And so the allegation facing Nunes goes like this: That he was in on the very thing Congress has launched an impeachment inquiry over.
Let’s review the allegation, the players, and what Nunes has said about all this.
That Nunes and/or his staff met with Ukrainian officials whom U.S. diplomats have described as “corrupt" and who were feeding information to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to try to help Trump’s reelection.
The allegations all come from Parnas, a business associate of Giuliani. He was serving as Giuliani’s messenger in Ukraine because he spoke Russian. Through a lawyer this fall, Parnas said he would be willing to testify under oath that Nunes was working with them to damage former vice president Joe Biden before the 2020 election. Parnas gave Democrats in Congress thousands of pages of documents and even video about his work with Giuliani in Ukraine.
Now we know what some of those documents said. They lay out that this spring, months before the whistleblower complaint would come to light, Parnas was texting Nunes aide Derek Harvey, trying to connect Harvey with a Ukrainian prosecutor and sharing information about other Ukrainian officials.
Why would a House Republican aide want to talk to a Ukrainian prosecutor? Well, we know that Nunes is a Trump ally who has gotten in trouble before for being seen as doing Trump's bidding in Congress.
In March, Parnas sent Harvey a link to a 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?” the Nunes aide texted back a few days later.
Beyond the texts, there is more evidence that Nunes’s office was interested in information about Biden.
CNN reported in December that Parnas would be willing to testify that Nunes traveled to Vienna last year to meet with former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. 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.
And CNBC reported in December that Parnas would be willing to testify that Harvey wanted to travel to Ukraine for this but scrapped the trip after he realized he would have to report it to the top Democrat on the committee, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). Instead, they talked over Skype, according to Parnas’s allegation.
Texts show that Parnas was actively setting up a call with Harvey and Shokin and other Ukrainians who may have felt threatened by members of the Obama administration:
“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.
What Nunes has said about this
When this came out in November, Nunes said stories reporting this were false, but he didn’t explicitly deny the allegations. And he has since changed his story about whether he knew Parnas, allowing that he now remembers a call with him.
Here’s Maria Bartiromo asking him in November on Fox News whether he met with Ukraine’s former prosecutor in Vienna last year, for any reason.
BARTIROMO: Bottom line, were you in Vienna with Shokin?
NUNES: Yes, 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. But because there is criminal activity here -- we're working with the appropriate law enforcement agencies. We're going to file all this. Everyone's going to know the truth. Everybody's going to know all the facts.
But I think you can understand that I can’t compete by trying to debate this out with the public media when 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt.
Shokin denied that he met with Nunes.
There’s another denial of Nunes’s that needs closer parsing. Parnas’s texts show him getting the contact information of Nunes from Harvey. Last month, Nunes said he didn’t recall Parnas’s name, let alone talking to him. Then this week, hours before Parnas himself went on MSNBC to lay out what he knows, Nunes went on Fox News and said he now remembers talking to Parnas:
“It was very clear. I remember that call, which was very odd, random, talking about random things. And I said, ‘Great, just talk to my staff,’ … which is normal, standard operating procedure.”
Harvey and Nunes didn’t comment on these new text messages.
Who’s making these allegations again?
Parnas is a Ukrainian American whose lawyer said he worked with Giuliani over the past year to try to find damaging information about the Bidens in Ukraine, with the goal of ousting then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Parnas and another associate, Igor Fruman, were indicted here in the United States on campaign finance charges related to removing Yovanovitch.
Yovanovitch testified that she thought their financial interests were threatened by her anti-corruption campaign in Ukraine. And now, texts released by Parnas raise the question of whether she was being surveilled by a Republican congressional candidate. (Parnas and that candidate, David Hyde, both said they were joking.)
Parnas has a motive for talking now about all he knows: He has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer told the New York Times that Parnas “reasonably believed Giuliani’s directions reflected the interests and wishes of the president” and that he is “remorseful for involving himself … in the president’s self-interested political plot.”
From there, it’s not a big leap to assume that Parnas could try to leverage his goodwill with Congress to the courts to get a lesser sentence.
What could happen to Nunes
Maybe nothing. It’s not clear that Parnas will get to talk to Congress about Nunes. When these allegations first came out, Schiff didn’t say whether he would reopen hearings to listen to them. It would seem like a politically rancorous thing to do now that Trump’s impeachment is out of the House and over to the Senate.
Some Democrats in Congress are saying they want a bipartisan panel in the House to investigate what Nunes did, on the grounds that he was using taxpayer money for a political purpose. That’s possible.
Nunes was already the subject of an ethics investigation by his peers in 2017, which looked at whether Nunes improperly gave Trump a heads-up on what the House Intelligence Committee was investigating with classified documents. The committee cleared him of wrongdoing.
Right now, it remains Nunes’s word against that of an accused criminal. But the texts from before Parnas was accused of a crime seem to back up the accused criminal’s story that Nunes was in on the Ukraine scheme.