January 30, 2020

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“Take Her Out”: Donald Trump’s Role in the Ukraine Scheme Is Caught on Tape | The New Yorker

Lordy, there are tapes—or, at least, one tape. When Lev Parnas, one of Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine bagmen, gave an interview to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week, he recalled attending a private dinner in April, 2018, at the Trump International Hotel, on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the hotel’s proprietor, who works part time as the forty-fifth President of the United States, ordered a White House aide to fire Marie Yovanovitch, a veteran diplomat who was then serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.

This was one of many damaging claims that Parnas made to Maddow, prompting Trump’s supporters to dismiss him as a self-serving fantasist. But, on Friday, it emerged that Igor Fruman, Parnas’s sidekick and fellow-defendant, has provided a tape recording to federal prosecutors that features Trump using mob-boss language to order Yovanovitch’s axing. ABC News, in a report published on Friday morning, as the House managers were preparing to wrap up their presentation in the Senate impeachment trial, said that it has reviewed a tape recording in which a voice that “appears to be President Trump’s” says of Yovanovitch, “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”

The White House’s response to the ABC News story didn’t deny that Trump attended the dinner, which reportedly took place on April 30, 2018, or that the President used the language attributed to him in the ABC News report. “Every President in our history has had the right to place people who support his agenda and his policies within his Administration,” the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement.

Nobody has suggested that Trump didn’t have the authority to replace Yovanovitch; the issue is why he did it, and why has he been lying about his relationship with Parnas. Just last week, Trump said, “I don’t know him at all. Don’t know what he’s about, don’t know where he comes from, know nothing about him. I can only tell you this thing is a big hoax.” Are those statements still operative? Grisham didn’t mention them, of course.

ABC News didn’t say how it got access to the recording, which appears to have been made by Fruman, a longtime business associate of Parnas. He used a phone “placed down on a table with the audio still recording the conversation between the Commander-in-Chief and other guests,” the report said. Early on Friday afternoon, Parnas’s defense lawyer, Joseph Bondy, confirmed to the Daily Beast that Parnas was aware of the tape’s existence and said that Fruman made it. “Last year, before he was arrested, Mr. Parnas personally heard a recording of his April 30, 2018, dinner with the president and others, made by Mr. Fruman, at which the subject of Ambassador Yovanovitch was discussed,” Bondy told the news site. “We have hoped that, to the extent this recording still existed, it would be released to Congress for use in the impeachment trial.”

The ABC News report said that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which brought the charges against Parnas and Fruman, and which is reportedly also investigating their relationship with Giuliani, has a copy of the recording. Will it be handed over to Congress, and will Parnas be called as a witness in the impeachment trial? Given the Republicans’ abject stonewalling, this seems unlikely. On Friday afternoon, the Times reported that the House managers’ presentation “does not appear to have accomplished its chief objective of persuading enough Republicans that they need to hear from live witnesses and see withheld documents.”

Still, Parnas seems eager to be deposed; issuing a subpoena to him wouldn’t raise any executive-privilege issues, and he has a story to tell that is germane to the trial. Clearly, he has some credibility issues. But, at the very least, he would be able to convey to the Senate the sordid origins of the scheme that lies at the center of the proceeding.

Parnas claims to have worked with Giuliani for more than a year to persuade the government of Ukraine to open a number of investigations that Giuliani and Trump wanted, including one into a Ukrainian company that employed Hunter Biden. Evidently, the participants in this scheme viewed Yovanovitch, a veteran diplomat who was appointed to her post during the Obama Administration, as a barrier to their progress. During the dinner with the President, it seems that Parnas tried to do something about it. On the recording, a voice that appears to belong to him is heard telling Trump that Yovanovitch had been bad-mouthing him in Kyiv and that “we gotta get rid of” her, ABC News reported. The voice goes on, “She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.’ ”

These remarks from Parnas prompted Trump’s order to “take her out,” according to the ABC News report. They didn’t lead to Yovanovitch’s immediate removal from Kyiv, however. She wasn’t called back to Washington until May, 2019. In his interview with Maddow, Parnas recalled that there was silence in the hotel room after Trump issued his order. Then, according to Parnas, Johnny DeStefano, a White House staffer who was also at the dinner, responded, “We can’t do that right now because Pompeo”—Mike Pompeo, who replaced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State—“hasn’t been confirmed yet.”