The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New text messages put Devin Nunes on the hot seat

Then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) rushes away from reporters after a Republican Conference meeting in March 2017. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

A month ago, when phone records showed contact between Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Lev Parnas, Nunes said he didn’t recall Parnas’s name and couldn’t confirm the call. On Wednesday, with Parnas about to appear on TV for the first time, Nunes suddenly offered a (very conveniently timed) confirmation, but he downplayed the call as being about “random things.”

Now, Nunes’s claims about his ties to Parnas are even more questionable.

Newly released documents Friday night showed Parnas in repeated contact with a Nunes aide, Derek Harvey. He appeared to be looping Harvey into the Ukraine effort led by Rudolph W. Giuliani, and the messages show the three of them met at the Trump hotel in Washington. Parnas also set up calls for Harvey with the same Ukrainian prosecutors who were working with Giuliani.

And in one exchange, there is an indication Harvey may have known this was all about Joe 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.

Harvey even apparently became angry that Parnas and Giuliani were sharing documents with conservative journalist John Solomon, rather than Nunes’s office.

The combined picture is a Nunes aide who was pretty abreast of what Giuliani and Parnas were up to — to the point where he was meeting with them and expressing frustration at not being the recipient of their information.

And that isn’t easy to square with the picture painted by Nunes. Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has suggested Parnas was just a person he didn’t know who was spouting a bunch of stuff that he wasn’t clued in on.

“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,” Nunes said on Fox News on Wednesday. “That’s just normal operating procedure.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent articles of impeachment to the Senate after several weeks of delay, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts swore in Senators. (Video: The Washington Post)

The newly revealed text messages suggest this was a call that Harvey set up for his boss. Harvey sent Parnas Nunes’s contact information on April 10, which is two days before phone records indicate the call took place. The call, according to the phone records, lasted eight minutes.

There is some indication that perhaps Nunes wasn’t as intimately involved in the situation as Harvey was. In one of his TV appearances, Parnas said he was told to work with Harvey because of Nunes’s ethics investigation.

“The reason why Derek Harvey was more — I understood, I was told at that time [that] because Devin Nunes had an ethics — something to do with an ethics committee, and he couldn’t be in a spotlight,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

The Devin Nunes-Ukraine allegations, explained

So it’s possible Harvey siloed himself off from his boss — and deliberately so. But he also set up a phone call for his boss with Parnas. To reconcile Nunes’s version of the call, Harvey did this without actually telling his boss what the call was to be about and what he had been working on with Parnas. And that’s on top of everything else that he was up to with Parnas and Giuliani, which Nunes’s comments suggest Harvey was freelancing on. It’s plausible, but it certainly raises plenty of questions. If you’re trying to keep the boss out of it, connecting him on a phone call with Parnas would seem to be the last thing you want to do.

Parnas, for his part, has said that phone call wasn’t the only time he spoke with Nunes.

“We met several times at the Trump hotel, but our relationship started getting basically where it expanded was when I was introduced to his aide, Derek Harvey,” Parnas said in the same interview.

President Trump has continued to deny knowing a former associate of his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, despite numerous photos of the two together. (Video: The Washington Post)

The reason all of this matters is that Nunes was leading the charge on President Trump’s defense during the House impeachment inquiry. Now we know his office was at least somewhat involved in the underlying effort to obtain information from Ukraine. If Nunes knew anything about that and didn’t disclose it, that would look very bad.

Parnas’s credibility is still in question, given he’s under indictment. But the new revelations bolster his claim to a relationship with Harvey — if not Nunes.

And the new revelations also call into question Nunes’s credibility. He has slow-walked this whole thing, saying he didn’t recall the name of a person he spoke to for eight minutes and then declining to confirm the call with Parnas for more than a month. He only did so when the documents started coming out — documents that Harvey might well have known would confirm the ties between Nunes’s office and Parnas. Now Nunes’s version of events is that he wasn’t at all clued in to what Parnas was up to.

It’s possible, but he may want to be a little bit more forthcoming.