Trump impeachment trial begins today — but shouldn’t Devin Nunes be in trouble, too?
Naturally, the impeachment’s Ukraine-centered plot is focused on Donald Trump and his white whale-like obsession with calling for dirt on likely opponent Joe Biden.
But I hope we don’t lose track of the other administration players in the process, and particularly not Rep. Devin Nunes, R-CA, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
New release of documents shows text messages and meetings between Lev Parnas, the now-talkative functionary between Rudy Giuliani and Ukrainian officials, and Derek Harvey, an aide to Nunes, as well as contacts with Nunes himself. All that would be interesting by itself, except that Nunes presented himself as something other in sitting in judgment of testifying witnesses before the Intelligence committee.
Nunes was sarcastic, outspoken and derisive in defending Trump and demeaning the appalled ambassadors and government witnesses who braved ridicule to testify about what they knew of a campaign to pressure Ukraine’s leader into calling for a Biden investigation based on very little in return for White House recognition and military aid from the United States.
Nunes feigned outrage when it was suggested that he had met or had had contact with Parnas. Now there are messages that show that to have been true.
My question is simple: Why is Nunes allowed to continue to serve as a congressman if he lies from his official office, sits on an important investigation in violation of any kind of understandable ethics standards and actually participated at any level in the exact allegations of misconduct being investigated by his committee?
Nunes has a long history of other strange behavior, and was called before the House ethics committee on allegations of sharing classified information about the Russia probe that led to the Mueller Report. He eventually was cleared of wrongdoing, but forced to cede his seat on all matters related to that investigation.
He also has been quick to vow or file lawsuits against fellow Congress members who criticize him, or against Twitter for allowing what he sees as defamatory social media posts about himself. The Fresno Bee newspaper in his home district endorsed his opponent in the last election.
The released documents indicate Nunes’s office was aware of the operation at the heart of impeachment proceedings against the president — and sought to use the information Parnas was gathering. They show that Parnas was working last spring to set up calls for Harvey, the Nunes aide, with the Ukrainian prosecutors who were feeding Giuliani information about Biden.
“Also do you want to interview the general prosecutor who got [ditched] by Biden? Also, the anti-corruption prosecutor? Let me know,” Parnas wrote on April 19. “Does tomorrow work?” Harvey responded.
The messages also show that Harvey met with Parnas and Giuliani at the Trump hotel in Washington.
According to The Washington Post, the text messages corroborate Parnas’s previous claims that he arranged conversations with the Ukrainian prosecutors for the Nunes aide. And they deepen questions about how much Nunes knew about the pressure campaign — even as he served as one of Trump’s most vociferous defenders during the House impeachment hearings.
Politico noted that he text messages show Harvey in contact with Parnas throughout the spring of 2019 — the same time Parnas was working with Giuliani and other Trump allies to remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch had been viewed as an obstacle to Giuliani’s effort to convince Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals.
“I was in shock when I was watching the hearings and when I saw Devin Nunes sitting up there,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow this week. “I texted my attorney. I said, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ ”
Records that the House Democrats released in December first showed calls between Parnas and Nunes. At the time, Nunes said he couldn’t remember speaking with Parnas.
Nunes told Fox News that he had reviewed his records, which refreshed his memory of having one conversation. “I checked it with my records and it was very clear — I remember that call, which was very odd, random, talking about random things, and I said, ‘great,’ you know, ‘talk to my staff,’ and boom, boom, boom. That’s just normal operating procedure,” Nunes said.
the documents released Friday show extensive interactions between Parnas and Nunes’s aide beginning in early 2019, including sharing op-eds story by conservative columnist John Solomon suggesting the Ukrainians sought to help Hillary Clinton win in 2016. “Any documents for us or are you going to keep working through Solomon?” Harvey texted back a few days later.
Harvey set up several in-person meetings, including with key individuals around Giuliani who were most involved in the Biden effort. The texts also indicate that Parnas passed information about a Ukrainian prosecutor and a copy of a Ukrainian passport of the tycoon who owns the gas company that placed Biden’s son Hunter on its board. How the copy of the passport was obtained, and what Harvey was planning to do with it, if anything, is unclear.
In the impeachment case, the information from Parnas, who is facing federal campaign charges, has increased pressure for further investigation – against the wishes of Republican senators who want to dismiss the charges as soon as possible.
But so far, there has been nothing said publicly about steps that the House Intelligence Committee, the House Ethics Committee or the House itself should take against Nunes.
It is bad enough that Trump had a renegade team running around trying to maneuver official foreign policy decisions for his own personal political benefit – regardless of whether a Republican Senate super-majority will find that such behavior is an impeachable abuse of office.
It is almost worse that the president’s chief defender in Congress himself seems to have been involved in the bad behavior. That surely must be over the line.
It would be refreshing to hear House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy say so, and assign an ethics investigation against his fellow Republican – without regard to how the impeachment process works out.