Yesterday, Devin Nunes, the comically litigious congressional Republican who has orchestrated President Trump’s defenses in the Russia and Ukraine scandals, filed another lawsuit — this time against CNN, for reporting Lev Parnas’s allegations that Nunes had met with a Ukrainian oligarch. “CNN was well-aware that Parnas was a renowned liar, a fraudster, a hustler,” charges Nunes. Parnas is so dishonest and disreputable, argues Nunes, that CNN was irresponsible even to publish his allegations.
In a highly inconvenient coincidence of timing, within hours of Nunes’s lawsuit, the House Intelligence Committee published a report on the scandal that included new phone records. These records show that Nunes and Parnas have spoken on the phone several times.
It seems like a weird choice for Nunes to have taken a bunch of calls with a known liar, fraudster, and hustler. Nunes habitually refuses to answer questions from journalists about his activities. Instead he appeared last night on Sean Hannity. “Did you ever talk to this guy Les Parnas, or whatever his name is?” asked the Fox News host. (That Lev Parnas, who met repeatedly with the president and worked closely for months with his lawyer, has now been demoted to “this guy” indicates how much trouble he poses now that he is cooperating with law enforcement.)
“You know it’s possible,” replied Nunes, “but I haven’t gone through all my phone records.” It’s possible? The House Intelligence Committee has gone through the phone records! Nunes is on the records! This isn’t a hypothetical question!
Nunes’s lawsuit does not deny reporting by CNN — or by the Daily Beast, which he also previously threatened to sue — that he worked with Parnas to discredit Joe Biden. Instead it focuses on Parnas’s claim that Nunes met in Vienna with Viktor Shokin, the corrupt former Ukrainian prosecutor who has spread pro-Republican conspiracy theories. Nunes denies having met with Shokin, or having traveled to Vienna during the time in question. It shows a series of photographs of Nunes in Malta and Libya.
It is certainly possible that Parnas’s secondhand account of this meeting is false. Unfortunately for Nunes, his lawsuit relies on the theory that CNN was negligent to publish an allegation by Parnas who is a notorious criminal and liar, yet Nunes himself consulted with Parnas on several occasions.
To date, the only defense to emerge from the Nunesphere is the suggestion that maybe the person speaking to Parnas on Nunes’s phone all those times was somebody other than Devin Nunes:
The House Intelligence Committee also has some bad news for Nunes’s former aide, Kash Patel. In October, the New York Times reported that Patel, whose official role is supposed to concern counterterrorism, helped direct Ukraine policy (specifically, Trump’s scheme to leverage Ukraine for political gain). Patel sued the Times, denying he had “played a role in shadow foreign policy.” Unfortunately for Patel, the House report has call records showing his number too:
Call records also show that around midday on May 10, Mr. Giuliani began trading aborted calls with Kashyap “Kash” Patel, an official at the National Security Council who previously served on Ranking Member Devin Nunes’ staff on the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Patel successfully connected with Mr. Giuliani less than an hour after Mr. Giuliani’s call with Ambassador Volker. Beginning at 3:23 p.m., Eastern Time, Mr. Patel and Mr. Giuliani spoke for over 25 minutes. Five minutes after Mr. Patel and Mr. Giuliani disconnected, an unidentified “-1” number connected with Mr. Giuliani for over 17 minutes. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Giuliani spoke with Mr. Parnas for approximately 12 minutes.
The records don’t say what Patel discussed with Giuliani, but the timing sure seems to indicate that the subject was Ukraine.
One might get the impression that the whole Nunes operation revolves around generating wild lies to defend Trump, funneling those lies through right-wing propaganda outlets, and bullying news organizations who debunk the lies with expensive lawsuits designed to intimidate them.