Schiff says phone records show Nunes may have been 'complicit' in Ukraine affair

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Tuesday that phone records unearthed in the impeachment investigation raised questions about whether his Republican counterpart on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, might have been “complicit” in a White House plot to pressure Ukraine.

“It is, I think, 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,” said Schiff, the California Democrat who led the House impeachment inquiry investigation. 

"Now there is a lot more to learn about that and I don’t want to state that that is an unequivocal fact,” Schiff added. "But the allegations are deeply concerning. Our focus is on the president’s conduct first and foremost. It may be the role of others to evaluate the conduct of members of Congress."

Schiff spoke to the press after releasing a 300-page report detailing the findings of his committee’s investigation. The report is being referred now to the House Judiciary Committee, where articles of impeachment against President Trump will be drafted.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff, left, and ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes. (Photos: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters; Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)

In the report, the Intelligence Committee divulged new details about a series of phone calls in early April among a handful of individuals, including Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer; Lev Parnas, an associate of Giuliani’s who has been indicted for campaign finance violations related to a Trump super-PAC; conservative journalist John Solomon; and Nunes.

The calls listed in the impeachment report took place in the days leading up to the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, in late April, following what the report described as a coordinated “smear campaign” to oust the diplomat from her post in Kyiv.

Solomon wrote articles for The Hill newspaper, beginning in late March, in which he aired a number of accusations against Yovanovitch, painting her as disloyal to Trump. 

Yovanovitch called the accusations against her “baseless” in her appearance before the Intelligence Committee and asked, “How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?”

“Ukrainians who sought to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is they found Americans willing to partner with them, and working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador. How could our system fail like this?” Yovanovitch said.

The accusations against Yovanovitch have fallen apart under closer examination, or have been retracted by their original sources. For example, former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko told Solomon in an article published March 20 that Yovanovitch had given him a list of people not to prosecute, but reversed himself a month later and said that had not happened. 

Marie Yovanovitch, former ambassador to Ukraine, appearing before the House Intelligence Committee, Nov. 15, 2019. (Photo: Matt McClain/Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Intelligence Committee impeachment report paints Parnas as an intermediary between Solomon and various contacts in or around the Trump administration, including the president himself. 

“On March 20, 2019, the day The Hill opinion piece was published, Mr. Parnas again spoke with Mr. Solomon for 11 minutes. Shortly after that phone call, President Trump promoted Mr. Solomon’s article in a tweet,” the impeachment report states. It also notes that the Solomon articles were “amplified on social media” by public figures close to the president, such as his son, Donald Trump Jr., and on Fox News.

At the same time, Solomon was writing articles alleging unethical behavior by former Vice President Joe Biden. Solomon’s reporting alleged Biden pressured authorities in Kyiv to fire a prosecutor to prevent an investigation into a Ukrainian energy company that had hired his son, Hunter Biden, to sit on its board. No evidence has surfaced to support this claim.

But the impeachment report indicates that the phone records also show this loose crew of associates passing information along to get the Biden story into Solomon’s articles and then onto Fox News. 

Over several days just prior to an April 7 article by Solomon that alleged anti-Trump behavior by Yovanovitch, phone records showed Parnas speaking to Solomon 10 different times, and to Giuliani 16 different times.

And then, on April 10, Nunes and Giuliani exchanged a series of short phone calls. On April 12, Nunes spoke to Parnas twice, once for a minute and a second time for eight minutes, on a day when Parnas was busy calling Solomon and Giuliani multiple times, along with a several-minute call with Trump attorney Jay Sekulow.

Conservative journalist John Solomon. (Screengrab via Fox News)

Yovanovitch was fired April 23. Schiff said the phone records were “consistent with a lot of coordination of this scheme” to oust Yovanovitch.

The firing of Yovanovitch, according to the impeachment report, removed a principled ambassador and left a vacuum that could be filled by “political appointees far more willing to engage in an improper ‘domestic political errand,’” namely Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden, a political rival.

Trump eventually asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden in a July 25 phone call. 

A lawyer for Parnas has already told the Daily Beast that Parnas helped arrange meetings for Nunes with people in Europe in late 2018, as Nunes sought information about the origins of the Mueller probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. The Parnas attorney, Joseph Bondy, then told CNN that Parnas is willing to testify to Congress that Nunes met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to discuss finding political dirt on Biden.

Nunes has sued CNN and said he did not meet with Shokin.

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