Nunes is "quite likely" to face ethics investigation over alleged meeting with Ukraine official

Nunes is threatening to sue CNN for reporting that Guiliani associate Lev Parnas implicated him in Ukraine scandal

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published November 25, 2019 10:59AM (EST)

Devin Nunes (Jeff Malet Photography)
Devin Nunes (Jeff Malet Photography)

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., threatened legal action against media outlets that reported on indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas’ allegations that he met with a former top Ukrainian prosecutor at the center of the pressure effort that triggered the House impeachment inquiry.

Parnas attorney Joseph Bondy told CNN on Saturday that his client is prepared to testify that Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, met with former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in December 2018 where he pressed Shokin on “the urgent need to launch investigations into Burisma, Joe and Hunter Biden, and any purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.”

Shokin was forced out after pressure from numerous Western nations over complaints that he was not pursuing corruption investigations. President Donald Trump and Giuliani have claimed that he was forced out because he was investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian gas firm that employed Hunter Biden, even though there is no evidence to support their claims.

Nunes refused to respond to the allegations when questioned by CNN.

"I don't talk to you in this lifetime or the next lifetime,” Nunes told a CNN reporter. “At any time. On any question.”

The CNN report came after Bondy told The Daily Beast that Parnas helped Nunes set up meetings in Europe for his investigative work. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., called out Nunes over the report at Thursday’s impeachment hearing, suggesting that Nunes may be a “fact witness” in the case.

Asked about the reports by Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on Sunday, Nunes claimed that he could not answer the question.

“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.”

Nunes threatened to sue both CNN and The Daily Beast, claiming their reports were “criminal in nature” because they spoke with Parnas’ lawyer, who Nunes claimed was “likely conspiring to obstruct justice.”

“You’re telling me that CNN committed criminal activity?” Bartiromo asked.

“Well, it’s very likely. Or they’re an accessory to it,” Nunes replied.

It’s unclear why Nunes is claiming that Parnas’ attorneys are trying to obstruct justice. Bondy has repeatedly called for House investigators to interview his client in connection with the Ukraine scandal. Parnas, who was indicted alongside partner Igor Fruman last month on charges that they illegally funneled foreign money to Republican politicians, initially hired former Trump attorney John Dowd and vowed to stonewall the investigation before flipping and agreeing to cooperate with investigators after Trump claimed not to know him.

“President Trump’s recent and regrettable disavowal of Mr. Parnas has caused him to rethink his involvement and the true reasons for his having been recruited to participate in the President’s activities,” Bondy told The Daily Beast. “Mr. Parnas is prepared to testify completely and accurately about his involvement in the President and Rudy Giuliani’s quid pro quo demands of Ukraine.”

Parnas’ attorneys and associates have revealed numerous new details about his role in the pressure campaign, including his claim that Trump tasked him with a “secret mission” to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his allegation that he threatened that aid to Ukraine would be withheld unless they launched the Biden probe on behalf of Giuliani. Giuliani and Fruman have denied the allegations.

Bondy told CNBC on Sunday that Parnas is also prepared to testify under oath that Nunes met with Shokin and canceled a trip to Ukraine earlier this year to avoid alerting Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Bondy told the network that Parnas is prepared to testify that Nunes planned to meet two Ukrainian prosecutors who claimed to have evidence that could help Trump’s reelection campaign. After realizing that they would have to inform Schiff of the trip, they instead asked Parnas to set up meetings for them over the phone and video chat, the attorney said.

Parnas began working with Nunes after his top investigator, Derek Harvey, traveled to Vienna in November 2018 to meet Shokin, Bondy said.

Though it’s unclear if the Intelligence Committee will interview Parnas, multiple sources told ABC News that the committee has received audio and video recordings and photographs from Parnas that include Trump and Giuliani.

"Mr. Parnas has vociferously and publicly asserted his wish to comply with his previously issued subpoena and to provide the House Intelligence Committee with truthful and important information that is in furtherance of justice, not to obstruct it,” Bondy told ABC News.

Some of the material is already in possession of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, which is also investigating Giuliani over his overseas dealings.

Schiff told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the committee will review the files before deciding whether to interview Parnas.

But Parnas’ allegations also triggered an ethics complaint from the Democratic Coalition accusing Nunes of “abuse of his official office,” citing disclosures that revealed that Nunes spent nearly $57,000 in taxpayer funds on a trip to Europe in 2018 to pursue his investigations.

"Rep. Nunes allegedly met foreign officials on an overseas Congressional delegation using taxpayer funds which appears to be related to obtaining materials solely for the purposes of domestic politics," the complaint said. “Rep. Nunes is currently engaged in overseeing an investigation which it appears he is a fact witness, and which may examine his own activities meeting with foreign officials.”

The complaint added that Nunes “failed to either disclose his conflict of interest with the investigation or that he has firsthand knowledge of the persons of interest to the committee.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., told MSNBC on Sunday that he expects the House Ethics Committee to investigate Nunes over the reports.

“Quite likely, without question,” he said, adding, “I understand a lot of this is about Joe Biden but the bigger thing is about what President Trump and the Russians and all these people have been doing ... is a systematic problem that is a threat to the country because of what Russia is doing to democracy.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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