Lev Parnas Says He Has Recording of Trump Calling for Ambassador’s Firing

Lev Parnas Says He Has Recording of Trump Calling for Ambassador’s Firing

WASHINGTON — A former associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, said on Friday that he had turned over to congressional Democrats a recording from 2018 of the president ordering the removal of Marie L. Yovanovitch as the United States ambassador to Ukraine.

The associate, Lev Parnas, who worked with Mr. Giuliani to oust the ambassador and to pressure the Ukrainian government to pursue investigations to help Mr. Trump, located the recording on Friday after its existence was first reported by ABC News, said Joseph A. Bondy, Mr. Parnas’s lawyer.

Mr. Bondy said the recording was “of high materiality to the impeachment inquiry” of Mr. Trump and that he had provided it to the House Intelligence Committee, whose chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff, is leading the impeachment managers in their presentation of the case.

The recording emerged as Democrats continued to press the Senate to call more witnesses and seek additional evidence for the trial.

While it does not appear to provide any substantive new information about the effort to oust Ms. Yovanovitch, the possibility of the recording being played in public could provide a powerful political moment for Democrats by hammering home Mr. Trump’s personal involvement. It also illustrates that there could be more revelations from untapped evidence, even as Democrats are wrapping up their case in the Senate.

That was precisely the argument they made on Friday as they sought to overcome Republican resistance to seeking new information and extending the trial.

Patrick Boland, a spokesman for the Intelligence Committee, declined to comment.

In the recording, ABC News reported, Mr. Parnas can be heard saying that “the biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we gotta get rid of” Ms. Yovanovitch.

“She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait,’” Mr. Parnas says on the recording, according to ABC News.

“Get rid of her!” a voice that sounds like Mr. Trump’s responds, according to ABC News. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”

Those comments were directed at one of Mr. Trump’s aides who was in the room at the time, Mr. Parnas has previously said.

Ms. Yovanovitch remained in her job for another year after Mr. Trump’s remarks until she was recalled on the White House’s orders, according to testimony in the impeachment inquiry. It is not clear whether the president changed his mind, forgot about his order or was talked out of dismissing her.

Asked about the recording by Fox News, Mr. Trump said he was “not a big fan” of Ms. Yovanovitch. “I want ambassadors that are chosen by me,” he said. “I have a right to hire and fire ambassadors, and that’s a very important thing.”

The campaign to remove Ms. Yovanovitch is among the central elements of the Democratic case that Mr. Trump abused his power in an effort to pressure Ukraine’s government into announcing investigations into purported meddling in the 2016 election and into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his diplomacy in Ukraine.

Mr. Parnas had previously recounted how he and another associate of Mr. Giuliani’s, Igor Fruman, had met with Mr. Trump during a dinner for a small group of donors in a private suite at the Trump International Hotel in Washington in late April 2018. At that dinner, Mr. Parnas relayed a rumor that Ms. Yovanovitch, then the American ambassador in Kyiv, was bad-mouthing the president — an unsubstantiated claim that Ms. Yovanovitch has denied.

Republicans have sought to challenge Mr. Parnas’s credibility by noting that he is under indictment. But the recording seemed to buttress his claims that he had discussions with Mr. Trump about ousting Ms. Yovanovitch, who Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani later came to believe was blocking their efforts to press the Ukrainians to commit to the investigations.

Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman had obtained direct access to the president by donating to Republican committees, and the recording suggests he spoke in front of them in a remarkably unfiltered and undiplomatic way, given their relative obscurity.

The April 2018 meeting came months before Mr. Giuliani began working with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman to win support in Ukraine for investigations that could have helped Mr. Trump’s re-election prospects. Mr. Giuliani came to believe that Ms. Yovanovitch was blocking his efforts to advance the investigations. By early last year, Mr. Parnas had become a key intermediary between Mr. Giuliani and Ukrainian officials, including Yuriy Lutsenko, the country’s chief prosecutor at the time, who was also seeking Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he does not know Mr. Parnas or Mr. Fruman, who are facing federal campaign finance charges brought by prosecutors in Manhattan. They have pleaded not guilty. Mr. Giuliani is under investigation by the same prosecutors, who are examining his efforts to remove Ms. Yovanovitch.

Mr. Parnas has broken with Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump. He has provided reams of records and data to House impeachment investigators and signaled his willingness to cooperate with the prosecutors in Manhattan. Mr. Fruman’s legal team is working closely with lawyers for Mr. Giuliani — “they talk two, three times a week” — according to Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor.

The recording was captured on Mr. Fruman’s phone, according to people familiar with the matter.

A lawyer for Mr. Fruman declined to comment.

Mr. Parnas and his legal team did not provide the recording to ABC News, Mr. Bondy said.

After ABC News’s report, Mr. Bondy said Mr. Parnas “undertook a renewed search of his iCloud accounts and found a copy of the recording.”

The recording “appears to corroborate” Mr. Parnas’s recollection of the April 2018 gathering at which Mr. Trump issued the order, Mr. Bondy said.

In an interview with the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow last week, Mr. Parnas said that Mr. Trump had tried to recall Ms. Yovanovitch “at least four, five times.” Mr. Parnas said he had personally spoken “once or twice” to the president “about firing her,” including at the dinner, which he said was also attended by Mr. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.

“I don’t know how the issue is — the conversation came up, but I do remember me telling the president the ambassador was bad-mouthing him and saying he was going to get impeached, something to that effect,” Mr. Parnas recalled. “And at that time, he turned around” to an aide “and said, ‘fire her.’ And we all — there was a silence in the room.”

Mr. Parnas added that Mr. Trump raised the subject again: “I don’t know how many times at that dinner, once or twice or three times. But he fired her several times.”

Ms. Yovanovitch came into Mr. Parnas’s sights at least partly because he had come to believe that she was opposed to his business efforts in Ukraine, where he and Mr. Fruman had hoped to break into the natural gas market, according to associates of the two men, both of whom are Soviet-born American citizens.

Prosecutors have accused Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman of donating money and pledging to raise additional funds in 2018 — some violating legal limits — for a congressman who was then enlisted in the campaign to oust Ms. Yovanovitch.

While the congressman is not named in court filings, campaign finance records identify him as former Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, who lost his re-election bid in 2018.

Less than two weeks after his dinner with Mr. Trump, Mr. Parnas met with Mr. Sessions to discuss his gas venture in Ukraine, and the meeting eventually turned to Ms. Yovanovitch. After the meeting, Mr. Sessions wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that Ms. Yovanovitch should be fired for privately expressing “disdain” for the current administration.

Mr. Sessions has said that he wrote the letter independently of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, but when Ms. Yovanovitch was not removed, Mr. Sessions provided Mr. Parnas with a copy of the letter, signing his name across the back of the envelope. “Mr. President” appeared across the front.

Photographs appearing to show the signed envelope — and Mr. Parnas presenting it to Mr. Trump — were included in a batch of records provided earlier this month by Mr. Parnas to the House Intelligence Committee.

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