Watch CBS News

Lev Parnas claims text messages show close ties to Ron DeSantis

Lev Parnas claims text messages show close ties to Ron DeSantis
Lev Parnas claims text messages show close ties to Ron DeSantis 06:30

MIAMI - "This is really the first time I'm [talking about] Ron DeSantis because it was primarily all Trump, Trump, Trump," Lev Parnas told me this week. "And now that Ron's running for president, I feel it's my duty to finally get the truth out there."

Parnas is the Ukrainian American businessman who was a central character in the scandal surrounding Donald Trump's first impeachment. Working with Rudy Giuliani, Parnas sought damaging information from Ukrainian government officials on Hunter Biden in 2019. That same year he would also be arrested and ultimately convicted of defrauding investors and accused by federal prosecutors of illegally funneling Russian oligarch money into American campaigns. After Parnas's arrest, DeSantis announced he was turning over to the federal government a $50,000 donation from one of Parnas's companies to his 2018 campaign. Parnas's prosecution did not involve the contribution to DeSantis.

"This is a guy at RNC functions, Trump victory functions, he was at a lot of these things," DeSantis said on October 16, 2019. "This guy was viewed as one of the top supporters of the president in Florida, and so it was just like any other donor, nothing more than that.

In his first television interview regarding DeSantis, Parnas said his relationship to the presidential candidate was far greater than DeSantis described at the time.

"I was more than just a donor or supporter," he said. "We became friends."

Parnas pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was also convicted by a jury of campaign finance crimes. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison and is now serving the remainder of his sentence under supervision at his home in Boca Raton where he is required to wear an ankle monitor. Parnas provided CBS News with more than 60 text messages he said were between him and DeSantis between May and October 2018. They purportedly reveal a concerted effort by DeSantis to have Parnas serve as a gateway into Trump's inner circle.

The existence of these text messages was first reported by Reuters.

The DeSantis campaign did not respond for a request for comment from CBS News. A spokesman for the campaign told Reuters, "This is another recycled narrative that has been proven wrong many times over."

Parnas described to CBS News the moment he said DeSantis approached him for the first time in the lobby of the then Trump International Hotel in Washington DC in early May 2018.
"He told me that he's running for governor of Florida and that he really, wanted to try to somehow get Trump's endorsement, Trump support," Parnas said. "And he told me that he was told that because of my relationship with Trump and Rudy, that I could make it happen."

In December 2017, Trump tweeted that DeSantis would make a great Governor, but he didn't formally endorse DeSantis until June 22, 2018.

"We had a relationship where it was not just one thing," Parnas claimed. "A - I was helping him with the Trump endorsement. B - I was also helping him with a lot of the fundraising. C - I was helping him with people in Florida because I'm a Florida guy and I know a lot of people in Florida.

The text messages Parnas provided to CBS appear to show DeSantis regularly contacted Parnas, asking for help with bringing in big money donations. In one text, DeSantis asked regarding a possible donor "would it be reasonable for me to ask him to donate $50K? I think he did six figures for Trump."

Parnas responded: "I'll call you later and give you a good insight."

The texts he gave CBS News showed they shared gossip about different donors, and speaking of another possible donor, DeSantis wrote: "Make sure Robert gives a lot!"

"I mean, I've introduced him to a lot of wealthy donors, even donors that donated to him before I would go out there and see him and ask them to give more money," he said.

Parnas said he was helping DeSantis because he wanted to get involved in the marijuana industry in Florida.

"I was a very big cannabis supporter, and I knew Ron at the time was not, he was anti cannabis," Parnas said. "And I made it clear to him, I said to him, `Listen, Ron, it's very difficult for me to support somebody that is going to go against things that I'm going to need, want in the state of Florida.

"And that's when Ron turned around to me and said, `You know what? I would be open to thinking differently about cannabis if you were to give me Trump's support.'"

In July 2018, a few weeks after Trump's formal endorsement, DeSantis came out in support of medical marijuana. The text messages Parnas provided also show DeSantis suggested Parnas should encourage Giuliani to attack his opponent, Andrew Gillum, who had become enmeshed in a public corruption investigation.

On October 26, 2018, just days before the election, Parnas wrote "Hey Ron I'm going to have Rudy do a tweet about how crooked Gillum is."

DeSantis wrote back: "He needs to hit him hard on his scandal - can say as a prosecutor this would be an indictable case etc."

After the election Gillum was indicted. He was found not guilty of lying to the FBI and the remaining charges were dropped by prosecutors.

In the runup to the November 2018 election, Parnas and Giuliani flew around the state, following DeSantis's campaign plane and appearing with him at various rallies. On election night, one of the first people DeSantis hugged on stage was Parnas, telling him, "we did it."

Parnas said he was invited to the inauguration and the ball held in Tallahassee in early January 2019. He said DeSantis promised to make him part of the transition team, but never did.

"I thought he was my friend," Parnas said. "I thought he was going to, you know, be a good governor of all of this. We have all these ambitions, all these plans. And all of a sudden, once he became governor, you know, he pretended like, you know, he has no time for me."

Asked why the public should believe what he was saying, since he was convicted of fraud and campaign finance violations, Parnas said: "Well you have to look at life as well. You know, people make mistakes. And yes, what I've done, I'm paying the price for it and I'm currently still paying the price for it. That doesn't mean that my whole life, that's who I am or my whole life, that's who I was. But I have no reason to lie. I'm doing this because I want to get the truth out. I want to make my wrongs right. And I mean, let the people judge for what they want."

Parnas said he met privately with DeSantis one last time in January 2019 after DeSantis was sworn in. He said DeSantis told him they were still friends but could no longer be seen publicly together because of the stories starting to emerge about Parnas. According to Parnas, DeSantis told him, "you're still my boy." After that, he says DeSantis stopped returning his calls.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.