January 17, 2020

Lev Parnas

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“A close associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is claiming Trump was directly involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden… Parnas made several potentially explosive claims in an extended interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, segments of which were aired Wednesday and Thursday.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left finds Parnas’s allegations troubling and calls for further investigation.

“The dilemma posed by Parnas’s claims recalls the one created by Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House last February. As Republicans eagerly noted then, Cohen was a convicted liar, preparing to go to prison on tax-fraud, campaign-finance, and other charges. His testimony was self-interested: He both had reasons to exact personal revenge on Trump, and hoped that his cooperation might induce authorities to lighten his sentence…

“Each was once a part of the Trump circle, and the president and his defenders now dismiss him as a liar and scoundrel. And as with Cohen, the defense is troubling even if true. If Cohen and Parnas are such obvious villains, how is it that they came to be close to the president, putatively working as part of his legal teams? The same question applies to any number of other criminals, con men, and charlatans we’ve come to know over the past four years as Trump associates. The fact that he is surrounded by such people says a great deal about either his judgment or his probity… [Parnas’] claims can’t be believed at anything near face value… [But] as long as it’s Parnas’s story versus Trump’s, the question is which proven liar to trust.”
David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“Parnas is alleging that Giuliani directly told him to convey the message to Ukraine that the military aid was contingent on announcing the investigations Trump wanted — after talking to Trump about it… The demand from Ukraine is almost certainly solicitation of a bribe. Federal statute makes ‘bribery’ a crime if a public official ‘demands’ or ‘seeks’ anything ‘of value personally,’ in exchange for performing ‘an official act,’ provided this has been done ‘corruptly.’ It defines ‘of value personally’ broadly… In this case, though, Parnas is also suggesting that Giuliani and Trump discussed this, and that after that happened, Giuliani instructed him to carry out an element of it. That strongly suggests a criminal conspiracy to solicit a bribe.”
Greg Sargent, Washington Post

“The Trump team keeps denying it knows Lev Parnas, despite growing photographic evidence… It’s possible that Parnas combined working with [Trump’s] 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…

“But… 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.”
Aaron Blake, Washington Post

“Republican senators don’t even know what they’re covering up for, or at least what they would be covering up for if they follow the White House’s preference to rush through the Senate impeachment trial that starts next week and refuse to hear from relevant witnesses and collect relevant documents…

“[They] should factor into their considerations the institutional and personal self-interest they have in keeping constraints on the presidency in general and this president in particular. Allow him to treat impeachment as a joke, and both he and all future presidents will be more likely to treat the threat of future impeachments as minor inconveniences. That would be true in any case. It’s especially true if they suspect that Trump really is trying to get away with something, even if they think the proof isn't there or that it doesn’t quite rise to the level of removal from office.”
Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg

“The only real way to find out definitively if Parnas is telling the truth or if some of his vague allegations (e.g. claiming Attorney General William P. Barr was ‘basically on the team’) is to bring them all in to testify under oath and collect all the documents relevant to the Ukraine extortion… The White House says Parnas is a liar. Let Trump’s lawyers cross-examine him. Present the Senate with all the pieces of the evidentiary puzzle. The Senate and the American people can assess the credibility of all witnesses.”
Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post

Regarding Pelosi, “[her] talents have always lain in the less glamorous, less public side of politics: she is good at whipping up votes in her caucus and she is good at disciplining dissenters. She is good at offering incentives and punishments to get Democratic members of Congress to do what she wants them to do… To rip up the speech on television was a bit of theatricality, sure – a ploy designed to get attention. It also worked. The day after Trump made a long speech full of misinformation that tried to make a case for his re-election, no one is talking about him. Instead we are talking about the speaker of the House. That, too, is a skill, one that Pelosi seems to be honing.”
Moira Donegan, The Guardian

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right questions Parnas’s credibility.

From the Right

The right questions Parnas’s credibility.

“‘Do you believe that part of the motivation to get rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch,’ Maddow asks Parnas, ‘was she was in the way of this effort to get the government of Ukraine to announce investigations of Joe Biden?’ ‘That was the only motivation,’ Parnas replies. ‘There was no other motivation.’ That doesn’t quite add up… For one thing, the pending indictment against Parnas put his efforts against Yovanovitch at least a year earlier, and on behalf of a Ukrainian official…

“The Department of Justice never alleges that [these efforts] had anything to do with an investigation of any other US person, but only intended for the removal of Yovanovitch (unnamed) for the unknown purposes of one or more officials in the Ukrainian government — at the time, the government of Petro Poroshenko. Both the timing and the specifics of Parnas’ straw-man actions tend to corroborate that point far more than they do Parnas’ later claim that this had to do with Trump’s 2019 interest in getting Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue a Biden probe.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

“There is nothing in the exchange between Parnas and Hyde that suggests the Trump administration was involved. Neither Parnas nor Hyde worked for Trump or the administration, and it’s unclear whether Giuliani was aware of Hyde’s surveillance, either. What we do know is that Parnas wanted Yovanovitch out of Ukraine for a long time. Her anti-corruption agenda stood in the way of his crony business deals… Trump’s decision to remove Yovanovitch from her position was the wrong one. But as of right now, there is no reason to believe he was even aware of Hyde’s monitoring. Hopefully, the State Department launches an investigation into this matter, but until then, we should avoid speculation and stick to what we know.”
Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

“Parnas is doing exactly what Trump’s former personal lawyer Cohen did when he was also trying to avoid prison. Cohen repeatedly embarrassed himself last year by going on TV, accusing Trump of all the same things liberals accuse Trump of, and then going in front of Congress to apologize for ever having been associated with the president…

“The problem Democrats run into, however, is two-fold. First, the only conversation about Ukraine that really matters is the one we’ve seen the transcript for on the summer 2019 call between Trump and Zelensky. So we know what Trump wanted, though there’s no evidence in that transcript to indicate a quid pro quo. Second, the foreign aid allotted for Ukraine that was delayed, apparently at the behest of Trump, did arrive at its final destination… Parnas isn’t a bombshell in the impeachment case. He’s another Michael Cohen heading to prison.”
Eddie Scarry, Washington Examiner

“Trump won’t be removed by the Senate no matter what. The question is how much or how little political pain will be inflicted on Senate Republicans by voting ‘not guilty.’ Calling Parnas as a witness at Trump’s trial risks significantly increasing that pain if the public, the real jury, finds him credible enough. Doubtless Susan Collins and Cory Gardner would prefer to avoid that problem by not calling him to begin with. But how do they do that now, with Parnas all over the media…

Collins is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. If she votes to call him and he repeats all of this stuff on the stand, voting for acquittal becomes harder to defend. If she votes not to call him and he ends up blocked from testifying, voting for acquittal looks like it was based on incomplete facts, an act of willful blindness by Republican jurors. Her best option, I think, is to call him and let Trump’s lawyers try to destroy him on cross-examination… A vigorous attack on Parnas’s credibility at trial (which won’t be hard) gives Collins an opening to say, ‘I listened and I just don’t think he’s credible.’”
Allahpundit, Hot Air

Some ask, “How did these guys get cleared by the U.S. Secret Service to meet with the president and vice president inside the White House?… You’ll hear the Trump defenders pointing to Parnas’s shady past and contend he’s an unreliable witness. And they’re right. But then the question is… why the heck these two guys were entrusted to handle all of this by Trump and Giuliani? If these guys are so obviously, glaringly, flashing-red-warning-sign untrustworthy, why did the president trust them?”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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