At the 2018 White House Hanukkah party, Donald Trump took Rudy Giuliani and his now-indicted “associates” Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman aside for a private meeting. At this meeting, CNN reports that Trump instructed them to undertake a “secret mission” designed to pressure Ukraine into an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Parnas apparently revealed this assignment to at least two people in the days immediately following the party, telling them that he had a special “James Bond mission” direct from Trump. Giuliani was to act as the contact with Trump while Parnas and Fruman worked on the ground in Ukraine, soliciting information from current and former officials.
That Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman took on these roles was already clear. What was less clear was that the instructions came straight from Trump. Just as with the revelation that Gordon Sondland was overheard in direct communication with Trump by multiple witnesses, the firewall between Trump’s instructions and Giuliani’s actions seems to be rapidly breaking down. It’s going to be very hard for Republicans to pretend that either Giuliani or Sondland had “gone rogue” and was operating beyond the bounds of what Trump had told them to do, when Trump was directly and blatantly involved in every step of their efforts.
A lawyer for Parnas told CNN that "Mr. Parnas at all times believed that he was acting only on behalf of the President, as directed by his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani ..." Parnas apparently repeated the story of his assignment not only in the U.S., but in Ukraine, telling numerous people there that he was working directly for Trump.
A lawyer for Giuliani denied that there was such a meeting, or that Parnas was ever given the kind of assignment he has suggested. However, Parnas’ version of events is supported by both photographs of the trio with Trump (and Mike Pence) at the party, and by all accounts of their action on the ground in Ukraine. And it seems that Trump and Parnas may have known each other directly, not just through Giuliani.
Following the arrest of Parnas and Fruman as they were attempting to flee the country, Trump denied any knowledge of either of the men. But over the months between the 2018 party and that arrest, both had been very active in securing connections and information for Trump and Giuliani. That includes a February meeting reported by The Wall Street Journal in which Parnas and Fruman managed to sit down with both then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko.
Shortly thereafter, Lutsenko appears to have agreed to cooperate in both providing Giuliani with claims that there was an active investigation into Biden and in making charges that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had given him a “do not prosecute” list. Much of this information then appeared in a New York Times article shortly before Lutsenko admitted that he made the claims up to curry favor with Giuliani and “show Trump that he could be useful.”
What the Giuliani—Parnas—Fruman team was doing was the flip side of what the Guliani—Sondland—Volker—Perry quartet were tackling. With his two Soviet-born associates, Giuliani was making direct contacts in Ukraine, mostly among the outgoing government, searching for willing participants in schemes against both Biden and Yovanovitch. With the American “irregular” diplomatic team, Giuliani was leaning on the new government of Volodymyr Zelensky to generate the public announcements that Trump wanted.
CNN also reports that some of those who saw Trump interact with Parnas believed the two men had a much more established relationship. The Florida-based Parnas was on hand for an upstate New York meeting months before the Hanukkah party. Trump and Parnas their photos taken at that event, and even them witnesses “got the impression that Trump and Parnas knew each other. “ That included an incident in which Trump called Parnas by his first name.
Lev Parnas’ business in the United States is based in Florida, meaning there could have been ample occasions to overlap with Trump. The name of Parnas’ company is “Fraud Guarantee.”