The talk on TV today will no doubt devote a lot of time to discussing Rachel Maddow’s interview last night with Trump/Giuliani operative Lev Parnas and his attorney. There’s analysis (no paywall) at TPM, and Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice goes through it and provides a critique of Ms. Maddow’s interrogation style.
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.
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.
The bottom line is that no matter what Mr. Parnas said and no matter how good or bad Ms. Maddow was in conducting the interview, nothing of substance will come out of it in terms of the impeachment trial. The die is cast, the fix is in, Trump will be acquitted, and Lev Parnas will show up as an answer on the “Jeopardy!” GOAT tournament in 2035.