Problems continue to mount for one of Trump’s fiercest defenders in the House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California). On December 3, the House Intelligence Committee revealed in its impeachment report that Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani’s indicted associate Lev Parnas made calls to Nunes on April 10 and April 12. The report only states the existence of the calls, not their content, but highlights that they occurred four days after an opinion piece containing disinformation about Joe Biden was published in The Hill. The Intelligence Committee report alleges this was part of a “coordinated effort by associates of President Trump” to push “false narratives publicly.”
This has led to press reports questioning whether Nunes was an active participant in the very scandal he was tasked with investigating as the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee. While Nunes continues to deny knowing Parnas, Parnas’s attorney keeps tweeting that Parnas remembers Nunes and what they discussed. But as Nunes defends himself, he may be implicating more of his fellow Republicans in the Ukraine scandal.
Nunes reportedly spent $63,000 in taxpayer funds to travel to Europe from November 30 to December 3, 2018, when Parnas’s alleges he helped Nunes arrange meetings and calls. According to Parnas’s attorney, during that trip, Nunes met in Vienna with former Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin to try and dig up dirt on Joe Biden. Parnas was a major donor to the Republican party prior to his arrest in October. Parnas is currently under house arrest in Florida, and has pled not guilty to a conspiracy to funnel foreign money into U.S. campaigns. This week, the House Intelligence Committee impeachment report revealed call records showing Nunes spoke to both Parnas and Giuliani. This raises further questions as to whether Nunes was himself a part of the Giuliani-led effort to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election.
Nunes has denied the allegation that he met with Shokin, and claims he never went to Vienna in late 2018, but instead traveled to Libya and Malta. National security expert Marcy Wheeler pointed out this may mean Nunes submitted false reimbursement records to Congress, as the records show he traveled to Europe over the time period in question, not Africa. Nunes has taken the extreme step of suing CNN for defamation over their reporting on the matter, and is seeking over $435 million in damages. Nunes’s extreme litigation step is not unusual for him; he’s previously sued for defamation both a California stone fruit grower, as well as Twitter and two users named “Devin Nunes’ Cow” and “Devin Nunes’ Mom,” an account which once tweeted a picture depicting Nunes as a part of a human centipede connected to Trump and Putin. Nunes claims the accounts harmed him with “insulting words.”
According to the House Intelligence report, Giuliani was working with Parnas, Igor Fruman, and the former journalist and executive vice president of The Hill, John Solomon, on a smear campaign to oust Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. The report details how Giuliani worked with Solomon and Parnas to publish disinformation pieces. For example, the April 1 piece “Joe Biden’s 2020 Ukrainian Nightmare” cited Ukrainian prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko to claim that Biden had pressed Ukraine’s officials to crack down on corruption because his son was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Lutsenko’s information was “widely viewed to be corrupt,” according to the House Intelligence report, and Lutsenko has since disavowed his claims. (Solomon left The Hill in the Fall, and is now working doing press for congressional Republicans. The Hill is conducting a review of his work there).
The report indicates that Nunes may have been a part of this effort as well, as he was in contact with both Giuliani and Parnas in that time period. Phone records from 2019 show “contacts on April 10 between Mr. Giuliani and Rep. Nunes, consisting of three short calls in rapid succession, followed by a text message, and ending with a nearly three minute call.” On May 8, the same day that Giuliani called the White House switchboard and spoke with someone at the White House for over six minutes, Giuliani also called a member of Nunes’s staff in the Intelligence Committee, Derek Harvey. Parnas’s attorney claims that he was part of a “team” that met regularly in Trump’s D.C. hotel, a team that sometimes included Nunes’s aide Harvey.
Nunes appeared on Fox News multiple times last week attempting to distance himself as much as possible from Parnas. On December 3, following the news that the House Intelligence report documented calls between Nunes and Parnas, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked Nunes if he ever spoke to Parnas. Nunes, his voice shaking somewhat, said, “It’s possible but I haven’t gone through all my phone records. I don’t really recall that name.” That same day, Parnas’s attorney Joseph Bondy tweeted that Nunes should have “recused [himself] at the outset” of the impeachment hearings. On December 5, he told Fox host Martha MacCallum that he “had not been able to confirm” if he ever spoke to Parnas. He also said that many members of Congress speak to Giuliani, a comment that may not be very helpful to the rest of the Republican caucus. The same night as this Fox appearance, Bondy tweeted at Nunes, writing, “Lev remembers what you spoke about. You don’t remember?” Parnas and Bondy should both be treated with skepticism, and despite Bondy’s calls for Parnas to participate in public congressional hearings, a better forum to hear these claims would be the House Ethics Committee, as Marcy Wheeler has pointed out.
It remains unclear if or when the House will act to investigate Nunes further. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on December 4 that there are “serious questions that have been raised by Mr. Nunes’ actions, and we need to look at them.” Pressure for Congress to act on Nunes’s role is mounting. Daily Kos and other progressive organizations have started a petition calling on Congress to investigate Nunes. And on December 5, the Fresno Bee wrote a stinging indictment of his behavior, noting he’s been “absent” from his district while he’s been “traveling to Europe,” and called on him to “come clean on the phone calls” and provide travel records if he truly did not visit Vienna.
Nunes isn’t the only prominent Republican or conservative who may be caught up in this scandal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo received a packet of disinformation from Giuliani and spoke to him on the phone in March. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney openly admitted to a quid pro quo in an October press conference, only to try and walk it back later. Fox News host Sean Hannity was going to interview Ukrainian prosecutor Shokin, and Parnas and Fruman were traveling to Vienna to help arrange the interview on the day they were arrested (October 10), according to the Daily Beast. The day before, on October 9, Attorney General William Barr had a meeting with Rupert Murdoch. The content of their conversation has not been disclosed.
The more we learn, the more people in the Republican party are alleged to be caught up in the scandal. Nunes has been one of Trump’s leading sycophants for a long time. It landed him in an ethics investigation in 2017, and looks likely to land him in another one. Republicans have been fiercely loyal to Trump throughout this investigation. One must wonder if it’s because, for some of them, if Trump goes down, they also go down with the ship.