How Lev Parnas took a blowtorch to Donald Trump and saved his own neck in the process

When Lev Parnas appeared on the Rachel Maddow show last night, he didn’t just take a blowtorch to everyone involved in Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal. He transformed himself from a shadowy criminal punchline into a relatable human figure. Yes, he’s still one of the bad guys. But now he’s a real live person on your television. He’s a guy you’re glad came forward. He’s a guy whose story you believe, or mostly believe.

Even before the interview, it was easy to put together why Lev Parnas was bypassing Department of Justice in favor of cooperating with the House and the media: he doesn’t trust the DOJ as long as Trump and Bill Barr are running it, and he thinks his chances of getting eventual leniency from the post-Trump DOJ are better if he helps to take Trump down. It wasn’t until the end of the interview that the other part of the equation became clear, but we should have seen it sooner.

When Maddow was doing an extended handoff with Lawrence O’Donnell, he asked why Lev Parnas was willing to give such a self-incriminating interview. Maddow said that Lev thinks going public represents his best shot at survival. That’s when it became clear just how precarious of a position Parnas is in. His own text messages reveal that he participated in a conversation (which he now says wasn’t serious) about hiring local goons in Ukraine to target U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. If you’re part of a criminal conspiracy involving discussions of physically harming a U.S. Ambassador, you know that the conspiracy in question is out of control – and maybe you’re the one who ends up getting physically harmed.

There are still a lot of questions about whether Donald Trump and Bill Barr were involved in the “suicide” of Trump’s pal Jeffrey Epstein. There is no question that Vladimir Putin has murdered several people who have gotten in his way, and let’s not forget that Lev Parnas pissed off a Kremlin oligarch during this crime spree. Would Putin really risk bumping off a U.S. citizen like Parnas just to help out Trump? It’s enough that the question has to be asked at all.

But if Lev Parnas was in physical danger from one side or another, that probably goes out the window now. He was just on live national television. He’s everybody’s favorite reformed former Trump henchman now. It would cause way too much of a stink if someone “disappeared” Parnas now. It’s not just that Lev may have saved his own neck in terms of doing less prison time; he may have just saved his own neck literally.

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