Sometimes there are conspiracy theories. Sometimes there’s just a conspiracy
It wasn’t until the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump was finishing up in the House Intelligence Committee and the committee’s report was on its way to the House Judiciary Committee that the public learned that one of the Intelligence Committee members questioning the witnesses could have himself been a witness. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, as it turned out, was sitting on the wrong side of the table, asking questions in support of conspiracy theories of what happened in Ukraine, while he himself was deeply involved in trying to help Rudy Giuliani use Ukraine to ratf#ck the election.
When Nunes’ phone number popped up in the report from the committee, Republicans went wild with accusations. They included Doug Collins, claiming that Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff had subpoenaed Nunes’ phone records. He hadn’t. That Democratic attorneys had checked numbers from Giuliani against a list of House Republicans. Never happened. And the very, very Nunes claim that Schiff had “spied” on his House colleagues. Which … no.
What happened in the case of Nunes’ phone was simple. House investigators on the Intelligence Committee staff subpoenaed phone records for Rudy Giuliani and for his indicted Ukraine associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The numbers that were returned by those subpoenas were run through a reverse lookup to see who Trump’s conspiracy coordinators had been speaking with. And boom—up popped Nunes. It didn’t take any sort of surveillance or sophisticated effort to uncover the cow-suer because Republicans seem to have taken a cue from Trump when it comes to always using their personal phones for their illicit business.
But when it comes to connections to Lev Parnas, Nunes certainly isn’t alone. The subpoenas covered Parnas’ phone calls only during a brief period, so it’s not clear if anyone else who called him at another time turned up on his speed-dial list. However, Parnas has another list, one that’s already been discussed in court. As The Wall Street Journal reported back in October, donations from Parnas and Fruman went to 14 Republican candidates and groups. They included money from foreign sources that had been run through a shell company to disguise its origins from the FEC. In return for these investments, the pair of “South Florida businessmen” got access to top levels of the Trump White House and Republican functions.
Included in that list was a check cut to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and he wasn’t alone.
The biggest check that was cut from the company created to act as a front for illegal foreign funds went, unsurprisingly, straight into a PAC for Trump’s reelection. But it was far from all the money that made it’s way into the U.S. Even considering this single source, the distribution of money and influence across Republican ranks is daunting.
In Florida, where Andrew Gillum lost the race for governor by fewer than 33,000 votes out of over 8 million cast, Parnas and Fruman laundered one of their largest checks to now-Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. But not to worry. Now that it has become public, DeSantis says he will return the money. There is that little thing about the election that he won by 0.04% last year, but … no harm, no foul.
But McCarthy and other House Republicans didn’t just get the maxed-out personal checks Parnas and Fruman directed their way. Money also came to them through Republican joint fundraising organizations such as Protect the House, which shared those funds around to multiple races while, as the Journal puts it, avoiding detection of the fact that Giuliani’s business pals were “blowing past contribution limits.”
Rudy Giuliani’s long campaign of soliciting favors for Trump in Ukraine wasn’t only about manufacturing propaganda. It has also paid off in contributions that have been funneled to Republicans at all levels in the House and Senate. Why were Parnas and Fruman breakfasting with Trump Jr. and getting their pictures taken at the White House? Because they had connections that could support Trump both with false testimony provided by corrupt officials and with dollars provided by oligarchs—oligarchs who can already see that, when it comes to this Republican Party, anyone can play, so long as they bring the cash.
As Republicans stand up this week to debate the articles of impeachment brought against Donald Trump in the House, and as the process moves forward into the Senate, it’s worth remembering that this isn’t just Trump. It’s not just Nunes. It’s not just McCarthy. Dozens of Republican candidates now in both state and federal office were boosted in their campaigns by illegal foreign contributions directed to their accounts by the actions of Giuliani and others like him. Many of those who will rise to speak have a direct connection to the Ukraine scandal—and a feeling of gratitude. If they’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s that, if those issues ever do surface, it won’t be until after the election.
Sometimes there are conspiracy theories. Sometimes there’s just a conspiracy.