Imagine a pirate captain sailing his ship to a deserted South Pacific island. He orders his men to land on the beach with a large treasure chest and then tells them to bury it. After several more days at sea, the captain sets a course back to that same island, where he takes his crew to the beach, instructs them to dig up the chest and then triumphantly claims: “Look, boys! We’ve found some buried treasure!” What might those men think of their captain? Almost certainly they would assume he had gone quite mad. This is a perfect analogy for what congressional Democrats have done with their new star impeachment witness, Lev Parnas.
According to testimony given by several witnesses during the House impeachment investigation, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani – acting on behalf of President Donald Trump – tried to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce that his government would open an investigation into the Biden-Burisma connection.
Where’s the Crime?
Trump’s political enemies have yet to explain why such a thing is illegal, unethical, or impeachable. Biden is not yet the president’s 2020 election opponent. Surely, if Giuliani and Trump were conspiring to influence the outcome of the November election, they would have pressed the Ukrainians to announce the investigation a few weeks after Biden secured the Democratic Party presidential nomination – assuming the former VP even gets that far. This would have been a far more effective strategy.
With the Democratic primary campaign still underway, the revelation that Ukraine was investigating the Bidens, Joe and Hunter, would have served only to boost those Democrats who are competing with Biden for their party’s nomination.
Aside from that, it is not only perfectly legal for a president to request that a foreign government investigate potentially criminal or corrupt activity involving a U.S. citizen, but it would be negligent of that president not to take any action.
Back to the pirate analogy, though: Democrats have for months been claiming that Trump dispatched Giuliani to Ukraine on a mission to coerce Zelensky to publicly reveal his intention to look into potential influence-peddling by the then-vice president. Hunter Biden, as has been established, landed a very well-paid directorship with a Ukrainian energy company with a reputation for corruption. Biden the younger had absolutely no qualifications or experience that would have justified his position on the board of Burisma Holdings.
The Curious Tale of Lev Parnas
Lev Parnas, a Ukraine-born businessman, an associate of Giuliani, and the Democrats’ latest star witness, is being hailed by the left-wing media as the bringer of new and explosive evidence that will, apparently, seal the president’s fate – a prediction similar to what Americans have heard for more than three years. Yet, this new bombshell information offered up by Parnas is nothing more than a confirmation of what was already known and some other statements that raise as many questions as they answer.
The least stunning but apparently most stunning revelation from Parnas is – wait for it – that Giuliani was trying to get the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation into the Bidens. Here is the digging up of the recently buried treasure.
There are several other problems with Parnas’ credibility, though. This is a man who was recently indicted on campaign finance charges. He could face a significant amount of prison time and, suddenly, he chooses to throw Giuliani and Trump under the bus. It is logical – indeed, necessary, even – to ask: Is Parnas trying to portray himself as a victim, unwittingly caught up in some sinister political conspiracy? Is he perhaps thinking that he can avoid a spell in prison by fingering Giuliani? Might he not say anything, at this point, that could get him off the hook or, at least, reduce the severity of the punishment he could face if found guilty?
There is also the matter of Parnas’ portrayal of himself as, effectively, a key player in the president’s scheme. In an interview with CNN, the Ukrainian claimed that he was in daily contact with Giuliani and that the latter immediately briefed him following every meeting with the president. Parnas claims he was Giuliani’s intermediary with Ukrainian leaders with Trump’s full knowledge and approval. When Trump spoke with Zelensky by telephone, he suggested that the latter establish contact with Giuliani and with Attorney General William Barr. Parnas was never mentioned, which seems odd, given the important role he claims.
CNN reported the Parnas interview as confirmation that Trump’s motives regarding Ukraine were purely personal. That is not exactly what Parnas said: As with each of the witnesses called by Democrats to testify during the impeachment investigation, Parnas was making an assumption. “That was the way everyone viewed it,” he told Anderson Cooper. “That was the most important thing, for [Trump] to stay on for four years and keep the fight going. I mean, there was no other reason for doing it.”
This is not proof of anything. Parnas produced no evidence that efforts to have the Bidens investigated were driven by a desire to sabotage Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. He told CNN’s Cooper only that he believed this could be the only reason to push the Ukrainians for the investigation.
Claims made by Parnas also make little sense when one looks at the timeline. According to the Ukrainian, Trump, presumably through Giuliani, had him approach Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, with an offer of a White House visit if an investigation into the Bidens was announced. This happened, Parnas says, in “early 2019.” On April 21 of that year, Poroshenko was defeated by Zelensky in the second round of voting in the Ukrainian presidential election.
Here’s the problem with that claim: Joe Biden did not formally enter the Democratic Party’s primary race until April 25. What on earth would have possessed the U.S. president to essentially bribe a foreign leader to announce an investigation into a man who had not yet even formally announced a run for the White House? That simply makes no sense at all.
The tale woven by Parnas is dubious at best. Furthermore, the prospect of the Senate, in the execution of its most solemn and consequential duty of trying a president, calling a witness who has been indicted on federal charges is unlikely. Democrats would do themselves no favors by insisting Parnas appear. Perhaps they would be better off finding a pirate captain who is willing to testify.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.