‘Smoking gun’ witness provides new impeachment drama
WASHINGTON — A key associate of Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has declared President Donald Trump “knew exactly what was going on” in the scheme to get political dirt from Ukrainian officials on former Vice President Joe Biden.
Against the backdrop of the Senate Republican majority pledging a speedy acquittal in Trump’s impeachment process, Lev Parnas has supplied critical new ammunition to the effort to oust Trump from the Oval Office.
Parnas’ revelations came dramatically Wednesday night in a lengthy television interview with MSNBC analyst Rachel Maddow, which quickly spread to other news outlets. A detailed account followed Thursday in The Washington Post describing the elaborate scheme to undercut Biden, a leading Democratic challenger to Trump in the 2020 presidential race.
Earlier in the week, the House Intelligence Committee released documents revealing Parnas’ deep involvement with Giuliani in his attempts to solicit meetings and information from Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Parnas told Maddow that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were implicated in the quest to get Zelenskiy to publicly announce an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, formerly a board member of the Ukraine energy firm Burisma. The Bidens have denied any wrongdoing, but some Republicans want them subpoenaed as well.
The whole business has now reignited the controversy just as the two articles of impeachment against Trump, approved by the House, are before the Senate in the trial as mandated by the Constitution.
The latest development raises the possibility of a new, third impeachment article against Trump in the House, as Democratic leaders there indicate they will continue investigating Trump’s actions and comments on the matter.
The seriousness of the affair has now been heightened by a report from the General Accountability Office, the government’s prime watchdog agency, that the White House Office of Management and Budget violated federal law when it failed to release congressionally mandated military assistance to Ukraine, an allied country at war with Russia.
The GAO declared: “Faithful execution of the law did not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities to those that Congress has enacted into law. The Office of Management and Budget withheld funds for a policy reason that is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland tweeted, “This bombshell legal opinion from the independent USGAO demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine and the public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act.”
The question now is whether the Republican-majority Senate will allow inclusion of the latest revelations in Parnas’ interview and accompanying hand-written notes of his recollections of Trump’s involvement and comments on Ukraine affair, including references to the Bidens.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has firmly insisted that the impeachment trial be based solely on the matters covered in the House articles, without witnesses like former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sought by the Democrats. Trump, of course, strongly resisted any attempts to have administration officials appear before House committees.
The failure to include the latest testimony and documents from Parnas will feed the Democrats’ charge of an unfair trial, and their efforts to persuade four Republican senators to join them in demanding new witnesses, including Giuliani, whose role in the whole affair has become central.
Meanwhile, the Senate trial is set to reconvene Tuesday, with a seven-member team of seasoned litigators from the House chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California, the chief architect of the House Democratic case against the sitting president.
While Senate acquittal by the GOP majority still seems likely, the Parnas revelations suggest that much evidence about the case remains hidden. And Trump’s prospects for remaining in office depend heavily on whether and how it is revealed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.