While most people listening to Rachel Maddow question Lev Parnas, with my old pal Joe Bondy keeping his eagle eye on his client’s inquisitor just in case, will spend the day focused on his damning statements about the Cheeto Gang, it was Maddow’s opening questions that grabbed me.
Why is he doing this?* The “answer” given by Parnas is that he wants the truth to come out. The truth needs to come out.
While every word spoken may (or may not) be otherwise accurate and truthful, particularly given the discovery provided to the House, made public and forwarded with the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, this response as to Parnas’ motivation to separate from his pals, including his child’s godfather, Rudy, with whom he engaged in the very nefarious deeds without, obviously, any qualms about their legality, morality or truthiness, belies his opening assertion. Suddenly, Lev Parnas cares about the truth?
Interestingly, in the transition sequence from the Maddow interview to Lawrence O’Donnell, she’s asked the question and provides an insightful response. He’s scared.
The more he makes public . . . the safer he is.
Make no mistake, the determination to take this public, to precede the interview with documents to support what would be said, to turn to Rachel Maddow as the initial person to conduct and air the interview, was not accidental. Joe Bondy is exceptionally smart and strategic. There was nothing that happened by chance. Parnas was prepped within an inch of his life. Disclosure was vetted, word by word. Most importantly, the pros and cons of staying with the Rudy team versus breaking away was weighed, and reweighed, and weighed again, before the decision was made.
Parnas is under indictment in the Southern District of New York. As much as he might have been rubbing elbows with Giuliani and heads of state in his headier days, the time he spends in prison will be lonely. Would Trump pardon him if he goes down? It would be terrible optics for Trump, and Parnas wasn’t likely to be a sufficiently important pal to be worthy to Darth Cheeto to take the hit. In other words, Parnas might have been part of the team when he was doing Rudy’s bidding, but wasn’t sufficiently loved to have any reasonable expectation that Trump would risk a paper cut for his benefit.
And there’s more to the calculus, as Parnas was a “loose end” in a game far bigger than him, if what he says is true. He knew things. He had documentary evidence of things. And he, personally, was expendable. Whether he was at risk of harm isn’t at all clear, and likely a function of how strongly one embraced the truly malevolent possibilities of corrupt people, but there was at minimum a very real likelihood that he would be thrown under the bus to save those higher up on the conspiracy, and then forgotten, left to waste away the decades alone.
Finally, there’s the question of why the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman — a Trump appointee after Preet Bharara, who would have been happy to serve under Trump until he got tossed aside — didn’t give Parnas a cooperation agreement with which to work off his indictment for a 5K1.1 letter at sentence.
Joe may have sought the opportunity to make Parnas Queen for a Day, but then, even broaching the subject would be tantamount to revealing one’s hand. If the DoJ was protecting the president, seeking a cooperation agreement might be signing one’s own figurative death warrant. Still, it’s the usual first step, and might well have been done with caution and circumspection.
Assuming Joe gave SDNY cooperation a try, why didn’t it happen? An extremely cynical possibility is that Attorney General Bill Barr, who stood to be ruined by what Parnas had to say, killed any chance of cooperation. A slightly less cynical possibility is that Berman rejected it, remaining loyal to his AG and president.
Is AG Barr corrupt? Is Berman? Was approaching the government for cooperation so unlikely a useful path that Joe Bondy figured Rachel Maddow to provide a better route to safety, and with it a sufficient act of remorse that Parnas would not be sentenced to life plus cancer?
None of this, of course, bears on the question of Paras’ truthfulness or scope of knowledge**. That he was motivated to act out of self-interest is nothing new. Snitches have been around for a long time, and while they invariably claim to have suddenly found Jesus, it’s more than sheer kismet that it also serves their penal interests.
Will it work? Remember when Michael Cohen got religion, and yet he’s not hanging in the MSNBC green room these days. But while no one can see the future, there likely was no better option with any real potential for Parnas to do something to protect himself, to save himself, to help himself, other than this. Then again, when you shoot the king, you better kill him. Whether Parnas’ documents and statements will bring down Trump remains to be seen. As damaging as they are, Trump’s complete lack of presidential integrity hasn’t seemed to trouble his supporters too much up to now, and he might be right that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and they wouldn’t care. In which case, Parnas took his best shot and missed.
Update: I can’t be certain, but pretty sure Larry Tribe is calling me naive.
*A search at the time of writing failed to locate either video of the opening questions or a transcript of the interview, so this is presented in more generic language. If either video or a transcript becomes available, I will update to include the accurate language.
**The questions posed to Parnas weren’t entirely probing as to the basis for his assertions about some people. He may well have had good answers. He may not. But he wasn’t asked.