At the same April 2018 dinner where President Donald Trump ordered the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, he also discussed Florida Sen. Rick Scott with Ukrainian-born South Florida businessman Lev Parnas.
The conversation was captured in an 83-minute video obtained by Reuters from Parnas’ attorney Joseph Bondy. About halfway through the recording, Parnas mentioned he lived in Florida, prompting Trump to ask how Scott, then Florida’s governor, was faring in his U.S. Senate campaign.
“Rick Scott’s good,” said Parnas, who was indicted in October on charges that he and his business partner, Igor Fruman, steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions from foreign donors. Both are now key figures in Trump’s impeachment proceedings.
“Is he going to win?” Trump asks.
Parnas responded: “It’s going to be close, but I think we’re going to pull it out."
He repeatedly referred to Scott’s election effort as “we." Parnas also told Trump: “We’re doing a fundraiser” for Scott in May and mentioned having lunch with former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, now one of Trump’s impeachment defense lawyers.
Fruman, Parnas’ business partner, donated $5,400 to Scott’s Senate campaign on May 25, 2018. Scott’s office announced that Fruman’s money was donated to Shriner’s Hospital after the two were taken into custody at Dulles International Airport in October.
Fruman also donated $15,000 to the Rick Scott Victory Fund. That was also donated to the hospital.
Scott spokesman Chris Hartline said the senator doesn’t know what fundraiser Parnas was referencing and said Parnas played no role in the Republican’s campaign.
“Sen. Scott meets a lot of people and has no recollection of meeting Parnas," Hartline said, "and he had no involvement in the Senator’s campaign.”
Last week, Bondy tweeted a photo of Parnas standing next to Scott. Parnas often posed for pictures with powerful and connected people at GOP events across Florida. Bondy hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
Bondy told CNN that the tape, recorded at Trump International Hotel in Washington and only recently discovered, confirmed what Parnas had recently told media outlets: Trump discussed ousting former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch with his client.
“Get rid of her!" Trump says on the tape. "Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.”
Trump has denied knowing Parnas, a close associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. The recording has been turned over to the House Intelligence Committee, according to reports. Parnas has said he was part of a pressure campaign orchestrated by Giuliani and Trump to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family.
Scott has frequently come to Trump’s defense amid the impeachment trial in the Senate. “It’s just fabrication, what he did,” Scott said of the House case to impeach Trump during an interview with Fox News.
Scott is the latest Florida Republicans to face more questions about his ties to Parnas in the months since authorities arrested the Soviet-born businessman and U.S. citizen at the Virginia airport.
After the arrest, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who received $50,000 from Parnas’ company, denied any relationship with Parnas through a spokeswoman. He returned the donation.
DeSantis has since acknowledged meeting with Parnas. The two were introduced at a pro-Israel event in May 2018. The Tampa Bay Times later found photos of DeSantis hugging Parnas and Fruman at his November election victory party and the two were VIPs at the new governor’s inauguration.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Parnas turned over text messages with DeSantis as evidence in the House impeachment trial. A photo of Parnas with DeSantis and Donald Trump, Jr., was released by the House Judiciary Committee.
DeSantis has publicly declined to answer any more questions about Parnas and Fruman.