Photo: AP/ Manuel Balce Ceneta
Photo: AP/ Manuel Balce Ceneta
Updated: January 24, 2020 10:37 AM
A recording reviewed by ABC News appears to capture President Donald Trump telling associates he wanted the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired – and speaking at a small gathering that included Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman -- two former business associates of Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who have since been indicted in New York.
The recording appears to contradict statements by President Trump and support the narrative that has been offered by Parnas during broadcast interviews in recent days. Sources familiar with the recording said the recording was made during an intimate April 30, 2018 dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Trump has said repeatedly he does not know Parnas, a Soviet-born American who has emerged as a wild card in Trump's impeachment trial, especially in the days since Trump was impeached.
"Get rid of her!" is what the voice that appears to be President Trump's is heard saying. "Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it."
On the recording, it appears the two Giuliani associates are telling President Trump that the U.S. ambassador has been bad-mouthing him, which leads directly to the apparent remarks by the President. The recording was made by Fruman according to sources familiar with the tape. The White House did not respond to an ABC News request for comment.
During the conversation, several of the participants can be heard laughing with the President. At another point, the recording appears to capture Trump praising his new choice of Secretary of State, saying emphatically: "Pompeo is the best." But the most striking moment comes when Parnas and the President discuss the dismissal of his ambassador to Ukraine.
Parnas appears to say: "The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She's still left over from the Clinton administration," Parnas can be heard telling Trump. "She's basically walking around telling everybody 'Wait, he's gonna get impeached, just wait," he said. (Yovanovitch actually had served in the State Department since the Reagan Administration.)
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It was not until a year later that Yovanovitch was recalled from her position -- in April 2019. She said the decision was based on "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives" that she was disloyal to and undermining Trump.
House investigators have been attempting to document – in part with text messages supplied by Parnas -- an almost year-long effort on the part of Parnas and Giuliani to get Yovanovitch removed from her post. At times, the messages made public by the House Intelligence Committee show Giuliani boasting to Parnas about his efforts to have Yovanovitch recalled from Kyiv.
"Boy I'm so powerful I can intimidate the entire Ukrainian government" Giuliani messaged Parnas in May 2019. "Please don't tell anyone I can't get the crooked Ambassador fired or I did three times and she's still there."
The identities of others participating in the recorded conversation are unclear. During an early portion of the recording where video can be seen, Donald Trump Jr. appears on the recording posing for pictures with others. Sources say they were attending a larger event happening at the hotel that night for a super PAC that supports the president.
Another clip seen on the recording, according to the sources, is of individuals entering what appears to be a suite at the Trump Hotel for the intimate dinner. The phone that was recording the Trump conversation appears to be placed down on a table with the audio still recording the conversation between the commander-in-chief and other guests, according to the sources. The image of the president does not appear on the video reviewed by ABC News.
In a recent interview with MSNBC, Parnas publicly recounted his memories of the scene at the dinner and said that Trump turned to John (DeStefano), who was his deputy chief of staff at the time, and said 'Fire her,' he claimed.
"We all, there was a silence in the room. He responded to him, said Mr. President, we can't do that right now because (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo hasn't been confirmed yet, that Pompeo is not confirmed yet and we don't have -- this is when (former Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson was gone, but Pompeo was confirmed, so they go, wait until -- so several conversations he mentioned it again."
However, Pompeo had been confirmed and privately sworn in days earlier.
A copy of the recording is now in the custody of federal prosecutors in New York's Southern District, who declined to comment.
Trump's supporters have maintained that no evidence has been put forward directly linking Trump to any of the alleged impeachable actions. And Trump has maintained that removing Yovanovitch was within his right.
Trump has distanced himself from Parnas, who is under federal indictment in New York in a campaign finance case, and the president's supporters have questioned his credibility and motives.
"I don't know him," the president said just last week when asked about Parnas. "I don't know Parnas other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people, including people today that I didn't meet. But I just met him. 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."
As ABC News previously reported, Parnas, who cooperated with the House impeachment probe of Trump, began providing materials that were in his custody to congressional investigators late last year.
Just last week, Parnas' attorney transferred more materials after a series of rulings from the judge in his criminal case, granting him permission to share records obtained by the government with House impeachment investigators to comply with a subpoena, including documents seized from Parnas' home and the complete extraction of Parnas' iPhone 11 and Samsung phone, seized from him upon his arrest in October 2019.
Joseph A. Bondy, Parnas' attorney, tweeted at the time that the materials were brought to House investigators "despite every stumbling block placed in our path" since his client's arrest.
The records, which were mostly WhatsApp messages, also included 59 pages of emails and handwritten letters that appear to describe Giuliani's attempts to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and an effort to remove Yovanovitch from her post.
One email exchange appears to suggest Parnas and his associates had Yovanovitch "under physical surveillance in Kyiv," according to the committee's cover letter.
During her congressional testimony, Yovanovitch said she received a call from the State Department that "there were concerns about my security."
Giuliani is a subject of the probe being led by the New York prosecutors, sources said. Parnas' cohort, Igor Fruman was also arrested at the same time and faces similar charges though he is not cooperating with the congressional investigations. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Parnas and Fruman were indicted by the Southern District of New York on charges including conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud, false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records as part of an alleged scheme to circumvent federal campaign finance laws against straw donations and foreign contributions. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Updated: January 24, 2020 10:37 AM
Published: January 24, 2020 12:00 AM
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