WASHINGTON - Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., acknowledged Wednesday night that he had in fact spoken with Lev Parnas by phone as part of a conversation he previously could not recall. Parnas, a former associate of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, has been indicted on charges of violating campaign finance laws.
Nunes talked about the call shortly before Parnas claimed that the California congressman was "involved" in obtaining damaging information on former vice president Joe Biden as part of a shadow Ukraine campaign headed by Giuliani. Parnas told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that he was stunned to see Nunes, who he claims to have met "several times," participating in the recent impeachment hearings.
"I was in shock when I was watching the hearings and when I saw Devin Nunes sitting up there," said Parnas, who has pleaded not guilty to the campaign finance charges. He added that he was curious as to why Derek Harvey, a Nunes aide he said he worked with on the shadow campaign, was present for the hearings. "I texted my attorney. I said, 'I can't believe this is happening,' " he said.
When Maddow asked why, Parnas replied, "Because they were involved in getting all this stuff on Biden."
"It's hard to see them lie like that when you know it's like that scary because you know, he was sitting there and making all statements and all that when he knew very well that he knew what was going on," Parnas said. "He knew what's happening. He knows who I am."
Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, was one of Trump's most vociferous defenders during the House's impeachment hearings as he sought to discredit the inquiry against the president.
The claim from Parnas came hours after House Democrats released hundreds of pages of photos, messages and calendar entries to help construct a picture of the high level of access given to Parnas in his efforts to make the Ukrainian president announce investigations related to Biden.
A couple of hours before the Parnas interview aired on MSNBC, Nunes was asked by Fox News host Martha MacCallum about the phone records that show that he spoke with the former Giuliani associate. Last month, Nunes told Fox's Sean Hannity that while it was "possible" that he spoke with Parnas, he did not "recall" his name. "I will go back and check my records, but it seems very unlikely I will be taking calls from random people," Nunes said at the time.
On Wednesday, however, Nunes said that after having time to go through his records, he was reminded that he did talk to Parnas - a chat he described as "random."
"I just didn't know the name - this name 'Par-nas,' " Nunes said. "You know now that he had called my cellphone and I didn't know his name, I didn't remember the name, but I did remember going back where I was at the time - you can do that now, you actually know where you physically are - checked it with my records.
"It was very clear. I remember that call, which was very odd, random, talking about random things. And I said, 'Great, just talk to my staff' . . . which is normal, standard operating procedure."
Parnas explained Wednesday night that he and Nunes did not have "much of a relationship," but they did meet several times at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. It was when he was introduced to Harvey, one of Nunes' aides, Parnas said, that the relationship started to grow. Parnas said he was told at the time that he would be dealing with Harvey more because Nunes "couldn't be in the spotlight" after he had been cleared in 2017 by the House Ethics Committee on allegations that he disclosed classified information to the White House when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Parnas outlined to Harvey what he and Giuliani were working on with the shadow campaign in Ukraine. At that time, he said, he realized that Nunes' aide was already aware of what was in motion. Parnas later noted to Maddow that he had set up "several Skype interviews" for Harvey with the likes of Nazar Kholodnytsky, head of Ukraine's Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, and Konstantin Kulik, a deputy in Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office.
He confirmed that Trump was well aware of his activities during this time.
"President Trump knew exactly what was going on," Parnas said. "He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudolph W. Giuliani, or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials."
Giuliani suggested to The Washington Post on Wednesday that Parnas was not telling the truth.
"We all make mistakes," he said in a text message. "I feel sorry for him and his family."
Messages left for Nunes and media representatives for the Justice Department were not immediately returned.
Once the two interviews aired Wednesday night, observers took to social media to reflect on the timing of Nunes acknowledging he had spoken with Parnas. John Harwood, the chief Washington correspondent for CNBC, called the congressman's recollection "not a credible statement."
"Pretty safe bet that you wouldn't forget dealing with Lev Parnas," said Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser for the Obama White House and co-host of the left-leaning podcast "Pod Save the World."
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif, noted that an attorney for Nunes allegedly threatened litigation if Lieu did not apologize for accusing Nunes of conspiring with Parnas last month.
“Devin, I’m adding to my statement: ‘Your pants are on fire,’” Lieu tweeted.