Live

Watch CBSN Live

Trump says he doesn't know Lev Parnas during religious freedom event

Trump talks impeachment at religion event

President Trump's Thursday White House event on protecting prayer in public schools became a defense of his own presidency when reporters began asking him questions about indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas and the now-underway Senate impeachment trial.

Mr. Trump insisted he does not know Parnas, despite the pair having been photographed together. Mr. Trump said he takes pictures with "thousands" of people all the time at fundraisers.

Parnas aided in pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and in the campaign to push out then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Parnas has said Mr. Trump "knew exactly what was going on in Ukraine."

But on Thursday, Mr. Trump told reporters "I don't know him at all, don't know what he's about, don't know where he comes from." 

The president added he doesn't need "the help of a man I never met before."

The president called the impeachment process as a "hoax." The event kicked off shortly after Supreme Court Justice John Roberts was sworn in for the Senate trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the trial is expected to begin "in earnest" on Tuesday. 

Also on Thursday, the Government Accountability Office determined it was illegal for the Trump administration to hold up Ukraine aid. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is connected to the White House, disagrees.

The president's event on Thursday was focused on ensuring religious groups are protected within schools, and religious entities aren't discriminated against by federal agencies.

"We call this the right to pray," the president said during his event. Mr. Trump said that while he is president, "we will not let anyone push God from the public square."

In conjunction with the announcement of what the White House calls "guidance on constitutional prayer in public schools," nine federal agencies are releasing proposed rules to ensure that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally by the federal government, and to ensure that organizations aren't discriminated against purely because they are religious. OMB is also releasing a memo telling grant-awarding agencies they must make sure the the terms of federal grants make clear that states can't condition awards in a way that would put religious groups at a disadvantage.

The Department of Education's rule looks to make sure religious student groups at public secondary schools have the same access to resources as non-religious groups, complete with reporting requirements for violations.

Mr. Trump's 2016 victory was buoyed by the evangelical Christian community, and he has emphasized his support for evangelical Christians through his policies.

CBS News' Arden Farhi and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report

View CBS News In