As the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee conducting the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump, Rep. Devin Nunes is supposed to appear in the title pages of committee documents as an honorific — not in the body of a 300-page investigation into presidential abuse of power.
But here we are.
Nunes — who serves a conservative district in California’s Central Valley — is one of President Trump’s most ardent defenders in Congress, and he used his position during the committee’s open hearings to deride the impeachment inquiry as a “drug deal” and a “sham.” Nunes told witnesses before the committee that they were participants in the Democrats’ “theatrical” television drama. “The main performance — the Russia hoax — has ended,” Nunes said, referring to the Mueller investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin, “and you’ve been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel.”
Yet the release of the committee’s report on Tuesday casts Nunes himself as a player in this drama. The report, authored by the Democratic majority, cites phone records that connect Nunes to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney who ran point on the administration’s off-the-books Ukraine policy, and to Lev Parnas, a Giuliani associate who allegedly sought riches from energy deals in the eastern European nation. Parnas has since been indicted in the U.S. for conspiracy and campaign-finance crimes.
The report cites call records from mid-April of this year showing contacts between Nunes and Giuliani and separately between Nunes and Parnas. It reads in part: “Phone records… 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.” Call records reproduced in the report also show a series of phone calls between Nunes and Parnas on April 12th, with the longest stretching more than 8 minutes.
More calls between Devin Nunes and Lev Parnas, including one that lasted 8 minutes on April 12. pic.twitter.com/ghBOKKHohc
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) December 3, 2019
What was Nunes discussing with these key actors in the Ukraine scandal? His communications director, Jack Langer, did not respond to questions from Rolling Stone. The Intelligence Committee report, however, places the Nunes calls amid a flurry of phone activity following the April 7th publication of an article in The Hill by John Solomon, whom the report describes as the “author of articles promoting debunked conspiracy theories about the Bidens, Crowdstrike, and the 2016 U.S. election.”
The Solomon article — “Ukrainian to US prosecutors: Why don’t you want our evidence on Democrats?” — claimed that Ukrainians possessed evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. It also cited Giuliani’s investigative work on the president’s behalf: “President Trump’s private attorney Rudy Giuliani — former mayor and former U.S. attorney in New York City — learned about some of the allegations while, on behalf of the Trump legal team, he looked into Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.”
The Intelligence Committee report states that, “over the course of the four days following the April 7 article, phone records show contacts between Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas, Representative Devin Nunes, and Mr. Solomon. Specifically, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas were in contact with one another, as well as with Mr. Solomon.” (There is no evidence in the report that Nunes and Solomon were in direct contact.) Nunes’ connection to these key figures in the impeachment inquiry has stirred critics to charge that the congressman should have recused himself from the proceedings — as he did in the Russia probe — rather than stand as the president’s in-House defender.
For his part, Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff deflected direct questioning at a Tuesday press conference about why Nunes appears in the report and whether the ranking Republican should have recused. Schiff’s careful language is worth reproducing at length: “In terms of the ranking member, it won’t surprise you that I’m going to reserve comment,” Schiff said. He added: “It is, I think, deeply concerning that, at a time when the president of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival, that there may be evidence that there were members of Congress complicit in that activity. Now, there’s a lot more to learn about that, and I don’t want to state that that’s an unequivocal fact. But the allegations are deeply concerning. Our focus is on the president’s conduct first and foremost. It may be the role of others to evaluate the conduct of members of Congress.”
The inclusion of Nunes in the Intelligence Committee report came on the same day that Nunes himself filed a $435 million defamation lawsuit against CNN for what he insists is a false report, relying on information from Parnas, that he visited Vienna in December 2018 and met there with a former Ukrainian prosecutor. The lawsuit contends Nunes was traveling in Libya and Malta at the time of the alleged Vienna trip and has never met the Ukrainian. The complaint blasts CNN for relaying information from Parnas, whom Nunes’ legal team describes as “a renowned liar, a fraudster, a hustler, [and] an opportunist with delusions of grandeur” who has endeavored to “concoct a plan to obstruct the impeachment inquiry” while seeking “to obtain favorable treatment, concessions and/or immunity from criminal prosecution.”
In an interview with Sean Hannity on Tuesday night, Nunes could not explain why phone records linked him to the disreputable Parnas, explaining he had no recollection of the calls, adding: “It seems very unlikely that I would be taking calls from random people.”
Hannity: Did you ever talk to this guy Lev Parnas?
Devin Nunes: You know it’s possible but I haven’t gone through all my phone records. I don’t really recall that name. pic.twitter.com/NY8PXPdUC9
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) December 4, 2019
For his part, Parnas has a far more specific recollection, as his lawyer related to Yamiche Alcidor of PBS NewsHour:
Lev Parnas' attorney, Joseph Bondy, added: "Devin Nunes was definitely part of an attempt to gather information about the Bidens. He was definitely involved in Ukraine. He definitely had involvement in the GOP shadow diplomacy efforts in Ukraine, contrary to his claims."
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) December 3, 2019