"Parnas." Adjust cufflink. "Lev Parnas." Yes, the Soviet-born businessman and Rudy Giuliani associate apparently thought he was on a secret mission for President Trump to persuade Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. "Parnas viewed the assignment as a great crusade," one of two Parnas confidants tells CNN. "He believed he was doing the right thing for Trump." Per the sources, Parnas held a secret meeting with Trump and Giuliani at the White House's Hannukah party last year after posing for a photo with the president and fellow Soviet-born Floridian, Igor Fruman. At the meeting, Trump talked about having Parnas pressure Ukraine into the investigation. Parnas referred to Trump as "the big guy" and called his task "a secret mission." Since then:
- In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that Parnas and Fruman sat down with two former Ukrainian officials—President Petro Poroshenko and Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko—offering them a White House dinner if they publicly committed to the probe.
- The Washington Post reported in April about Parnas telling Trump that America's ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, wasn't helping his cause. Trump apparently suggested she should get fired, and in May 2019, she was.
- Parnas and Fruman were arrested in October on campaign finance charges, and Trump denied knowing them. Now, the confidants say, Parnas doesn't like Trump as much. He's even willing to accept a Congressional subpoena for testimony and documents in the impeachment probe if he can plead the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination.
- Giuliani lawyer Robert Costello denies Parnas and Fruman had the alleged meeting with Trump last year. Parnas is "no Sean Connery" and has "delusions of grandeur," says Costello.
- Not so, says Parnas lawyer Joseph A Bondy: "Mr. Parnas at all times believed that he was acting only on behalf of the President, as directed by his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and never on behalf of any Ukrainian officials."
- "In a strange way I feel sorry for Lev, for the mess he is now in," says one of CNN's sources. "He never thought he did anything wrong; he was working for a President he really believed in. He was a hustler but also a nice man who gave people nice gifts. I would think all this is deeply upsetting for him."
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