears to have been underway when Giuliani entered the picture. The why seems pretty clear: to disrupt the Manafort probe and specifically to get Manafort off the hook. The who though remains murky. Who were Parnas and Fruman working for and with in the Spring of 2018?