Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) could face a review of whether he violated House ethics rules by allegedly meeting with a former Ukrainian official to get dirt on the Bidens on a taxpayer-funded trip.
At least one outside group has filed a complaint against Nunes with the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which can review cases against lawmakers and refer them to the House Ethics Committee.
The Democratic Coalition, a liberal group, filed an ethics complaint against Nunes, with the OCE alleging that he violated House rules by having a conflict of interest in the impeachment inquiry if he had interactions with people under investigation and by engaging in political activity while on official business.
“Rep. Nunes is currently engaged in overseeing an investigation which it appears he is a fact witness, and which may examine his own activities meeting with foreign officials,” the Democratic Coalition wrote in its complaint.
Multiple Democratic lawmakers have also suggested there may be a need for an investigation into Nunes, who has played a prominent role in the impeachment inquiry as the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and a chief defender of President Trump.
“I think there certainly is a potential — if it’s true — a potential ethics inquiry that needs to take place. If he was on a political errand for the president, that was using taxpayer funds inappropriately, and he should be investigated by the Ethics Committee, and he should be forced to repay the Treasury the money that was spent for what was a purely political activity,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Monday.
When asked in an MSNBC interview over the weekend if Nunes could be investigated, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said, “Quite likely, without question.”
Smith added in an interview with John Berman on CNN’s “New Day” on Monday that “it is concerning that apparently he took a trip on taxpayers’ dollars and potentially was engaged in campaign activity. But that’s all we know. It should be looked into.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was mum when asked about the allegations against Nunes on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday but said that it could be “an ethics matter.”
“We have had discussions with the Southern District of New York in terms of Mr. Nunes’s conduct. If he was on a taxpayer-funded [congressional delegation] — and I say if — seeking dirt on a potential Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, that will be an ethics matter. That’s not before our committee,” Schiff said, declining to go into specifics.
While the nonpartisan OCE could review the allegations if enough of its board members sign off on it, the odds of the House Ethics Committee taking up a review are much lower.
The House Ethics Committee has an equal number of Democratic and Republican members, meaning any move to look into wrongdoing must have bipartisan support.
Even if the OCE did conduct a review, it does not have the same authority as the House Ethics Committee and cannot force lawmakers to comply.
OCE does not confirm or deny whether it is conducting an investigation. A spokesman for the House Ethics Committee also declined to comment.
Nunes has pushed back on a CNN story saying he met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in Vienna late last year to discuss getting information about former Vice President Joe Biden.
But when asked by Maria Bartiromo on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” about whether he met with Shokin, Nunes said he wants “to answer all of these questions” but “can’t compete by trying to debate this out with the public media when 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt.”
A congressional travel expense report shows that Nunes and three aides traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 on House Intelligence Committee business while he was still the chairman. The record does not specify where in Europe they traveled or their detailed itinerary.
The four-day trip cost taxpayers more than $63,000.
A spokesman for Nunes did not respond to a request for comment seeking clarity on whether the expense record is related to a trip to Vienna or if Nunes met with Shokin on the trip.
Nunes has threatened legal action against CNN and The Daily Beast, which also reported on his interactions with Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were recently indicted on campaign finance charges, helped connect Giuliani with Ukrainian officials in his push for an investigation into the former vice president and the business dealings of his son Hunter Biden.
The Daily Beast first reported that Parnas helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Nunes last year, citing an attorney for Parnas.
CNN later reported that, according to his attorney, Parnas is willing to tell congressional investigators about discussions that Nunes had with Shokin to discuss getting information on the Bidens. Shokin was removed from his position as prosecutor general in 2016 following pressure from Western leaders, including Joe Biden, who didn’t think he was doing enough to pursue corruption cases.
“Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December,” Parnas’s attorney Joseph Bondy told CNN.
However, neither Nunes nor Shokin has confirmed the meeting took place.
Nunes called the reporting from CNN and The Daily Beast a “fake news story.”
This is not the first time Nunes has faced ethics questions.
Nunes was accused in 2017 of disclosing classified information when he announced during a press conference that intelligence agencies had collected information about associates of Trump, prompting a House Ethics Committee investigation.
Nunes temporarily recused himself from the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into 2016 election interference. But the House Ethics Committee ultimately cleared Nunes of wrongdoing months later, stating that he had not disclosed classified information or violated House rules.