Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 6, 2019
Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee showered substantial shade on the recent parade of ambassadors, diplomats and national security folks who outlined the events leading towards impeachment of Donald Trump.
Nunes repeatedly called the process a sham, a “star chamber,” a hoax and every other epithet aimed at demeaning the process and committee chair Adam Schiff, D-CA.
What he didn’t say is that he was involved with key characters in the Team Trump rogue campaign to trade White House recognition of the vulnerable new Ukrainian president and to withhold military aid in return for an announced investigation into Joe Biden and son, Hunter, a move that would provide a personal political advantage for Trump.
Nunes did not recuse himself from the committee review, he did not own up to efforts to work with a Rudy Giuliani associate who was making the background arrangements, or even to acknowledge that he had a hand, however partial, in the events being recited before the committee.
That he did so was one of the more interesting parts of the release of the Intelligence Committee’s report on what it had learned during the hearings, and what might come next. There was a Republican version of events as well, one which Nunes signed, and which basically denied that many of the events had occurred, or if they had occurred, that they amounted to anything wrong, never mind impeachable.
Most press attention went elsewhere to disclosures that there had been substantial phone traffic and messaging among Giuliani, his associate Lev Parnas, the White House (to phone -1, presumably Trump himself) and the Office of Management and Budget. That will start to provide a paper trail to the witness accounts of a rogue diplomatic campaign and provide new leads to investigators.
There is plenty of reporting going on about those calls, which help cement the case that Trump was directing this effort. I’m choosing right now to be fascinated by the role that Nunes may have played. He has called the reports “fake,” but not specifically denied any of the events reflected. He said he cannot discuss them because Parnas and a partner are facing criminal charges of false reporting and campaign finance violations, among others.
I find the hypocrisy of his sitting in judgment of the impeachment witnesses while he was part of the picture to be disgraceful, if not illegal. Some of the details are, well, details, but overall, they tell a story of involvement by a congress member who should have none.
Here’s what we know about Nunes from news reports: Parnas, a business associate of Giuliani, is saying through his lawyer that he would be willing to testify under oath that Nunes was working with them to damage Biden before next year’s election. Parnas has produced documents and video about his work with Giuliani in Ukraine. We don’t know what, if anything, these documents say about Nunes.
Nunes has threatened to sue CNN for reporting that Parnas would be willing to testify that Nunes traveled to Vienna last year to meet with former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. CNN looked at congressional travel records and noted that Nunes traveled to Europe around that time on a taxpayer-funded trip.
The Washington Post noted that Shokin is the prosecutor Biden pressed Ukraine to remove in 2016 because he wasn’t doing adequate work to prosecute corruption. At the time, Biden was working on having Shokin removed, his son Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, which had once been under investigation and which has a known history of corruption. There is no evidence that Hunter Biden acted illegally or that Joe Biden was acting to influence policy toward Burisma.
According to CNBC, Parnas’s lawyer said his client would testify that a Nunes aide talked over Skype with other Ukrainian officials who have pushed theories about Democrats working in Ukraine during the 2016 election. Nunes aide Derek Harvey wanted to travel to Ukraine for this but scrapped the trip after he realized he would have to report it to Schiff. Instead, they talked over Skype, according to Parnas’s allegation.
Parnas’s attorney told The Washington Post that Harvey met with his client, Giuliani and their associates this spring at the Trump hotel in Washington to talk about Biden.
Vanity Fair says the new report included previously unreported call records that provide a window into Nunes’s involvement. These records suggest Nunes was actively involved in the smear campaign against Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine — who testified before this very committee — to clear the way for the rogue effort. That would-be ouster gained momentum after John Solomon, a former opinion contributor to The Hill.com, published a series of unfounded allegations about her and the Bidens, Nunes was in contact with a number of key figures, the phone records show, including with Giuliani, Solomon, and Parnas. Nunes had multiple contacts with Parnas, who like Giuliani was pushing the false allegations and the Bidens.
If borne out, all this means that Nunes, a powerful member of Congress who is deciding whether to impeach Trump over pressuring Ukraine attempted to help Trump by working to further his political goals in Ukraine.
Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist, argues that Nunes therefore should be called as a fact witness. She said Nunes’ “efforts to disrupt the hearings and toss out one red herring after another begin to reek of self-interested obstruction of the committees work.”
Now, let’s be clear that Parnas is trading information in hopes of a lesser sentence on whatever charges result in conviction.
At a minimum, Nunes ought to go before the House Ethics Committee. It is familiar ground to him — he was sent to the ethics panel in 2017 for improperly giving Trump a heads-up on what the Intelligence Committee was investigating, with classified documents. The committee, which has equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, cleared him of wrongdoing. Some Democrats are saying they want a bipartisan panel to investigate what Nunes did, on the grounds that he was using taxpayer money for a political purpose.
In a non-legal sense, Nunes simply deserves an electoral spanking for sitting in judgment while failing to own up to his own role. It is arrogance in the extreme.