Senators may be able to keep Lev Parnas from talking, but they couldn’t keep him from walking. So, at about 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, the first day of questions in the president’s impeachment trial, Parnas — who is entangled in the Ukraine scandal as an associate of President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and cooperating with prosecutors — took a stroll to the Capitol.
He was headed to the impeachment trial where neither he nor anyone else has been called as a witness. He already suspected that he would not be allowed inside. Though his lawyer, Joseph Bondy, had procured tickets from the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Parnas was wearing an electronic monitoring device around his ankle because he was under house arrest in Florida, charged with campaign finance fraud. A federal judge in New York permitted the travel but denied Bondy’s request to have his client’s monitor temporarily removed. Senate rules prohibit most electronic devices from the trial.
So, if he couldn’t say it in front of the Senate, he could say it here, in front of the Union Station Ladurée macaron shop: “The president knew everything that was going on in Ukraine,” Parnas said. “There was many quid pro quos.”
“I don’t know Washington, D.C., that well,” said Bondy, a criminal defense and cannabis business lawyer. He gestured in the direction of the Capitol. “I think we go that way, right?”
Both wore gray suits. Both had American flag pins on their lapels. The pair were swarmed by TV camera crews.
“I’m not here to make a circus,” said Bondy, but most circuses start with a parade. Demonstrators in the vicinity latched onto Parnas’s walking caravan, some of them following the scrum without knowing whom or what they were chasing till the chant began: “Let Lev speak!”
“I felt like a Kardashian for a few minutes,” a law student accompanying the legal team remarked.
“I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to keep walking with the cameras, you know. But I thought it would be the right thing for us to do,” said Bondy, who called the walk “symbolic”: “Hopefully our presence will have some value . . . in pushing this movement towards a fair trial.”
He wasn’t sure where Parnas would watch the trial. “We’ll figure it out. He’ll be safe with you guys; he’s safe with everyone. People like him.”
People seemed to. “Thank you, Lev!” called out Jennifer Chartrand, 55, of Rockville, Maryland. She was wearing a pink knitted hat. “Thanks for speaking truth!” Across the street, Stephen Parlato from Boulder, Colorado, stood outside the Capitol’s Senate entrance with a poster board sign: “The stone wall is CRACKING.”
Parnas has dealt a few hammer blows to that wall. Since his arrest in October with another Giuliani associate, he has publicly and repeatedly implicated Trump and several Republican lawmakers in an alleged scheme to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
Camera operators walked backward for the half-mile stroll to the Capitol, calling out obstacles to prevent falls. “Columns!” “Steps!” “Hydrant, 15 feet!” Before the day was over, a photographer would fall backward into a planter.
“This is jaywalking, I don’t know,” said Bondy with performative caution. He put his arm around Parnas before the procession lost its way.
“Where’s the Hart Building? We’ve gotta get our tickets,” Bondy asked the cameramen.
“You passed it,” one replied.
“I knew someone would help us,” said Bondy, before bounding up the stairs to the Russell Building, to an entrance which — oops — was closed.
“These steps don’t go anywhere!” a reporter called out to the group.
The monitor on his right ankle tracked all of Parnas’ wrong turns. It tracked him as he entered the Dirksen Senate Office Building at 11:04 a.m., through a metal detector, which beeped as he passed through (he raised one overlong pant cuff to show the guard the device and continued on his way). It tracked him as he walked through the hallway that connected to the Hart Building, past the aides pressed up against the glass in the office of Kyrsten Sinema, the senator from Arizona, then up to Schumer’s office, where he sat in the lobby and failed to make small talk with the press.
“Should Senator [Lindsey] Graham be worried?” a reporter asked.
Indeed, Parnas replied. “Just like Devin Nunes knew, Senator Graham knew for a long time,” he said before his co-counsel, Stephanie Schuman, interjected to cut him off. He did not meet with Schumer, who was giving a news conference about the impeachment trial at the time.
The device tracked him as he walked back through the underground tunnels toward the Capitol, where he and Bondy, carrying two green tickets, breezed past Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, a character voiced by comedian Robert Smigel. They met another phalanx of reporters, and Parnas spoke of his desire to testify, though he realized it might not make a difference.
“Trump world is like a cult, and a lot of these senators are in the cult, so I don’t know if anything could change some of their minds,” said Parnas. “But hopefully the public will know what’s going on.”
“Do you have anything to say to Rudy Giuliani?” someone asked.
“Tell the truth, Rudy,” Parnas said.
“Are you looking to cut a deal?” someone asked.
“He’s looking to tell the truth,” Bondy answered for his client.
Asked whether he could show off his ankle monitor, Parnas declined. “That’s a separate issue,” he said. “It has nothing to do with this. Or maybe it does.” Asked later whether the device was uncomfortable, Parnas only smiled and shrugged.
Parnas’ fellowship began to break up in the Capitol subway terminal. Bondy took his ticket through security and boarded a train toward the Senate gallery, where a balcony seat was waiting for him beneath a bust of President Chester Arthur. Parnas and the remainder of his entourage loitered around the terminal a few minutes longer, then backtracked through the office buildings, making several more wrong turns before they found the proper exit.
When they walked back into the daylight, a queue of demonstrators erupted into cheers, some chasing Parnas down to hand him pamphlets or pose for selfies.
“You are a star!” a man screamed. Seeming to understand this, Parnas hailed a cab and rode off without telling the reporters where to find him, though his ankle monitor knew.