The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee admitted Wednesday to speaking on the phone with a key figure in the Ukraine scandal after previously saying such a conversation would have been “very unlikely.”
The new revelation by California Rep. Devin Nunes comes after Democrats raised questions about his impartiality on investigating the Ukraine matter before impeachment articles were approved in December against President Donald Trump.
Last month, Democrats released phone records as part of their impeachment inquiry showing that Nunes and a top aide had exchanged multiple phone calls, at key moments, with Lev Parnas and other allies of President Donald Trump who were digging up dirt in Ukraine about Trump’s political rivals, primarily former Vice President Joe Biden. The Democratic report identified at least four calls or attempted calls between Nunes and Parnas, an associate of the President’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, including a call in April 2019 that lasted longer than eight minutes.
At the time, Nunes didn’t deny a conversation had taken place but cast doubt on the Democrats’ report.
“You know, it’s possible,” Nunes told Fox News when asked if he had ever spoken with Parnas. “But I haven’t gone through all my phone records. I don’t really recall that name.”
“I remember the name now because he has been indicted,” he added. “You know and I’ll go back and check all my records, but it seems very unlikely that I would be taking calls from random people.”
On Wednesday, Parnas gave a series of interviews, including one to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, in which he directly implicated Trump in the Ukraine scandal, disputing previous White House claims that overtures made by Trump and his allies to Ukraine were about rooting out corruption and not furthering his 2020 prospects. Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Parnas said he recalled talking to Nunes and that he had met him several times but that “we don’t have too much of a relationship.”
Asked about Parnas by Fox News’ Martha MacCallum on Wednesday, Nunes confirmed that he had spoken with the Soviet-born businessman as Democrats had indicated.
“Yeah, and if you recall, that was brand new when that had come out when I came on your show. Because I just didn’t know the name — this name Parnas,” Nunes said. “So, you know, what I always like to remind people is, you know, we are dealing with people every day. We’re an oversight committee. So we have incoming calls that come to my office, to my cell phone, et cetera, et cetera.”
He continued: “And then you know now that he had called my cell phone and I didn’t know his name. I didn’t remember the name. But I did remember going back, looking at where I was at the time. Because you know you can do that now. You actually know where you physically are. 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, just talk to my staff’ and boom, boom, boom. Which is normal, standard operating procedure.”
When the House was considering impeachment charges against Trump last year, Nunes was among the most visible Republicans defending the President, often repeating conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated claims about Biden’s dealings in Ukraine and foreign interference in the 2016 US election. CNN has reported that the US intelligence community believes that some of the theories Nunes endorsed, especially that the Ukrainian government meddled in the 2016 election, originated from Russian operatives as part of an orchestrated disinformation campaign.
Democrats have questioned Nunes’ impartiality for years. He was forced to step back from leading the committee’s Russia investigation in 2017 amid a controversy about his back-channel coordination with White House officials. The House Ethics Committee looked into whether he also had publicly revealed classified information but eventually cleared him in that matter.