House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) used the majority of his public witness-grilling time during the past two weeks’ impeachment hearings to air conspiracy theories about the Ukrainian government, the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 election. Most wrote it off as nothing more than another poorly coordinated Trump-ally attempt to distract from the meat of the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
But recent news reports suggest that Nunes’ role in the ever-unfolding saga of the President’s Ukraine pressure campaign was more than peripheral.
Last week, The Daily Beast reported that Lev Parnas — an associate of Rudy Giuliani’s who helped with the Ukraine pressure efforts and who was recently indicted on campaign finance charges — helped Nunes arrange calls and meetings in Europe in 2018 to pursue his “investigations.” The Daily Beast cited Parnas lawyer Ed MacMahon in its reporting.
Later, CNN reported that Nunes met with a Ukrainian former prosecutor general, Victor Shokin, in Vienna in December of 2018. Shokin is at the heart of the conspiracy theory that Giuilani and Trump have cited in urging Ukraine to investigate the Biden family.
Citing Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy, CNN reported that Parnas learned from Shokin himself that the meeting took place.
Nunes has done little but issue blanket denials of the allegations since they first surfaced. Nunes didn’t respond to CNN’s requests for comments on Friday, but hours later told Breitbart news that the claims in the CNN report were “demonstrably false.”
On Sunday, the lawmaker skillfully dodged Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo when she asked him directly if he had met with Shokin by going after CNN and the Daily Beast, suggesting the reports were “criminal in nature” because the reporters were conspiring with Parnas’ lawyers, whom he claimed were attempting to obstruct justice.
“So look, Maria, I really want to answer all of these questions and I promise you I absolutely will come back on the show and answer these questions,” Nunes said. “But because there is criminal activity there, we’re working with the appropriate law enforcement agency.”
BARTIROMO: Were you in Vienna w/Shokin?
NUNES: Because there is criminal activity here, I'm not going to sit here & try to compete against the media
B: To be clear, you're telling me CNN committed criminal activity?
N: It's very likely, or they're an accessory to it, right? pic.twitter.com/epHJN0V7gK
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 24, 2019
It’s unclear exactly what “investigations” Nunes may have been pursuing during his travels, but when the lawmaker went to Europe with several of his close aides in late November and early December 2018, it was around the time that Giuliani was plotting with then-Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko to oust Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from Kyiv.
On his July 25 call with the President of Ukraine and elsewhere, Trump has repeatedly pointed to a theory advanced by Shokin and Lutsenko, and later touted in U.S. media by Giuliani. It alleges that former Vice President Joe Biden had Shokin removed from his role in Ukraine because he, as prosecutor, was probing Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.
The theory has been widely debunked. At the time, Biden was one of many Western leaders who wanted Shokin removed from office because he hadn’t demonstrated enough of a commitment to weeding out corruption in the country. By this logic, removing Shokin and replacing him with a more aggressive prosecutor would have in fact put Hunter Biden’s company in more danger.
Bondy told CNN Saturday that Parnas has every intention of complying with congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony as part of it’s impeachment inquiry and suggested in a tweet that Parnas might already be in communication with the committees conducting the probe. On Sunday, ABC News reported that Parnas had already handed over video, audio and photographic evidence to the committee.
Also on Sunday, CNBC reported on some additional testimony that Parnas hopes to share with lawmakers — that aides to Nunes called off a trip to Ukraine earlier this year upon realizing they’d have to inform House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the venture. Nunes was reportedly planning to have his aides interview at least two Ukrainian officials who have previously claimed they have evidence about Democratic operatives working in Ukraine during the 2016 election.
According to CNBC, when the aides became aware they’d have to inform Schiff, they opted to cancel the trip and take the meetings over the phone and via Skype.
There’s been quiet reactions from Congress to the allegations thus far. Noticeably tight-lipped is Schiff, who sits beside the accused lawmaker as they conduct the ongoing impeachment inquiry. House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-WA) offered on Sunday that Nunes would likely be investigated for breach of ethics.
Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) offered damning assessments of their California colleague on Monday.
On Nunes, @RepSpeier: "If he was on a political errand for the President that was using taxpayer funds inappropriately & he should be investigated by the Ethics Cmte & should be forced to repay the Treasury the money that was spent for a political activity." #AMRstaff
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) November 25, 2019
Nunes is an unhinged liar! He knows he met with Shokin in Vienna. This sounds like the midnight visit to the White House to try and prove a lie against Obama. Remember that? Parnas is going to out Nunes. Impeachment proceedings will reveal him and his lies.
— Maxine Waters (@RepMaxineWaters) November 25, 2019
Correction: This post originally reported that Parnas met with Shokin in Vienna.