House impeachment investigators sought Friday to pull Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, deeper into the Ukraine scandal at the center of President Donald Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial.
A set of text messages released Friday evening by the Intelligence Committee show a top Nunes aide, Derek Harvey, in frequent contact with Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani who has become a key figure in the Ukraine controversy that resulted in Trump’s impeachment last month. In one exchange, Harvey appears to pass along Nunes’ contact information two days before the Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report indicated that a phone connected to Nunes made contact with a phone connected to Parnas.
The text messages, provided to investigators by Parnas, 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, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Previously released information suggested Harvey and Parnas began communicating at least as early as January 2019.
Trump abruptly pulled Yovanovitch out of the country last May, and she testified publicly late last year in the impeachment inquiry, telling lawmakers she was the victim of a smear campaign.
The newly released text messages show Harvey asking Parnas to pursue several lines of inquiry with his Ukrainian contacts, including one regarding what Harvey calls “rumors” about coordination between the 2016 campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Harvey asked a few days later whether Parnas was preparing to send documents or if he would “keep working through [John] Solomon,” a reference to a former columnist at The Hill who was working closely with Parnas and Giuliani on the effort.
Over the next few weeks, the pair attempted to arrange Skype interviews between Republican staff of the Intelligence Committee and senior officials in Ukraine, including former prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuri Lutsenko, who had been working to oust Yovanovitch and had offered up allegations of dirt on Biden. Special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was released in the middle of their effort, and Harvey asked at one point if they could postpone a phone call while he dealt with “Mueller stuff.”
“Lev, I have not received anything to assist. I also need some additional time to prepare,” Harvey wrote on April 17, 2019. “Can we do this Thursday rather than 1pm Wednesday?”
It appears that at least one of the interviews ultimately occurred but Harvey then asked on April 19 to hold off on “any more interviews” until there were official letters exchanged and documents available.
The new text messages add another layer to Nunes’ potential involvement in the Giuliani-led effort to oust Yovanovitch and push the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation targeting Biden. Nunes' office did not respond to a request for comment.
House impeachment investigators first revealed late last year that Nunes exchanged a handful of phone calls with Parnas and Giuliani. Investigators obtained the call records from telecommunications company AT&T, and Republican lawmakers objected to the decision to publish identifying information about a sitting member of Congress, accusing House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff of abusing his authority to smear his political opponents.
Schiff has maintained that Nunes was not subpoenaed and that the information was lawfully obtained from AT&T. He has defended the decision to release the call records as part of his committee’s final report on the impeachment inquiry, citing Parnas’ and Giuliani’s relevance to the investigation.
In an interview on MSNBC earlier this week, Parnas said both Nunes and Harvey were “involved in getting this stuff on Biden,” adding that Nunes was trying to “help out.”
Schiff has declined to directly address Nunes’ possible involvement, but he suggested at a press conference in December that Nunes was “complicit” in what Democrats have described as Trump’s impeachable conduct.
“It is deeply concerning that at a time when the president of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival, that there may be evidence that there were members of Congress complicit in that activity,” Schiff said on Dec. 3.