Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani at the center of the pressure campaign to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, said he is speaking out about his knowledge of President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign in Ukraine because he wanted to “get the truth out,” but he noted that despite doing so, he was more afraid of the Justice Department than of any criminals.
“I regret certain things that I did,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview that aired Thursday, the second part of a sweeping discussion about his past work for the president. He later noted he was fearful of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, whom he described as a political power who has only elevated Trump’s authority.
“Am I scared? Yes, because I think I’m more scared of our own Justice Department than these criminals right now. The scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong. … That’s the tool they’re using because they’re trying to scare me into not talking.”
Parnas also likened Trump to a “cult leader” who had an unwavering field of Republican lawmakers supporting him.
“It was like being in a cult,” Parnas told Maddow of his dealings with the president. “When they say organized crime? I don’t think Trump is like organized crime. I think he’s like a cult leader.”
He added: “The difference between why Trump is so powerful now… he wasn’t as powerful in ’16 and ’17: He became that powerful when he got William Barr.”
Parnas has bounced between media outlets this week to make a series of bombshell claims about Trump’s involvement in an effort to smear the former vice president and his son Hunter Biden. During the first part of his interview with MSNBC, Parnas said the president “knew exactly what was going on” as he worked with Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation of the president’s political rival.
He elaborated on his decision to come forward and fully break with Giuliani this week, just hours after the House voted to send two articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. Trump was impeached on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress last month.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that also aired Thursday, Parnas called out Republicans’ unwavering support of the president throughout the ongoing impeachment process. He said he believed many GOP lawmakers were afraid of being investigated by a Justice Department deeply allied with Trump if they speak out against the president.
“Listen, my opinion is this: Loyalty goes so far, but I think there’s a lot of people in the Republican Party that don’t agree, they’re good people that don’t agree with what he’s doing, but they’re scared,” Parnas said. “He gets away with everything, and that would, you know especially with Attorney [General] Bill Barr on his side and the Justice Department, I mean a lot of people are scared. They don’t want to get investigated.”
Cooper responded by asking Parnas if Barr investigating people on behalf of Trump scares him, to which Parnas responded: “Scares me a lot.”
Parnas also called out Republicans for making “all kinds of arguments” during the House impeachment hearings while not providing evidence or calling key witnesses to back up their arguments.
Republicans in the Senate are still divided on whether to allow the opportunity to call witnesses during the impeachment trial, which is expected to last several weeks. Many in the GOP have demanded that they should get to call Hunter Biden as a witness in return for allowing Democrats to call their own witnesses.
“If you really look at it, I should be their best witness,” Parnas told Cooper of the GOP. “I should be their number one witness because I’m the one that got all the dirt supposedly. Why aren’t they calling me to testify? Why do they need Biden? Call me.”
With the Senate trial expected to begin Tuesday, Democrats have said the Senate should call Parnas as a witness. But Republicans have pushed back, saying the new information wasn’t part of the impeachment articles the House approved in December.
Republicans in general have shrugged off Parnas’s information and media blitzes, as well as the Thursday morning news that the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded that the White House broke the law by withholding military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the government into doing Trump’s bidding.
“He needs to understand he’s not a king,” Parnas told Cooper of the president. “He needs to understand that there’s a democracy. There’s rules, you know, even if you don’t like them, even if you don’t agree with them. It’s all fun and dandy going to these rallies and standing up and rallying. I was there, I was front stage … but it’s scary. If he wins another four years, I don’t know what will happen.”