Schiff may have mischaracterized Parnas evidence, documents show
By: By MELANIE ZANONA
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff appears to have mischaracterized a text message exchange between two players in the Ukraine saga, according to documents obtained by POLITICO — a possible error the GOP will likely criticize as another example of the Democrats’ rushed effort to impeach President Donald Trump.
The issue arose when Schiff (D-Calif.) sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) last week summarizing a trove of evidence from Lev Parnas, an indicted former associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. In one section of the letter, Schiff claims that Parnas “continued to try to arrange a meeting with President Zelensky,” citing a specific text message exchange where Parnas tells Giuliani: “trying to get us mr Z.” The remainder of the exchange — which was attached to Schiff’s letter — was redacted.
But an unredacted version of the exchange shows that several days later, Parnas sent Giuliani a word document that appears to show notes from an interview with Mykola Zlochevsky, the founder of Burisma, followed by a text message to Giuliani that states: “mr Z answers my brother.” That suggests Parnas was referring to Zlochevsky not Zelensky.
The word document contains a series of questions and answers, but doesn't identify who is doing the asking or answering. Yet the questions center on the hiring practices at Burisma, while the responses include statements such as "we wanted to build Burisma as [an] international company” and "we also thought it would help in Ukraine to have strong international board figures,” which seems to point to Zlochevsky — not the Ukrainian president — as the respondent.
The apparent mischaracterization, however, does not undercut Democrats' argument that Trump withheld critical military aid to Ukraine as a way to pressure Zelenksy into opening up investigations into the Bidens, including Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was once a board member on Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company.
A Democratic official working on the impeachment trial didn’t dispute the suggestion that the initial interpretation was incorrect. But the official maintains that “z” was commonly used as short-hand for “Zelensky” by those involved in the Ukraine pressure campaign, and noted that the word document does not reveal its author or source.
Lev Parnas. | Seth Wenig/AP Photo
The official also pointed out that there is little question that Giuliani and Parnas sought “high-level engagement with President Zelensky and his administration.”
“Beginning with Mr. Giuliani’s May 10 letter to President Zelensky two months earlier and leading up to Mr. Giuliani’s August 2 meeting with Mr. Zelensky’s representatives in Spain, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas actively sought high-level engagement with President Zelensky and his administration to carry out the President’s corrupt scheme,” the official said. “If Mr. Giuliani sought out dirt from other sources, that would be consistent with their overall effort.”
There are plenty of examples of Giuliani attempting to arrange a meeting with Zelensky, and he did in fact meet with top aides to the Ukrainian president — even though Parnas’ role in the whole matter is still unclear. And Democrats have not predicated their impeachment trial arguments on Parnas' new allegations, making limited references to the former Giuliani associate in their brief.
But it appears that Democrats misjudged at least one instance where they thought they found an example of Parnas trying to arrange a meeting between Giuliani and Zelensky, according to the unredacted material. Democrats didn't receive the Parnas evidence from the courts until last week and were scrambling to sort through all the materials ahead of the Senate impeachment trial.
A Republican aide said the assumption that “mr Z” is a reference to Zelensky is sloppy oversight work at best.
“The most charitable view of the situation is that [Schiff’s] staff committed the equivalent of Congressional malpractice by not looking more than an inch deep to determine the facts before foisting this erroneous information on his colleagues and the American public,” said one senior GOP aide.
“But given the selective redactions and contextual clues, it seems as though Chairman Schiff sought to portray an innocuous meeting with Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky as an insidious one with the President of Ukraine simply because both of their surnames start with the letter Z.”