Part two of the Lev Parnas interview. TRANSCRIPT: 1/16/20, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Lev Parnas

DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I know we`re looking at Collins and Gardner and Alexander, a others, Chris, but there are three names that I think we should also put a spotlight on. One is Richard Burr, who is the Senate Intelligence chairman who has work across the aisle with his Democratic counterpart who stayed silent, but frankly should ask for witnesses as well. Ben Sasse of Nebraska who likes to say he puts the Constitution before party and Mike Lee who says he puts the Constitution before party. We all watch Mike Lee melt down because the Trump administration was not giving him information on Iran and the death of Soleimani, he should care as much about what Trump did in Ukraine as he did in Iran. Mike Lee should step up to this moment.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: All right. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David Jolly, thank you both so much.

That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Tonight, we will present part two of my interview with Lev Parnas.

Now, as I said before the first part of the interview last night, and I want to reiterate it now, Mr. Parnas is under federal indictment. He was one of four defendants charged in early October with multiple felonies related to an alleged scheme to funnel foreign and otherwise illegal donations to various Republican candidates and campaigns, including more than $300,000 in an allegedly illegal donation to the main super PAC supporting the president`s reelection.

Mr. Parnas is under indictment. He says he would like to cooperate with the impeachment investigators. He says he would also like to cooperate with the federal prosecutors who have charged him in the Southern District of New York. But he`s right now out on bond awaiting trial.

And I will just mention at the outset that I am cognizant of the fact that we are presenting the second part of this interview tonight rather than just diving right in to some of the other momentous and historic news of today, including the start today of the Senate trial of President Trump. Today marks only the third time in U.S. history that an American president has faced an impeachment trial in the Senate.

And it was a solemn beginning today. The administering of the oath to the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the administering of the oath to all U.S. senators, all of the senators individually signing their names to the oath, one by one, in alphabetical order.

It`s a solemn thing. It`s a sobering thing. This is a big deal. And it`s worth, you know, the massive headlines that it`s getting all over the country. It is absolutely worth marking this day in history.

It is also worth noting that the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office today issued a ruling that it was illegal for President Trump to withhold aid to Ukraine as part of this scheme, that what he did there was against the law, for that to be arriving today, that ruling from the Government Accountability Office on the day that the Senate impeachment trial starts -- I mean, this is all a big deal.

But it`s also becoming clear that what happens next in the impeachment of President Trump in this Senate trial may depend in part on the additional evidence and witnesses who are still coming forward as the Ukraine scheme is coming more fully to light, and so -- onward, here`s part two.

All right. One of the main questions, a lot of different people have asked, I myself have asked, and have wondered, main question asked about Mr. Parnas` decision to give this first public interview is why he would speak out publicly while he`s out on bond awaiting trial, right? That is atypical behavior to say the least for a federal criminal defendant, particularly one who has a sentient lawyer.

I mean, the common wisdom is that public remarks and remarks to the media could really only disadvantage a defendant in his or her dealings with federal prosecutors, right? If you speak out publicly, if you speak to the media, it`s going to hurt your criminal case. That is the common wisdom for all federal defendants in all kinds of criminal trials.

So why is Mr. Parnas doing it?

Well, in this case, Mr. Parnas says that he has a significant fear of the Justice Department. And specifically he has a significant fear of Attorney General William Barr. For him, that is not reason to be quiet. That is part of the reason why he`s making his case now to the public.

My understanding from spending a long time Mr. Parnas doing this interview is that he believes he`s safer putting this stuff out in the public sphere than he is keeping his mouth shut while the Justice Department knows what he was involved in and they know what he knows and they have his fate in their hands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: My only objective is to get the truth out because I never thought I was doing anything wrong. I still, you know, I regret certain things that I did, because, like, you know, hurting the ambassador, you know?

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: Because that was not something, but it was part of -- it`s like, when you`re in a war, you think like casualties and stuff like that. It`s bad to say, but it was -- and I keep saying it was like, you know, being in a cult. I mean, and -- and when they say organized crime, I don`t think Trump is like organized -- I think he`s like a cult leader.

And right now, the scary part, and that`s what I keep mentioning and people don`t understand is, there`s a lot of Republicans that would go against him. The only reason -- if you`ll take a look, and you know very well because you have been following, the difference between why Trump is so powerful now, and he wasn`t as powerful in `16 and `17 --

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: -- he became that powerful when he got William Barr.

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: People are scared. Am I scared? Yes, and because I think I`m more scared of our own Justice Department than of these criminals right now, because, you know, the scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong and -- or when you`re not, you know, and that`s the tool they`re using.

I mean, just -- because they`re trying (ph) to scare me into not talking and with God`s help, and with my lawyer next to me that I know will go bat for me no matter what, with the truth --

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: -- and I`m taking a chance.

My wife is scared. My kids are nervous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: When he says, "They`re trying to scare into not talking," Mr. Parnas is referencing something specific actually that I asked him about in more detail in a different part of the interview that I`m going to show you in just a moment.

But what Mr. Parnas describes there as a sort of -- what he says is a cultish environment, him saying getting out of that cultish environment around the president now makes him regret some of his actions, that thing that he`s saying about it being like a cult that he regrets some of his behavior there, that applies as well to the central claim at the heart of the impeachment scandal, which was this concerted effort that Mr. Parnas was involved in to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of wrongdoing and to get Ukraine to announce investigations of Vice President Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: In terms of the information, the allegations against Vice President Biden, Mr. Shokin makes allegations against Mr. Biden. Mr. Lutsenko also makes allegations against Mr. Biden. Do you believe that those allegations were true?

PARNAS: When we were dealing with it, when I was in the middle of the thick of things, I think I was kind of -- I keep saying it`s a cultish environment being around President Trump because I mean, like, I`ve been in D.C. for two years, I never left the Trump Hotel type of situation.

So, I truly believe seeing different information that was handed to us at that time that Joe Biden was doing something illegal, not so much Hunter Biden but more Joe Biden.

But after analyzing all the evidence and sitting back and really -- what`s it called -- understanding what`s going on, I don`t think -- I don`t think Vice President Biden did anything wrong. I think he was protecting our country and getting rid of probably a crooked attorney general.

And people used this to their advantage. A lot of rich people in Ukraine have their own agenda. And they use us here for their own political stuff. So I think this is -- was a big one.

MADDOW: In terms of the material that was handed over to intelligence, on March 22nd, Mr. Lutsenko texts you in Russian, there`s a translation that`s provided by the committee.

It says: It`s just that if you don`t make a decision about madam, you are bringing into question all my allegations including about B.

So when he says "madam" is he talking about --

PARNAS: Ambassador Yovanovitch.

MADDOW: -- Ambassador Yovanovitch?

PARNAS: Correct.

MADDOW: And when he says, all my allegations including about B --

PARNAS: Burisma.

MADDOW: -- is that about Burisma and Biden?

PARNAS: Yes.

MADDOW: OK. Do you know if it`s Burisma or Biden? I guess --

PARNAS: It was always Biden. Burisma, it was just -- I mean, nobody cares about Burisma or Zlochevsky. It was -- the concern was Biden, Hunter Biden.

MADDOW: In that text message to you, is Mr. Lutsenko saying in effect, listen, if you want me to make these Biden allegations, you`re going to have to get rid of this ambassador?

PARNAS: Absolutely.

MADDOW: Was he threatening if you didn`t get rid of the ambassador, he might withdraw his Biden allegation?

PARNAS: He actually did. He withdrew it several times.

MADDOW: He wanted Ambassador Yovanovitch ousted for his own career reasons. He had clashed with her, in her anti-corruption efforts that had butted up against him and his efforts.

PARNAS: Absolutely, yes.

MADDOW: Lutsenko and Shokin both had an interest in getting rid of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

PARNAS: Yes, and it`s funny because they both don`t like each other.

MADDOW: Shokin and Lutsenko don`t like each other.

PARNAS: Shokin hates Lutsenko, and even though Lutsenko used to be his underling. But they consider -- listen, it`s a different environment over there. And it`s -- unless you live it, unless you do business there, unless you visit there and understand it, bribery and -- it`s just a way of life.

I mean, regular people at the store do it. They`ll bribe the butcher to get a better piece of meat and it`s normal. You know, or get better seats at a concert.

So, it`s like a way of life over there. So, the way the structure is set up, that`s why everybody`s hoping that Zelensky changes it, but I don`t know how much he can change with one series (ph) -- like, it`s already embedded.

This is where once you become -- in America, it`s like you become a politician to serve your country not to make money, because you can`t make money while you`re -- in Ukraine, it`s the opposite. You -- some of these people pay millions of dollars to get a seat as a politician because once - -

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: Because they can use it to make so much more money.

PARNAS: Right. So, once they get there. So, it`s all about the money and it`s all about power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Lev Parnas, a key fixer and figure in the effort to fit up Vice President Joe Biden with accusations of wrongdoing in Ukraine, to force the Ukrainian government to announce investigations into Mr. Biden, to force out the U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch who was in the way of that effort.

Mr. Parnas now apologizing to that U.S. ambassador, Ambassador Yovanovitch. We aired that last night.

And as I just showed you, Mr. Parnas also says he now does not believe that Vice President Biden did anything wrong in Ukraine. And that Vice President Biden`s actions there which Mr. Parnas helped try to turn into a scandal, in his words now, he says "Mr. Biden`s actions were taken to protect our country and get rid of a crooked attorney general."

By confirming the nature of his own communications with that official he refers to as a crooked attorney general, Mr. Parnas also makes clear that the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch was a demand from the key accusers that he and Mr. Giuliani and the president and others have been using to make this false case against Biden.

The accusers, including both Lutsenko and Shokin wanted Yovanovitch gone. Lutsenko explicitly demanded to Parnas that the ambassador be removed or his allegations against Biden might be at risk. Shokin and Lutsenko wanted Ambassador Yovanovitch removed in Lev Parnas` telling because they were corrupt and she was a force against corruption in Ukraine and so they wanted her out of their way, too.

Think about the collateral damage that was caused not only in our own country but around the world and in Ukraine by this scheme to aid the president`s re-election effort. That gives you a pretty clear sense of what that might be in Ukraine when it comes to anti-corruption.

President Trump`s alleged personal role in trying to remove Ambassador Yovanovitch before she was ultimately recalled, we`re going to have more on that coming up this hour as well.

But before we get to that, there`s one other piece of this I want to foreground here that isn`t specifically about President Trump. It`s about another senior member of the Trump administration who Lev Parnas says stepped in to play a role in the Ukraine scheme at a very key moment. The new president of Ukraine elected on this anti-corruption platform, right, engaged in an ongoing war with Russia, he`s inaugurated in May. As the new leader of Ukraine, he somewhat desperately needs a show of support, a strong show of support from the United States government, that`s key to the U.S. -- to the Ukraine in terms of its fight with Russia among other things.

On the eve of Zelensky`s inauguration, Mr. Parnas told me in the portion of the interview we played yesterday that he was directed by Rudy Giuliani who had spoken to President Trump about it, he was directed to really turn up the pressure on Ukraine. To demand to the Ukrainian government that unless they announced a Biden investigation, the Ukrainian government would lose not only all U.S. military aid, they would lose all the U.S. aid and Vice President Pence would not come to the inauguration of the new president.

Vice President Pence`s plans to attend the inauguration at that point were in full swing. The threat was that that would be canceled, that Pence wouldn`t come unless they met the Biden investigation demand. We played this portion of the interview last night, but here`s just a little squib from it to refresh your memory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARNAS: In the conversation, I told him that if he doesn`t -- the announcement was the key at that time because of the inauguration, that Pence would not show up, nobody would show up to his inauguration.

MADDOW: Unless he announced an investigation into Joe Biden, no U.S. officials, particularly Vice President Mike Pence, would not come to the Zelensky inauguration.

PARNAS: Particularly Vice President Mike Pence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, that conversation as Mr. Parnas describes it, he says that was in May of last year, May 12th specifically, a meeting he says with a top aide to the incoming president-elect in Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky`s top adviser. He says that that demand that he made that they needed to announce the Biden investigation was rebuffed. The Ukrainians did not agree to announce a Biden investigation despite the threat Mr. Parnas was making there on behalf of the White House.

And when they rebuffed his demand and they did not provide that announcement of the investigation, in fact, the following day, the White House made good on their threat and Vice President Mike Pence did cancel his planned trip to the Zelensky inauguration.

That`s as far as we got in the interview with Mr. Parnas as of last night, but the way it went down thereafter is that after Vice President Pence canceled his trip to the Zelensky inauguration, within a few days the U.S. government decided they would send another senior official in his place.

So, let`s pick up the story there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARNAS: That`s when we flew to Paris, and in Paris, we met Rudy before -- and when we were in Paris with Rudy, basically, that`s when I found out that Perry was going to the -- they decided to send Perry there instead.

MADDOW: Energy Secretary Rick Perry would be going.

PARNAS: Correct.

MADDOW: Did you -- you learned that from Mr. Giuliani?

PARNAS: Correct.

MADDOW: Was Mr. Perry, to your knowledge, aware of what you and Mr. Giuliani were trying to do in Ukraine of terms of getting these investigations announced?

PARNAS: I don`t know to what extent he was told about me. I don`t know what he was told. Definitely he knew about Rudy because he was told -- he called Rudy on his way there to ask him what to discuss and Rudy told him that to make sure to give him the message.

MADDOW: Mr. Giuliani told Secretary Perry what you need to convey to the Ukrainian government they need to announce an investigation into Joe Biden.

PARNAS: Absolutely.

MADDOW: Do you know if part of the message that Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry was also that Ukraine would lose their military aid, they`d lose their U.S. aid, if they didn`t announce those investigations?

PARNAS: I don`t recall them having a specific conversation about that.

MADDOW: OK.

PARNAS: It was more of just telling him what he needs to do to announce it. I don`t know what other conversation they could have had prior or after.

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: But I know that there was another conversation that Perry called after the inauguration telling him that he spoke to Zelensky and Zelensky`s going to do it.

MADDOW: Perry says, I spoke with Zelensky and I got him to agree.

PARNAS: Yes.

MADDOW: I got him to agree to announce the investigation.

PARNAS: Yes, and they did an announcement but they didn`t announce that.

See, this was the whole key. They would kind of say every time somebody would meet Zelensky, they would, like, agree and then they would walk it back.

So they announced something about corruption that he`s going to get corruption but Giuliani blew his lid on that saying that`s not what we discussed. That it wasn`t supposed to be a corruption announcement. It has to be about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and Burisma.

MADDOW: He said the name, Biden, needs to be spoken, was his insistence?

PARNAS: Always, always.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: They did not want them to announce corruption investigations or anti-corruption efforts. That was not it. It had to be about Biden. They had to say Biden.

Lev Parnas alleging that former Energy Secretary Rick Perry who we know from impeachment hearing testimony was tasked by the White House as one of three officials along with Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland who were taking the lead for the Trump White House on Ukraine policy. This was the three amigos.

According to Lev Parnas, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was directed by Rudy Giuliani to deliver the message to the Ukrainian government that they needed to announce investigations into Joe Biden. He says, Mr. Parnas says, that Mr. Perry phoned Mr. Giuliani, contacted Mr. Giuliani, and said that he had been in touch with the Ukrainian president, that he had conveyed the message, and that, in fact, the Ukrainian government had agreed to make that announcement.

Now, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has denied playing any role in this scheme, but he did crash out of the Trump cabinet just as this scandal started to come to the surface. It was October 16th when "The Wall Street Journal" reported that, in fact, Secretary Perry did call Rudy Giuliani to talk about Ukraine. He did so at the direction of President Trump.

The following day, October 17th, Rick Perry tendered his resignation to the president as energy secretary. The day after that, October 18th, Secretary Perry announced that he would not comply with a subpoena in the impeachment investigation.

Whether he would comply now with a subpoena to testify to the Senate trial of the president, that remains to be seen. We`ll be right back with more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARNAS: I know that there was another conversation that Perry called after the inauguration, telling him that he spoke to Zelensky and Zelensky`s going to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Did you ever have any communications with the counsel to the president, Jay Sekulow, during the time that you were involved in all this?

PARNAS: Several conversations. One, in particular, which I would have to refresh my memory by looking at my text messages with him, but had to do with -- I think it was Viktor Shokin`s visa, or something to do with Ukraine. And Rudy was busy at the time and basically told me that Jay was aware of everything, that he brought him up to speed, that I could call him and he was on top of it.

MADDOW: Was -- by that did he mean that Mr. Sekulow was part of this effort to try to get Ukraine to announce investigations?

PARNAS: Oh, absolutely. One of the things I think was the best quote ever was when Mr. Sondland said everybody`s in the loop and --

MADDOW: You believe that everybody was in the loop?

PARNAS: I don`t believe. I know.

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: I know they were in the loop. I was witness of conversations and -- you know, between them. And everybody was in the loop.

Everybody didn`t agree with the loop. I mean, Jay Sekulow didn`t agree with what Rudy was doing, but knew what he was doing.

MADDOW: How do you know that he didn`t agree with it?

PARNAS: Because I heard them talk about it.

MADDOW: And was his objection?

PARNAS: He didn`t want to be involved in the Ukraine stuff. He -- I don`t know what his -- you`d have to ask him, what his (INAUDIBLE). My feeling from the conversations, and watching the way Jay approached that situation was he just didn`t want to be a part of it, and wanted to stay away from it.

MADDOW: You mentioned that you were trying to get Mr. Shokin a visa to come to the United States.

PARNAS: Correct.

MADDOW: Why were you trying to do that?

PARNAS: Well, after the conversation Mr. Shokin had with Mr. Giuliani that we had on Skype, they had discussed on the range they were going to have Mr. Shokin come here, and Mr. Giuliani wanted to debrief him here in front of Mr. Lindsey Graham, and -- certain other people like the attorney general.

MADDOW: Because Mr. Shokin was going to say what?

PARNAS: He was basically going to testify and say that Joe Biden basically forced him out because he was going to investigate Hunter Biden and Burisma.

MADDOW: Was the president, himself, ever involved in the effort to get this visa from Mr. Shokin? In the text messages that were released, Mr. Giuliani appears to tell you he`s gong to get number one involved in this effort to get Mr. Shokin into the U.S.

PARNAS: Absolutely.

MADDOW: Was that a reference to the president?

PARNAS: Absolutely.

MADDOW: Did the president ever work on it?

PARNAS: Of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Lev Parnas stating that President Trump, himself, was aware of and involved in efforts to try to bring at least one Biden accuser from Ukraine to the United States to, among other things, brief Senator Lindsey Graham and Attorney General William Barr.

We believe that accuser, former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, had his visa to visit the United States blocked by the U.S. embassy in Kiev because it was the official U.S. government view of him that he was way too corrupt as a public official to be allowed a U.S. visa.

But it`s also noteworthy that Mr. Parnas says that he believes that counsel to the president, Jay Sekulow, was aware of everything that was going on in this Ukraine scheme but that he disapproved of it. Mr. Parnas` words, he said Mr. Sekulow wanted to stay away from all this stuff involving Ukraine.

I should note at this point that Mr. Sekulow is expected to be one of the main defense counsels for President Trump in his impeachment trial which convened today in the senate. I should also note that Mr. Parnas says Mr. Sekulow was, however much he disapproved of the whole Ukraine scheme, he says Mr. Sekulow was directly involved in advising him not to cooperate with the investigation into the Ukraine scheme and with signing him up with some other lawyers who Lev ultimately fired but who also told him not to cooperate with the investigation into Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: How did you end up with Mr. Downing and Mr. Dowd representing you when the impeachment inquiry had contacted you for testimony?

PARNAS: That`s a good question, Rachel.

First of all, what happened was we were in Vienna when we got notified that we had a congressional, what`s it called --

MADDOW: Request.

PARNAS: Request.

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: And I was there with Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova working on the Dmytro Firtash case. And first people came to was them, and I said, what do I do? They said, call Rudy.

I called Rudy, what do we do? Rudy`s first response was, I don`t worry about it, forget it. I was like, what you mean don`t worry about it? You`re an attorney. Please help me get an attorney. Rudy came back and said, oh, I have a great, John Dowd.

And we were like, OK. We got excited. I didn`t know who John Dowd was. But I knew he was the president`s attorney. It was a very, like, you know, exciting situation even though it was, you know, all this going on. It`s still, you know, like in the Looney Tunes.

But I would I called John Dowd, introduced myself like Rudy connected us and at first everything was good. Then, like, 15 minutes later I get a call from him saying, we have a problem that I`m not going to probably be able to represent you.

I said, what happened? He goes, I`ve been speaking with Jay Sekulow, and, you know, because I was the president`s attorney, I`m still kind of doing work for the president, there`s a conflict of interest unless he wants to waive it. I don`t think the president is going to waive that conflict.

Because at that point, John Dowd didn`t know who I was also. He didn`t think I had any relationship with the president. And I responded to him, I said I think he will. I said --

MADDOW: You think the president will waive the conflict.

PARNAS: Absolutely.

MADDOW: And let Dowd represent you.

PARNAS: Absolutely. I said, give Rudy a call, I`m sure we can work this out, I said because this is very important.

About 15, 20 minutes later I got called back from John Dowd. He said, you`re one lucky guy, I just got called from Jay Sekulow, I got the permission and I`m getting it in writing shortly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You are one lucky guy. I just want to interrupt here for a moment to show you that, in fact, what Mr. Parnas is talking about here is corroborated by some of the documentation that he has handed over to the House Intelligence Committee. This letter from Jay Sekulow saying that he, Jay Sekulow, got President Trump`s expressed permission for Lev Parnas to be represented legally by John Dowd. That was, in fact, a letter that Mr. Parnas turned over to the impeachment investigators and now has been conveyed to the Senate.

So, Jay Sekulow talked to the president about you, Lev Parnas, and I have received his permission to let you use John Dowd as your lawyer. Mr. Parnas thinks he is very lucky. This is great. It shows that the president is willing to help him out. It also shows he`s getting the president lawyer, which is wonderful.

Mr. Parnas went on to say in the interview that he was advised by his new lawyer who he`s very excited about, John Dowd, in consultation with Jay Sekulow at the White House and Rudy Giuliani, that he should not cooperate with the investigation into Ukraine. the impeachment investigation that`s brewing in congress.

He`s been asked by the impeachment investigators to give information. He says he is advised by his new legal team in communication with the White House, with the president`s counsel, Jay Sekulow, that he shouldn`t cooperate even though he says he personally would have been happy to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You got a request from Congress to come -- for you and Mr. Fruman to come testify to the impeachment investigation.

PARNAS: Yes.

MADDOW: You were inclined to say yes.

PARNAS: Absolutely, I had nothing to hide. We were not doing anything illegal.

MADDOW: Your lawyer, John Dowd, however, advised you not to cooperate and said the president would give you cover for not cooperating?

PARNAS: It was a little more than that. I was brought into John Dowd`s house and he got Jay Sekulow on the phone and also Rudy and Victoria, then basically they came up with a situation that said that because I worked for Rudy and because I worked for Victoria and because Rudy worked for the president, we had three-way privilege and that basically Pat Cipollone was going to be writing a letter to Congress telling them to -- that nobody`s cooperating, and that would protect us under the same order and he would follow up with that.

Again, this was the president of the United States -- so, I mean, I thought, OK. I said if -- here`s all the information I have. I did my duty. I gave him whatever paperwork I had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Mr. Parnas says that he disagreed with this decision to not cooperate with the congressional investigation into the Ukraine scheme. He said he was inclined to hand over whatever he had, but he says the president, himself, approved Mr. Parnas using this lawyer who the president, himself had use himself, had used. Mr. Dowd. Mr. Sekulow and the White House was part of the team giving him advice that he should not cooperate. He figured it was probably fine. Since, I mean, all of this appeared to be coming down to him from the president of the United States and all of these people who worked with the president.

But then Lev Parnas got arrested and that`s when things went quite pear- shaped.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Mr. Dowd was your attorney for a time and then you changed attorneys.

PARNAS: I fired him in jail.

MADDOW: You fired him when you were in jail?

PARNAS: Yes.

MADDOW: What happened there?

PARNAS: And Mr. Downing.

Basically, when we were arrested, obviously, I had nowhere else to call. I didn`t know -- we just retained Dowd and Downing. So I called Downing to come there and I started seeing in the process of the bail stuff the way things were going on that they were more concentrating on -- I didn`t feel that they were trying to get me out, and at that point, I had a meeting with John Dowd and Downing inside the jail.

And John Dowd just instead of comforting me and, you know, trying to calm me down, telling me, like, it`s going to be OK, like, don`t worry, basically start talking to me like a drill sergeant and telling me, giving me orders, like, you know, be a good boy, like, you know.

MADDOW: He said "be a good boy"?

PARNAS: No, I don`t -- I don`t want to quote him exactly on what the words, what he used in that because it was a while ago. I don`t remember exactly.

But it was -- it was his condescending attitude toward basically, like, who do you think you are telling the president or Giuliani or anybody to, like, come out and because I -- one of the things I said, I said, I can`t believe nobody is coming out in our defense and saying we didn`t do anything wrong, we`re good citizens, you know, we work.

And basically word for word, and then I said, if you don`t get out of here right now, something bad is going to happen because I don`t want to see the two of you.

And at that point, Downing hit the emergency button and the security took me out and took them out.

MADDOW: This is a very heated confrontation. You told Downing and Dowd to get out.

PARNAS: I threw them out.

MADDOW: Were they telling you to sacrifice yourself in order to protect the president?

PARNAS: That`s what I felt.

MADDOW: Is the implication of this story of the lawyers that you feel, that people loyal to the president and close to the president were trying to influence your defense and your case in a way that was against your interests but in the president`s interests?

PARNAS: Absolutely. I think they tried to keep me quiet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Lev Parnas, again, should be noted is out on bond awaiting trial on multiple felony counts for allegedly funneling foreign and otherwise illegal donations to Republican candidates and campaigns including the super PAC that is supporting President Trump`s re-election effort.

In terms of the lawyers he was talking about here, Kevin Downing was the main defense lawyer for the president`s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is currently serving more than seven years in federal prison. John Dowd was one of the president`s defense counsels on the Russia investigation.

Both Mr. Downing and Mr. Dowd have since been fired by Lev Parnas in the situation that you just heard him describe there, that jailhouse confrontation. As for Jay Sekulow, the gentleman on your right side of your screen here -- screen here, he will be representing President Trump as one of his defense counsels in the U.S. Senate in the president`s impeachment trial.

Speaking of the president, more ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We`ve got one last piece of the Lev Parnas interview to bring you tonight. And it is one that, I`ll tell you in advance, it raises more questions than it answers. The person who can answer those questions is not Lev Parnas, however, but rather Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or, perhaps, other State Department officials who know about the actions of Secretary Pompeo and the State Department at this time.

When you hear people gnash their teeth about the fact that the administration hasn`t handed over any documents to the impeachment investigation, that the State Department won`t hand over a single document to explain its own role and its own behavior during the scandal, this is why. This is an example of why.

OK. One of the mysteries that still lingers from the Ukraine scandal is about that smear campaign that was carried out against the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and that smear campaign, of course, was aimed at getting her removed from the embassy, removed from her post.

Ultimately, she was removed, of course. She was told to get on the next plane out. She got a call at 1:00 in the morning saying your security is at risk, get on the next plane out. That was in late April.

Her departure was announced by the State Department shortly thereafter in terms that said that it was, you know, normal and long planned when it was actually anything but.

But in addition to lying about the circumstances of her departure, one question that has always nagged about the State Department and the role of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is why the smear campaign was necessary.

After all, if Marie Yovanovitch was in the way of the president`s pressure campaign to get the Ukrainian government to help him with his re-election effort, or if the president was unhappy with her for any other reason, for that matter, either made up or real -- well, he`s the president. He could just fire her. He could just have her recalled from her post. Why did they have to go through this public humiliating drama?

Well, in my interview with Lev Parnas, Mr. Parnas told me that President Trump tried to fire Ambassador Yovanovitch several times and it, for some reason, didn`t work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARNAS: The president kept firing her and couldn`t (ph) -- and she wouldn`t leave. So nobody could understand what was going on.

MADDOW: Public information, she was removed, at the time that she was removed, she was back in the United States at the end of the April, you`re saying that the president tried to fire before that.

PARNAS: He fired her probably at least, to my knowledge, at least four, five times. He even had a breakdown and scream, "fire her" to Madeline (ph), his assistant, the secretary, before he fired her. He said, Mr. President, I can`t do that.

MADDOW: He was directing the State Department to remove her and the State Department was refusing?

PARNAS: Correct.

MADDOW: But the basis of your belief that the president had tried to remove Ambassador Yovanovitch multiple times and it for some reason didn`t work is because you talked to the president about that?

PARNAS: About firing her, I spoke to the president once about that, or twice. Once or twice. Once directly at our dinner when he fired her actually at the dinner which was the most surprising thing ever I --

MADDOW: Tell me -- tell me more.

PARNAS: Basically, at that dinner, we had a conversation, there was, like, six of us there, it was an intimate dinner.

MADDOW: At the White House?

PARNAS: It was -- no, it was a Trump Hotel. It was a private -- like area there. Looks like a little White House.

MADDOW: And the president was there?

PARNAS: Oh, absolutely. The president was there, his son, Don Jr., was there. I don`t know how the issue is -- the conversation came up, but I do remember me telling the president the ambassador was bad-mouthing him and saying he was going to get impeached, something to that effect.

And at that time, he turned around to John DeStefano, who was his aide at the time, and said, "fire her". And we all -- there was a silence in the room. He responded to him, said Mr. President, we can`t do that right now because Pompeo hasn`t been confirmed yet. That Pompeo is not confirmed yet and we don`t have -- this is when Tillerson was gone, but Pompeo was confirmed, so they go, wait until (INAUDIBLE).

So several conversations he mentioned it again. I don`t know how many times at that dinner, once or twice or three times. But he fired her several times.

MADDOW: He reiterated that she should be fired then he was ordering her to be fired.

PARNAS: Correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Now, a couple things here. First we should say that Lev Parnas told me in this interview that he no longer actually, himself, believes that Marie Yovanovitch as ambassador actually was bad-mouthing President Trump or saying he was going to be impeached.

He now says he recognizes that was part of the disinformation campaign. He regrets participating in it even though he believed it at the time. He apologized to the ambassador in my interview with him. We aired that last night. He says he regrets believing those things about her and participating in the effort to get her fired.

The other thing to note here, though, is the meeting that Mr. Parnas is describing he says took place on April 30th, 2018, and from what he`s describing about where the meeting happened and who was at that meeting, we believe that there was a meeting of that type on April 30th, 2018, at the location that Mr. Parnas is describing.

On April 30th, 2018, Mike Pompeo had, in fact, been Senate confirmed just a few days before. Mike Pompeo, however, had not yet been sworn in officially as secretary of state so, perhaps, that was the source of confusion saying we can`t do it yet, Mr. Pompeo isn`t formally in place yet. We don`t know.

But aside from that detail, I think you would take from Mr. Parnas` account there that there was, perhaps, an expectation in the White House, perhaps an expectation around the president, that once Mike Pompeo was fully in charge at the State Department, once Trump had his guy in there as secretary of state, Ambassador Yovanovitch would be fired.

In the end, it would be another year before that actually happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARNAS: That was not the only time he fired her because he fired her at least four other occasions that Rudy Giuliani went to the White House, had conversations with him and then came back and then informed me, Victoria, and Joe about what transpired. He fired her when he gave an order to Mike Pompeo once, which he didn`t do, Secretary Pompeo didn`t fire her.

Then Rudy came back and he told him, go speak to Pompeo. Rudy went to speak to Pompeo. They got into it.

Then they had another meeting at the White House where he told Bolton to fire her. Bolton didn`t want to fire her. Tell Pompeo to fire here.

Rudy got into it with all of them again. And at one point, he told Madeleine (ph) to fire her.

So, I mean, that was becoming comical because I couldn`t understand, you`re the president -- that`s one of the things -- when I say comical, it`s not more comical, but at that point, it was more of affirmation to me that there was people against the president of the United States if they`re not listening to his orders.

So that`s where I think the smear campaign started coming about. I think it was like a boost to them to help him if the media started, like, egging him on, that there was really something there, then he would just tweet and fire her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: They couldn`t get it done through normal channels, even with the president, himself, being involved in those somewhat normal channels, and so they started the smear campaign to try to create media agitation against Ambassador Yovanovitch and maybe that would make it possible for the president to evade or elide direct channels and do it with the support of the conservative media who would advance these claims?

I mean, this is fascinating, right? According to Lev Parnas, the smear campaign against Marie Yovanovitch was not meant to convince president Trump she was bad. He was already onboard with that. Happy to believe that.

The smear campaign against the ambassador was meant to help his efforts to fire her. Now, maybe get him so riled up, he would fire her by tweet, make it public that way instead of just yelling it out to random people at random meetings and dinners.

But this narrative also presents us with a sort of mixed, complicated, picture of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in this scandal. I mean, on the one hand, Secretary Pompeo refused to support Ambassador Yovanovitch publicly when she was being attacked as part of the smear campaign, and it was his office that ultimately removed her from her post with no evidence that he actually believed or that the State Department actually had any substantial reason, any real reason, to get her out.

We also know that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in contact with Rudy Giuliani who was running the whole Ukraine operation including the Yovanovitch smear campaign, including when Lev Parnas, who was inseparable from Rudy Giuliani, was exchanging alarming text messages with a Republican congressional candidate who purported to have Ambassador Yovanovitch under physical surveillance and appeared to be raising the prospect of some physical harm or intimidation being carried out against her.

I should also mention that the material Lev Parnas turned over to the Intelligence Committee includes in the latest batch released last night these text messages involving Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing, a Fox News lawyer working with Giuliani and Parnas in their scheme to get Yovanovitch fired.

In these texts about three months before Yovanovitch was finally recalled, Toensing asks Giuliani, "is there absolute commitment for her ," her, all caps, her, meaning Yovanovitch "to be gone this week?" Giuliani responds, "Yes. Not sure how absolute. We`ll get a reading in the morning and call you."

Pompeo, misspelled Pompei, "Pompeo is now aware of it, talk to him on Friday."

The next month, the conservative journalist, John Solomon, wrote to Lev Parnas and Victoria Toensing and her husband Joe DiGenova, saying that he, John Solomon, needed State Department help on, quote, Hunter Biden contacts. What`s what State Department help did John Solomon expect to get? Why did he think Lev Parnas and friends could get it for him? Is that how the State Department runs?

I mean, all of that points to Mike Pompeo`s State Department being an ally, being sort of part of the team for President Trump and his associates on the Ukraine scheme. But it`s unclear, I mean, you also have Lev Parnas describing Mike Pompeo as ostensibly blocking the firing of Marie Yovanovitch at several points.

As late as September of last year when national security adviser John Bolton left the White House, just as the Ukraine scream was being exposed, texts from Mr. Parnas suggested that Mike Pompeo was not in good standing with this group. Parnas writing to a friend, quote, Bolton is out. Pompeo is next.

But the mixed contradictory picture like that, I have a lot of questions for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I imagine, impeachment investigators do, too.

We reached out to the State Department for comment both last night and tonight. We haven`t heard back. We`ll let you know if that changes.

But as the president`s trial on this scandal gets under way in the Senate, a key question about the conduct of the trial is whether Secretary Pompeo will be called under oath to answer questions about what really is his very, very, murky role in all of this.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The Government Accountability Office, the GAO, is the independent and nonpartisan federal agency tasked with helping Congress with investigations. In November, the GAO announced it would analyze whether the Trump administration broke any laws when they decided to withhold $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as part of this effort to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations into Joe Biden.

Well, now, today on the same day that senators officially took their oaths in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, the GAO released its decision and they found that, yes, the Trump administration did break the law when they withheld that money. The finding says in part, quote, faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. OMB withheld funds for a policy reason which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.

The withholding was not a programmatic delay. We, therefore, conclude that OMB violated the law.

You may remember one of the impeachment witnesses, Mark Sandy, testified that two officials at OMB resigned during this scandal in part because of their concerns about whether holding up these funds to Ukraine was illegal. It seems their concerns were justified. I`d love to hear from them.

It also means that the Republican talking point that no criminal laws were broken in this impeachment scandal, that is well and truly dead. Or it should be.

More ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL C. STENGER, SENATE SERGEANT AT ARMS: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Senate sergeant at arms today warning members of the Senate if they break with decorum during the impeachment trial of the president, by speaking, they could face imprisonment. The oaths and the rules and the ceremonial opening of the impeachment trial were today. On Saturday, House impeachment managers will have until 5:00 p.m. Eastern to file their trial brief.

On Monday, we could see a further exchange of briefs basically responses between the house and the president. On Tuesday, next week the trial will start in earnest at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. You should clear your calendar now. Call in sick ahead of time.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.

Now it`s time for "The Last Word with Lawrence O`Donnell".

Good evening, Lawrence.

                                                                                                                THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END