Why Devin Nunes’s Phone Logs Aren’t A Smoking Gun

Why Devin Nunes’s Phone Logs Aren’t A Smoking Gun

The press and the left portrayed the logs as a smoking gun proving Nunes was complicit—of something. However, the real complicity lies between the press and Democrats on the Hill.
Margot Cleveland
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On Tuesday, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., filed suit against CNN for defamation after the airport staple ran a hit piece that falsely reported that the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor in Vienna last December to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. Both Nunes and his supposed Ukrainian contact, former Prosecutor General Victor Shokin, immediately countered the charge. In his lawsuit, Nunes punctuated the denial by detailing where he had been during the time period in question.

“Between November 30, 2018 and December 3, 2018, Devin Nunes visited Benghazi, Libya on official business of the House Intelligence Committee to discuss security issues with General Khalifa Haftar. Devin Nunes also traveled to Malta, where he met with U.S. and Maltese officials, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and participated in a repatriation ceremony for the remains of an American World War II Soldier missing in action,” the complaint read. Nunes also never met Shokin, as CNN reported, he stressed in his lawsuit.

CNN’s source for its story was Joseph Bondy, the lawyer for the Russian-born American Lev Parnas, the latter of whom is currently under indictment for federal election crimes. In addition to telling CNN that “Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes,” Bondy also told CNN that Parnas “and Nunes began communicating around the time of the Vienna trip.”

“Parnas says he worked to put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help Nunes dig up dirt on Biden and Democrats in Ukraine,” CNN reported Bondy as relaying. Not so, according to Nunes’ lawsuit: He “never communicated with Parnas in December 2018 at the time of the ‘Vienna trip’ (that also never happened),” the complaint stated.

That CNN had peddled yet another fake news story garnered little attention, however, because the same day Nunes filed suit, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the intelligence committee, dropped his 300-page report on the House’s “impeachment inquiry.” Thus attention quickly focused on the listing of Nunes in a telephone log showing calls between the California congressman and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, as well as four April 12, 2019 calls between Parnas’s cell phone and Nunes’s number.

Nunes recalls speaking with Giuliani, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity that they had laughed about Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe and how it “completely bombed and flamed out.” Nunes said he didn’t recall speaking with Parnas, though.

The press and the left nonetheless portrayed the phone log as a smoking gun proving Nunes was complicit—of something. However, the real complicity lies between the press and Democrats on the Hill.

Had CNN not run the fake story in late November tying Nunes to Giuliani, Parnas, and Ukraine, and invented a plot between the group to dig up dirt on Biden, the telephone contacts would mean nothing. After all, the calls all occurred in mid-April, before Ukrainians elected Volodymyr Zelensky president on April 21, 2019, and months before Trump supposedly threatened to withhold aid to the country.

Nunes agrees, telling The Federalist, “CNN’s false Vienna story set the stage for Schiff’s stunt with my phone records. There is a constant symbiosis between the Democrats, particularly Schiff, and the mainstream media. They’re always on the same page, working toward the same goals.”

The end goal, of course, is impeachment, but to get there Democrats hope to first sideline Nunes—something they tried before when the left first began pushing the Russia collusion hoax. But while then-Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., benched Nunes temporarily from leading the Russian election interference probe based on unfounded ethics charges, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has Nunes’s back, telling reporters, “there’s nothing wrong that Devin has done except once again to get accused of something.”

And that something was clearly orchestrated, with CNN initiating the narrative based on recklessly sourced allegations against Nunes, which, even when proven demonstrably false, left a lingering impression that the ranking Republican had somehow been complicit in the alleged misconduct related to Ukraine. But the problem for Democrats is that their case for complicity is just as weak as their case for misconduct.

Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.

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