Exclusive photos of Giuliani in Spain show Lev Parnas has lots more to share
Posted February 7, 2020 10:13 a.m. EST
CNN — Stored in devices seized from Lev Parnas by law enforcement, there's a 34-second cell phone video of Rudy Giuliani relishing a bullfight. There are also photos of Donald Trump's personal attorney posing with two matadors, a flamenco dancer twirling her skirt and an image of the father of Venezuela's opposition leader beside a tray of hors d'oeuvres on the lawn of a Spanish castle.
The videos and photographs of Giuliani's trip to Spain, obtained exclusively by CNN, show the efforts Parnas went through to document and save a trove of information. They have aided a slow-drip campaign by Parnas' legal team to keep the indicted Giuliani associate in the limelight as he builds a defense for his indictment, and could plague Giuliani—and ultimately the President—well after impeachment has passed.
Last week, Parnas and his attorney Joseph Bondy made a show of traveling to Washington and walking up to the US Senate, with cameras in tow. The two knew full well that Parnas could be turned away from the impeachment trial because he was wearing an ankle bracelet, an electronic device that violates the Senate chamber rules.
The stunt came days after Parnas' lawyer released an 83-minute recording from an April 2018 Trump International Hotel fundraiser where President Donald Trump discusses firing former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, with Parnas and his estranged business partner Igor Fruman.
Fruman made the recording, and Parnas' lawyer made it public. Yovanovitch was recalled from her post about a year later.
Parnas and Fruman were indicted for campaign finance violations last year by federal prosecutors in New York. They have pleaded not guilty. Parnas' role as Giuliani's alleged proxy in Ukraine and the information he possesses became an intriguing part of the impeachment hearings. Fruman and his legal team are not cooperating with the impeachment inquiry and declined to comment for this story.
Parnas is not done
Parnas still possesses an unseen stash of photographs and recordings, Bondy says. Those exist in addition to the notes, text messages and other evidence that is currently in the hands of Congress. The materials were seized by federal investigators in New York from Parnas' phones and computers when he was indicted in October and shared with Congress by Parnas' legal team after the judge in his case allowed them to do so in December.
"Over the past several months, it has been revealed that Lev Parnas is a prolific collector of photos and videos," Bondy told CNN in an interview. "Contrary to what one might expect, Mr. Parnas has not destroyed any. Rather, he has preserved them. The universe of subject matter is yet to be publicly revealed but is of interest in matters well beyond the impeachment inquiry."
The images obtained by CNN are of trips that provide a peek into relationships Giuliani has not been willing to discuss, specifically work he's done for legally embattled foreign clients whose interests could intersect with his most prominent client -- the President of the United States. Parnas says that the photos help show ties that Giuliani had with business and political interests in Venezuela.
Asked about the trip, Giuliani told CNN that he could not discuss details because it is a matter of "national security." Giuliani is currently under federal investigation, but has not been charged with any crimes.
Parnas told CNN based on what he heard and saw while traveling last August, Giuliani was seeking to argue that Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, a wealthy Venezuelan client, should be treated leniently by the Department of Justice because of ties with an opposition figure of great importance to US foreign policy. This was first reported by Reuters.
The possible conflict of interests is a recurring theme with Giuliani. The effort bears striking similarity to how Parnas has described an effort to solve legal problems in the US faced by Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash
According to Parnas, (and Firtash in a November interview with the New York Times) Giuliani directed Parnas to tell Firtash that Joseph di Genova and Victoria Toensing would represent him and could get his case in front of Attorney General William Barr, if Firtash could hand over information on Joe Biden that would be helpful for the 2020 election. CNN reported last month that Di Genova and Toensing, friends of Giuliani's, did get a face-to-face meeting with Barr to discuss Firstash, who is facing extradition on bribery charges.
Firtash told the Times he has no information on Biden or his son and did not finance any effort to unearth dirt on them. "Without my will and desire, I was sucked into this internal U.S. fight," he told the Times. Giuliani has said he "never met" Firtash, but has given conflicting answers on seeking information from him.
Betancourt courts Giuliani
Parnas, Giuliani and Fruman met Betancourt, 40, in June at a Yankees game in London, according to both Parnas and another source with knowledge of their meeting. Two of the photos obtained by CNN show Giuliani and Parnas at the game. In one, Giuliani is seen using electronic equipment that Parnas says is for taping his podcast. In the other, they are in the Yankees' dugout. News of Giuliani and Parnas at the game was first reported by CNN's KFile.
In London, Parnas says Betancourt asked Giuliani to join his legal team, which already consisted of two long-time Giuliani friends: former US attorney Frank Wohl and the Miami-based former Watergate prosecutor Jon Sale. "Frank and Jon are great lawyers. The only reason Rudy was needed as well was to exert leverage with Barr," Parnas told CNN. A separate source familiar with Betancourt's legal strategy told CNN that Giuliani's connections at the Justice Department, including familiarity with Barr, were considered helpful by Betancourt. Giuliani did not comment on Parnas' assertion.
Parnas told CNN that hiring lawyers close to Barr was an idea being deployed at the same time by Firtash, who shared that thinking with him. "For both Firtash and for Betancourt, the only point of hiring these lawyers was to get to Barr," Parnas said.
At the Yankees game and in discussions in London afterwards, Parnas says Betancourt invited Giuliani, himself and others to Spain.
A castle near Madrid
Most of the newly-released images and a video shared with CNN document a week-long trip Parnas took with Giuliani last summer to a castle outside Madrid to meet Betancourt.
According to Parnas, who spoke to CNN about the trip, no expense was spared in the effort to impress the President's personal attorney and a large entourage traveling with him, including the families of Parnas and Fruman. The trip was first reported by the Daily Beast. Giuliani told the Daily Beast he was there for business and vacation.
Parnas told CNN that Giuliani made two videos while there, and was told by Giuliani that they would serve two purposes. First, to help Betancourt, a Venezuelan energy executive who is looking to stave off potential criminal charges connected to a billion-dollar money-laundering case filed in Florida last year.
Second, the video was intended to show that Betancourt was of value to Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries, including the U.S, as the interim president.
"The purpose of the videos was 100 percent to show Trump how helpful Betancourt was to the Guaidos," said Parnas. The Trump administration's support for Guaido was on display this week. Guaido was a guest at the President's State of the Union speech and spent two days in Washington meeting with Trump at the White House and members of the State Department. He received a standing ovation from both Republicans and Democrats when Trump referred to Guaido in his address, going on to call him the "true and legitimate president of Venezuela."
A source familiar with Giuliani's legal strategy confirms that Giuliani made video recordings for the Justice Department, but denies Parnas' claim that any videos were intended for the President. There is no indication Giuliani showed the videos at the Justice Department or to Trump. The Justice Department declined to comment for this story. Betancourt and his lawyers did not respond to CNN requests for comment.
When asked about the trip to Madrid and the video-recordings of Betancourt, Giuliani had this to say in a text to CNN: "Your story about the interview[s] is given to you by not just an unreliable source, but a proven liar... I can't discuss any tape recordings or confirm or deny them."
Parnas, who does not possess the videos, is adamant the recordings were also intended for the President. "I would swear under oath that the purpose of the Guaido recording and the Betancourt recording was to be shown to President Trump -- although Betancourt's video was designed to be shown principally to the Justice Department and Barr."
August in Spain
Parnas says he was often asked to arrange logistics for Giuliani and tend to the smallest of his needs. One photograph reviewed by CNN shows Parnas wiping Giuliani's face.
Messages from Parnas' cell phone that were handed over to House investigators for the impeachment hearing show that details of Giuliani's trip to Madrid were organized by Parnas, who arranged for an airport greeter. "When you arrive in Madrid their [sic] will be someone waiting for you with a sign that says 'NUBA' at the door of the plane. They will take you through cotumes [sic]."
The trio's first stop in Madrid was with Andriy Yermak, the right hand of Volodymyr Zelensky, the new Ukraine president.
After that, according to Parnas, a large group descended on the castle, El Castillo del Alamín. The group included Giuliani's girlfriend, Dr. Maria Ryan and Wohl, as well as the Parnas and Fruman families. Wohl did not respond to request for comment, but a source close to Giuliani verified Parnas' account of the guest list. A photo shows Giuliani sitting in a chair smoking a cigar with Ryan in his lap. Another has them posing for a photo with Betancourt in the background.
Also in attendance was Wilmer Guaido, the taxi-driving father of Venezuela's struggling opposition leader Juan Guaido, Parnas and another source told CNN. Wilmer Guaido is pictured in one of the images grabbing an hors d'oeuvre. He did not respond to questions from CNN about his presence at the castle. That the elder Guaido was at the gathering was first reported by Reuters.
During the trip, Parnas says that Giuliani set up his recording equipment on the castle grounds and made video interviews with both Betancourt and Wilmer Guaido. He also spoke with Juan Guaido via FaceTime, according to Parnas.
"Giuliani told me that Betancourt explained in his interview that he had given secret financial support to the Guaido family and regime," Parnas told CNN. This would clearly put Betancourt in good standing with the President, since Guaido's position is predicated on US support.
Betancourt and his lawyer have not responded to CNN for comment. Reuters reported that Guaido has denied any financial relationship to Betancourt. Reuters was not able to determine if Betancourt helped to finance the U.S.-backed opposition.
Betancourt, who has made millions from Venezuelan government contracts, was presumed to be a supporter of the rival, oppressive regime of the socialist Nicolas Maduro. The US has recognized Guaido and not Maduro as the official Venezuelan president since early 2019.
While in Spain, Giuliani told Parnas that he was confident he could get Betancourt's legal problems "cleared up in a couple of weeks," according to Parnas.
A month later, in September, Giuliani met with Justice Department officials to discuss Betancourt's case and Barr dropped in on the meeting. A source familiar with the gathering says that the videos were not shown to Barr and would not comment on whether they were shown to lawyers there. The Justice Department declined to comment on the meeting.
Afterwards, Parnas says he met up with Giuliani at the Trump International hotel in DC. According to a conversation that Parnas says the two had, Giuliani appeared to think the meeting had gone well. But that was before Parnas and Fruman were arrested on indictments in early October followed by reports that Giuliani is under federal investigation.