Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, appeared on Fox News on Nov. 25 and declared that stories to the effect that while he was in Vienna last year with a squadron of aides, he spent $63,000 on … something, and that the something might have been a meeting with corrupt former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, were “the mother of all fake news stories.” And of course, Nunes immediately followed by putting CNN and The Daily Beast with cartoon cows and a parody account from his mom on the list of people he is going to sue, sue, sue. Because Nunes wants to be just like Trump when he grows up—suing everyone and stomping on the First Amendment.
Nunes’ performance all through the impeachment inquiry was so reliably filled with non sequiturs and conspiracy bits that it generated endless internet memes and laughs on Twitter. At this point, we can be certain that none of the witnesses who appeared know Nellie Ohr, but if Taco Bell did not see a spike in sales of chalupas over the last two weeks, it certainly wasn’t Nunes’ fault.
The problem with Nunes’ latest threat to sue isn’t just that it’s ridiculous, but also that both CNN and The Daily Beast were reporting on statements made by indicted pal of Rudy Giuliani (and Donald Trump) Lev Parnas. A real estate wrangler and founder of the company Fraud Guarantee, Parnas has been hanging around Florida politics for years, and the list of possible charges that he, his partner Igor Fruman, and potentially Giuliani have racked up could generate a sentence longer than War and Peace.
Those decades of potential charges certainly provide Parnas with incentive for cooperating and providing information on other possible culprits, but seeing that he’s already in federal custody and facing that A-to-Z registry of charges, there’s less than zero incentive for him to offer up additional false testimony. So, when CNN and The Daily Beast report on Parnas’ claims,: 1) they’re reporting on Parnas’ claims; 2) they have good reason to believe there is substance behind those claims; 3) those claims are connected to a major ongoing investigation of money laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to defraud the United States, etc., etc.
Nunes can sue all he wants—or at least he can sue to the extent of what’s left in his campaign funds after he used that money to buy $14,638 worth of tickets to a Celtics game along with a $5,500 limousine ride and $7,000 in food, topped off with another $2,000 for cocktails. Because that’s clearly how his donors expect him to use his funds. Or at least it’s what they should expect. He can sue all he likes.
Except he won’t.
Nunes isn’t just the guy who once leaped from an Uber, leaving a startled aide behind, and went off into the night only to return claiming he had discovered huge, huge information that had to be shared with the White House—only to end up facing the Ethics Committee because the information was actually generated by the White House. Nunes has been defending Trump and Russia at every turn to such an extent that it’s worse than ridiculous.
His claims that a Ukrainian official having the temerity to pen an op-ed critical of Trump’s willingness to hand Crimea to Russia permanently means Ukraine is at least equally guilty of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election were ludicrous on day one of the hearings. They were still ludicrous two weeks later—but they had also become the standard Republican line.
In his Fox News interview, Nunes claimed that he was itching to get CNN in court: “We can get discovery. We can sit people down for depositions.” And he declared that “CNN and The Daily Beast are going to run for cover.” But of course, CNN and The Daily Beast have an easy answer to discovery: They can direct the judge to Parnas, whose claims they were repeating.
If anyone is going to run for cover, it’s Nunes. In fact, the odds of him suing in this case are much less real than a cartoon cow. Because if there really is discovery, CNN and The Daily Beast can also insist on testimony from Nunes and his assistants about what they were really doing in Vienna.
And the last thing that Devin Nunes wants in any situation is the truth.