The other day I watched some street interviews in Moscow. The first person said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was justified because Ukrainian government officials were Nazis. The second said that the invasion was necessary because Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is a Jew and, as such, is stealing everything. Later, I watched Donald Trump give a campaign speech praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and calling the U.S. intelligence community “lowlifes.” Meanwhile, the people of Ukraine are dying by the tens of thousands.
If that makes you feel bad, you may be able to imagine how I feel: I was used by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in ways that helped pave the way for Putin to invade Ukraine, my native land. If Trump and Giuliani’s plans had worked, the Ukrainians might not have had the necessary weapons, medical equipment, and other supplies they needed to fight back.
In 2021 and 2022, I was convicted of several serious crimes including fraud, making false statements, and illegally funneling foreign money to the Trump campaign. I was sentenced to 20 months in prison, served four, and am on home confinement for the remainder. Now that I am paying my debt to society, I think it is important to tell my side of the story.
My connection to Trump came through Giuliani, with whom I had done business, and through the large campaign donations I had made to Trump’s campaign. Giuliani, who desperately wanted to be Secretary of State, recruited me to help him further Trump’s interests overseas. I had no official position, but my primary task was to be their go-between with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs and government officials. In retrospect, I concluded that my real job was to help undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian government.
U.S. President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, U.S., on Sept. 20, 2019.
Trump and Giuliani argued that Ukraine’s leaders were corrupt and anti-American, but I believe there were other reasons Trump had it in for them. He viewed them as political enemies who had supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, hurting his feelings and engaging his unquenchable thirst for revenge. Trump also hated the Ukrainian government because Putin did. Some have said that Putin has compromising information on Trump, regarding money laundering or prostitutes, but those theories are promoted by people who did not know Trump well. I never saw evidence of that kind. Rather, I think the Russian leader had a lot in common with Trump’s father, Fred. Both men were authoritarian leaders who valued ruthlessness and considered it the only way to succeed. I first met Fred when I was selling condos in Brooklyn as a kid and he and Putin struck me the same way. Both men had immense effects on Donald Trump.
Trump acted on his hatred of Ukraine as he tried to improve his re-election chances in 2020. The plan that Giuliani and Trump put into operation was simple. Giuliani sent me to collect compromising information that the Eastern European oligarchs had on Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine to use against Joe Biden. It was also my job to convince the new Ukrainian government to announce an official investigation into Hunter Biden. If they didn’t, the U.S. would not send Trump or Vice President Mike Pence to Zelensky’s inauguration, threatening Zelensky’s domestic stature and his ability to stand up to Putin. Trump also paused much needed military aid for Ukraine while he tried to get Zelensky to open the Biden investigation.
Trump didn’t care if this made Ukraine vulnerable to Russia, which had annexed Crimea from the country in 2014. At about the same time, Trump casually asked me: “How long do you think Ukraine could hold out against a Russian invasion?” I responded: “Not long, without our help.” I eventually realized that not only was I enabling Trump’s dirty tricks in the 2020 election, I was also risking that Ukraine would be essentially unarmed when Putin invaded. Trump was determining the future of two countries and affecting the lives of millions. And who was I? Just another guy who’d made some money from the Soviet Union’s collapse, just some guy from the streets of Brooklyn who hadn’t even finished college.
Trump weakened Zelensky, but fortunately, Biden won the 2020 election and Ukraine received a steady supply of weapons. Since my arrest, I have done my best to help the people of Ukraine with charitable works, but Giuliani is still peddling his version of events and even now Republican politicians are campaigning to stop the pipeline of weapons and medical supplies. They are just trying to please Trump, exactly as Giuliani does. And whether they realize it or not, they are making it easier for Putin and his gang to steal everything they can from Ukraine.
For more on Rudy Giuliani, watch When Truth Isn’t Truth: The Rudy Giuliani Story, a new four-part series from TIME Studios that explores the former prosecutor’s rise to power, his fall from grace, and how little he changed in between. The series airs at 10pm ET Sun. Feb. 19 on MSNBC and streaming on Peacock TV.