• How Deeply Involved is Devin Nunes in the Conspiracy to Discredit Joe Biden?

    Seth Abramson on the Corrupt Insiders Mobilizing Against the Former Vice President

    In July 2019, per a CNN report, Joe diGenova, Victoria Toensing, Lev Parnas, and Parnas’s business associate David Correia met with two representatives for Russian-mob-linked Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash at the Trump International Hotel in DC to discuss Firtash’s extradition status. Given that diGenova and Toensing will shortly use their legal representation of Firtash to secure an affidavit from former Ukranian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin alleging crimes by Joe Biden, this meeting—intended to seal diGenova and Toensing as Firtash’s new legal counsel—is key to Donald Trump’s political future.

    It is not the first time diGenova, Toensing, and Parnas have congregated at the Trump International Hotel to discuss matters involving Joe Biden and Donald Trump—nor, apparently, is it even the tenth such meeting. More important, many of these meetings involve at least one representative of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) chairman Devin Nunes (who after the 2018 midterm elections becomes the ranking minority member of the committee). As summarized by Just Security based on a bevy of investigative reports by CNN, NBC, the Washington Post, CNBC, and the Daily Beast, “Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his top aide, Derek Harvey, have allegedly been working in part with Rudy Giuliani and his associates, including indicted businessman Lev Parnas, to get dirt from Ukraine on Joe Biden and to pursue other discredited conspiracy theories that would benefit President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.” CNN reports that in early 2019 “Parnas became part of what he described as a ‘team’ that met several times a week in a private room at the BLT [Prime] restaurant on the second floor of the Trump [International] Hotel. In addition to giving the group access to key people in Ukraine who could help their cause, Parnas translated their conversations.”

    According to the Washington Post, the “regular” salon-like gatherings described by CNN are “frequently” attended by Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman, John Solomon, diGenova, and Toensing. Harvey, acting as “Nunes’s proxy,” “sometimes” joins the group. Phone records will subsequently establish that even when Harvey does not attend the meetings in person, he stays in touch with Parnas by telephone, speaking or attempting to speak to the Florida businessman on—at a minimum—February 1, February 4, February 7, and April 5, 2019.

    Another apparent Nunes proxy, Kashyap “Kash” Patel, will speak extensively with Giuliani on May 10, “despite the fact,” the New York Times notes, “that Mr. Bolton, then the national security advisor [to the president], had said that no one in his office should be talking to Mr. Giuliani”; Patel had transitioned, in February 2019, from working as an aide to Nunes to joining NSC staff working on “issues involving the United Nations and other international organizations.” By February 2020, Patel has become a “top adviser” in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to Politico.

    The Times notes the oddness of a former Nunes aide speaking to the president’s personal attorney not only after his boss had instructed him not to but under circumstances in which Patel “had no formal responsibility for Ukraine policy.” Patel’s actions will raise questions from Fiona Hill, a senior Bolton aide, “about whether [Patel] was straying from his official portfolio”; when she asks Bolton aide Charles Kupperman, who will later go to federal court to avoid testifying before Congress about his actions during the Ukraine scandal, “whether Mr. Patel had assumed a role in Ukraine matters,” she will “receive[ ] no answer,” according to the Times. Hill subsequently testifies to Congress, as summarized by Washington Post national security reporter Karoun Demirjian, that former Nunes aide Patel was so mysteriously ubiquitous in discussions of Ukraine in the White House that the president actually “thought Kash Patel was in charge of Ukraine matters at the NSSC” instead of the person who actually was, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman—a development, the Post reporter writes, that “mean[s] it seemed Patel . . . was delivering Ukraine info straight to Trump.”

    “White House officials began to suspect [Patel] had won Mr. Trump’s ear and had effectively created a back channel to the president that could warp American policy.”

    According to Joshua Geltzer, Patel’s predecessor at the NSC’s International Organizations and Alliances directorate, testimony that Patel was heavily involved in “passing negative information about Ukraine” to Trump suggests a “sort of activity . . . wildly outside the scope of anything a counterterrorism senior director at NSC should be spending their time on. What’s more, it politicizes a piece of the NSC staff that administrations of both parties have worked for decades to keep as apolitical as possible.” Patel had previously helped Nunes write a memo on the Russian investigation that the DOJ termed “extraordinarily reckless” because it included, per Politico, “classified information and could harm ongoing investigations.”

    Patel had earlier written another memo urging Nunes to find FBI officials in contempt of Congress for non production of documents, and had secretly traveled to London in 2017 to try to meet with and question former M16 agent Christopher Steele. The New York Times reports that by mid-2019, “White House officials began to suspect [Patel] had won Mr. Trump’s ear and had effectively created a back channel to the president that could warp American policy,” in part because Patel had “little expertise.” Officials became “alarmed” when Trump inexplicably referred to Patel, whose remit did not even tangentially include Ukraine, as one of his “top Ukraine policy specialists” and then, later, as his “Ukraine director.” Despite many attempts, the New York Times is unable to determine who hired Patel to work for the National Security Council.

    When phone records acquired by PSCI in late 2019 suggest that, separate from events involving the BLT Prime team, “Nunes was in contact with . . . Mr. Parnas”—a fact that, as with Nunes’s calls to Giuliani, the Wall Street Journal  calls “highly unusual”—Nunes responds that “while he did not recall talking with Mr. Parnas, he might well have.” “I remember that name now, because he has been indicted,” Nunes tells Fox News in December 2019. A Parnas attorney, Ed MacMahon, confirms for the Journal  that “his client’s conversations with Mr. Nunes in April were focused on corruption investigations in Ukraine.” “They weren’t talking about where to find sushi in Kyiv,” MacMahon remarks dryly. According to another Parnas attorney, Joseph Bondy, “Devin Nunes was definitely part of an attempt to gather information about the Bidens. He was definitely involved in Ukraine. He definitely had involvement in the GOP shadow diplomacy efforts in Ukraine, contrary to his claims.” Oddly despite the voluminous evidence of his own clandestine contacts with Parnas, Nunes opines to Fox News that the Florida businessman is a “criminal.”

    CNN reports that the origins of BLT Prime team lie much further back than March 2019, with Parnas attorney MacMahon telling the cable news channel that Parnas began communicating with Nunes in December 2018—the same month Joe Biden called himself “the most qualified person in the country to be president” during which period Parnas “worked to put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help Nunes dig up dirt on Biden and Democrats in Ukraine”; Parnas’s efforts involved not just setting up calls but face-to-face meetings—culminating, per Parnas, in Nunes making a December 2018 trip to Vienna to meet with Viktor Shokin. In turn, Nunes told Parnas to work with intermittent BLT PRime team member Derek Harvey on all matters relating to Ukraine.

    At Nunes’s meeting in Vienna with Shokin, according to MacMahon, Nunes “told Shokin of the urgent need to launch investigations into Burisma, Joe and Hunter Biden, and any purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.” If true, this account moves from March 2019 to somewhere between November 30 and December 3, 2018—the range of dates within which Nunes is said to have met with Shokin overseas—the earliest date at which top politicos in Ukraine may have known that Trump’s allies in Congress were seeking new evidence against Trump’s chief political rival. Whether or not Nunes’s movements in Europe were tracked by various European intelligence agencies generally and Ukrainian political operatives specifically, the fact of Nunes making such a trip at all is surprising. In April 2017, he had recused himself from overseeing HPSIC’s Russia investigation due to possible ethics charges stemming from conduct eerily similar to what he will stand accused of in 2019: secretly acting as a conduit for sensitive, nonpublic information in an effort to aid Donald Trump’s political fortunes.

    Equally alarming is Derek Harvey’s role as Nunes’s proxy on the BLT Prime team. As discussed at length in Proof of Conspiracy, Harvey’s work in the White House in 2017 as a top aide to Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn—and his work in the West Wing for several months after Flynn’s firing—centered on effectuating a multinational pre-election bargain that would have required, as one of its key components, not only the construction of new nuclear reactors across the Middle East but also the acquiescence of Ukraine to the lifting of international sanctions on Russia. Harvey’s involvement in attempts to pressure Ukraine in late 2018 and early 2019 thus creates a through line with a similar scheme to approach the beleaguered nation with a dubious and clandestine international agreement in the first half of 2017; whether Harvey’s 2017 efforts continued after his July firing by Trump’s post-Flynn national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, is unknown.

    A further connection between the two schemes involving Harvey comes in the person of NSC legal adviser John Eisenberg. By the end of January 2017, Eisenberg had concluded that Harvey’s work in the White House on Flynn’s nuclear reactor deal was illegal, just as he would ultimately, in August 2019, support a CIA whistleblower’s allegations of illegal conduct in the White House—the latter a complaint that alerted the DOJ and Congress to illegal conduct causally linked to the BLT Prime team, of which Harvey was a member.

    When CNN attempts to question Nunes in the Capitol building about his Vienna meeting and his possible connections to the secretive BLT Prime team, Nunes tells the network’s on-site reporter, “I don’t talk to you in this lifetime or the next lifetime. At any rate. On any question.” In response to a follow-up question from the reporter, Nunes replies, “To be perfectly clear, I don’t acknowledge any questions from you in this lifetime or the next lifetime. I don’t acknowledge any question from you ever.” Nunes’s ire aside, CNN’s disposition toward Nunes or vice versa is clearly not Nunes’s chief concern in rebuffing interview overtures from the network—as he will, in November 2019, refuse to speak even to Fox News about whether he went to Vienna to meet Shokin in late 2018. Nevertheless, there is evidence the 2018 Nunes-Shokin meeting occurred; according to a CNN interview with Parnas’s attorney, Joseph Bondy, shortly after December 3, 2018, “Nunes told Parnas that he was conducting his own investigation into the Bidens and asked Parnas for help validating information he’d gathered from conversations with various current and former Ukrainian officials, including Shokin.” It is in the week after Nunes’s alleged meeting with Shokin in Vienna that Parnas attends a funeral with Giuliani and a Hanukkah party with Giuliani and Trump himself.

    Nunes’s calls to Giuliani appear to be the most extensive of the many still-unexplained communications uncovered by HPSCI. As the Wall Street Journal will report, “the records show that Mr. Nunes was in frequent contact with Mr. Giuliani in early April,” noting particularly the calls that occurred “on April 10, three days after John Solomon, a columnist at The Hill, published a piece criticized Ms. Rovanovitch and alleging wrongdoing by Mr. Biden. Mr. Solomon’s claims about Mr. Biden, the former vice president who is now a presidential candidate, echoed Mr. Giuliani’s calls for an investigation into Mr. Biden and his son.” According to AT&T phone records, Nunes and Giuliani either attempted to or successfully reached each other by phone five times on April 10 alone.

    Yuri Lutsenko, the source for Solomon’s piece about Biden, will later retract his allegations about the former vice president, confessing that he “has no evidence of wrongdoing” by Joe Biden. But that Solomon was in the first instance a member of the BLT Prime team that Nunes proxy Harvey sometimes attended, as well as the fact of Nunes’s frequent calls with Giuliani, raises the prospect that Nunes assisted Giuliani and Solomon in spreading what Lutsenko now concedes was disinformation about Biden. This possibility is augmented by the fact that, even as Nunes was in contact with Parnas, Parnas was in contact with Solomon. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “In April [2019], Mr. Solomon, the columnist was in frequent contact with Mr. Parnas, exchanging at least 10 calls in the first week of April alone. . . . The timing of his calls with Mr. Parnas suggests that some of [the] claims [about Biden in Solomon’s columns] may have been fueled by Mr. Giuliani’s own associates [rather than just Lutsenko].”

    Kholodnytsky has in the past been caught on audiotape “coaching a witness to give false testimony and tipping off suspects to police raids.”

    In late November 2019, high-ranking Democratic sources in Congress reveal that Nunes is likely to face yet another ethics investigation over his secret meeting with Shokin to develop political dirt on Joe Biden. The clandestine nature of Nunes’s actions in underscored when CNBC reveals that Nunes aides were planning to travel to Ukraine in spring 2019—at the height of the BLT Prime team’s activities—to speak with two Ukrainian prosecutors, but cancelled the trip when they realized that Rep. Adam Schiff, HPSCI’s chairman, would eventually have access to their travel records. Per CNBC, Nunes’s office instead asked Parnas to set up Skype meetings between Harvey and the prosecutors Parnas subsequently does so, with Harvey speaking to Lutsenko deputy Konstantin Kulyk in one March 2019 Skype session and Ukraine’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, in another. It is during this period that Kulyk’s office is producing an encompassing yet false report on Joe Biden that Serhiy Lushchenko will reveal was transmitted to Trump’s political operatives—a revelation that suggests on possible topic of discussion for, and outcome of, the Nunes-orchestrated Kulyk-Harvey communication in March 2019.

    According to ProPublica, Kholodnytsky has in the past been caught on audiotape “coaching a witness to give false testimony and tipping off suspects to police raids. Kholodnytsky acknowledged the tapes were authentic, but said they were taken out of context.” Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the time of the Harvey-Kholodnytsky Skype meeting, had by then already called publicly, on March 5, for Kholodnytsky to be fired; instead, Trump fired Yovanovitch herself just over a month later. Kholodnytsky would later meet face-to-face with Giuliani in Paris in May 2019—a meeting neither man will thereafter be willing to discuss with the press. All Kholodnytsky will say now, per ProPublica, is that he “had questions about the Bidens as well as the prosecution of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.”

    By September 2019—after Trump and Giuliani’s scheme to pressure Zelensky into interfering in the 2020 presidential election has been uncovered—Kholodnytsky will be telling a different story on the Bidens, explaining to Novoye Vremya radio, according to a Reuters account, that “Ukraine would open an investigation into the period when Hunter Biden was involved with Burisma if there were compelling new testimony in Ukraine,” but clarifying that there is not any such evidence, and that Ukrainian prosecutors cannot open such an investigation “based solely on comments currently being made in the United States.” Kholodnytsky reveals that not only is there “no active investigative work” related to Burisma in Ukraine, but “Detectives and prosecutors do not understand what they are supposed to be investigating.”

    In late November 2019, CNN reports that Nunes is “not required to disclose the exact details” of the trip to Europe he is confirmed to have made with three aides during Congress’s 2018 post-Thanksgiving recess, a trip during which he allegedly met Shokin. Parnas tells Congress that he is willing to testify under oath that Shokin told him he met with Nunes; Shokin, who cannot readily be questioned by federal law enforcement because he is in Ukraine, claims in response that he’s never heard Nunes’s name before. Parnas thereafter reveals through his attorney, however, that Harvey confessed to him that Nunes “sequenced this trip [to Vienna] to occur after the mid-term elections yet before Congress’ return to session, so that Nunes would not have to disclose the trip details to his Democrat colleagues in Congress.”



    From Proof of Corruption by Seth Abramson. Used with the permission of St. Martin’s Press. Copyright © 2020 by Seth Abramson.

    Seth Abramson
    Seth Abramson
    Seth Abramson is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who teaches journalism and legal advocacy at the University of New Hampshire. A graduate of Harvard Law School and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is a political columnist at Newsweek and the author of over fifteen books, including Proof of Conspiracy and Proof of Collusion. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two rescue hounds, Quinn and Scout.

    More Story
    Three Poems by Henri Cole "Keep Me" I found a necktie on the street, a handmade silk tie from an Italian designer. Keep me, it pleaded from the trash....
  • Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

    For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.