I’ve watched the Rachel Maddow interview with Lev Parnas. I’m not impressed. I’ll get to that in a moment, but I want to do the substance before I get into format/process.
The information that Parnas presented was a mixture of accurate information, misinformation, and agitprop. For instance, we already know, from previous reporting that has been verified by subsequent reporting, that Giuliani had a strange fixation on the Ukrainian black ledger that implicated Manafort. So it isn’t surprising when Parnas presented that in one of his answers. Nor was it surprising when he made it very clear that it was never about corruption, it was just about Vice President Biden, his son Hunter, and getting dirt on them for political purposes in the 2020 election. This too has been reported on extensively and verified in subsequent reporting. As was the information about the quid pro quo given to Ukrainian President Zelensky And the information about trying to get a deal cut for Dmitro Firtash in exchange for his help. And I have no doubt, despite his attempt to get ahead of things on Fox News tonight, that Congressman Nunes is up to his eyeballs in this meshugas.
But there was also misinformation and agitprop. Let’s start with AG Barr. We know from reporting that Toensing and DiGenova met with AG Barr to try to get the charges dropped against Firtash. But we also know that Barr rebuffed them. However, we also know from the Memorandum of the Conversation for the second phone call in July 2019 between the President and Ukrainian President Zelensky that the President told President Zelensky that he would have AG Barr follow up. This prompted the Department of Justice spokesperson to issue a statement that AG Barr had no idea what this was about and was not involved. That said, we know from the Intelligence Community whistleblower’s complaint that the whistleblower asserted that AG Barr was involved. Whether this was in reference to the President’s statement that he’d have the Attorney General follow up in the July 2019 phone call or based on some other information the whistleblower has is unclear. So some of this is accurate and confirmable, some of it may be accurate, but is not currently confirmed, and some I’m not sure could ever be confirmed.
As for the answers regarding erstwhile Republican congressional candidate Rob Hyde, I find it hard to believe that Parnas was more concerned about him when he was drunk at the bar at a Trump property than when he was texting Parnas that he had a US ambassador under surveillance and wanted to know if money was available to move on her. I’m also not buying Hyde’s answers in his interview with Sinclair’s Eric Bolling this evening. He’s in a lot of trouble, has a history of making terroristic threats, and has something of a drinking problem.
The releases of the information that Parnas has turned over to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence are all interesting. And like tonight’s interview some of that information is accurate and true, some is disinformation, and some is agitprop. The proof will be in the vetting of that documentary information, just as it will be in the vetting of the information Parnas provided this evening. It is important to remember that Parnas is alleged to be a low level member or associate of post-Soviet and Russian organized crime. He is only as credible as his statements and documentary evidence can be verified.
And that’s where I get to the format/process problem. I’ve conducted semi-structured interviews as part of my work for the US Army and I’ve trained Soldiers on how to do them to collect information and intelligence. I’ve mentioned before that over a four to five month period I interviewed around 50 sheikhs, imams, and other local elites and notables using a semi-structured format across central Iraq (Baghdad Province and parts of Anbar, Wassit, and Diyala Provinces). I’m a huge fan of putting the subject of the interview at ease and letting them tell you their story – the true parts, the false parts, and the parts that fall in between. But there is a difference between doing that, and being prepared to ask sound follow up questions rooted within the context of the answers and information you’re being provided, and credulously just eating it up while looking focused and concerned. And this means asking questions like: “how do you know?” and “can you provide verification for that?” or “do you have documents about that?” or “who else should we talk to in order to verify that?”. I’m not qualified to judge whether Maddow’s interviewing process made for compelling television, but from an information gathering standpoint it was a failure. Maddow was far too credulous and failed to ask the necessary follow on questions. I will make an important caveat: she may have been prevented from doing so by agreement with Parnas’s attorney about the format of the interview. But, if that was the case, then it should have been disclosed. I’ve seen Maddow do far more adversarial and far better interviews with friendly guests. This was not one of her best outings.