In addition to summing up the findings from weeks of testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, Intelligence Committee Democrats’ new report has a surprising inclusion — the phone records of several major players involved in the scandal, including President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member of the committee, confirmed on CNN that investigators subpoenaed these phone records. And while the records can’t reveal what was actually said during these phone calls, they make clear that Giuliani was in close contact with the White House at key moments.
Giuliani also exchanged several calls with an unknown number identified in the report as “-1” — and though this isn’t confirmed, the report certainly seems to imply that this number is President Trump.
The records also raise further questions about the potential involvement of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the Intelligence Committee’s top Republican, in the Ukraine affair. He has been accused of participating in the push for Ukrainian investigations into Trump’s rivals, and the records show he exchanged calls with Giuliani and his “fixer” Lev Parnas (who was arrested in October for campaign finance violations).
Overall, though, the records serve to remind us that, despite all the text messages and witness testimony we’ve seen so far in the inquiry, there’s a circle of people at the center of this scandal whose actions, and communications, remain mysterious. And more broadly, it’s just rather remarkable that impeachment investigators managed to obtain the phone records of the president’s personal lawyer.
The records shed light on the campaign against Ambassador Yovanovitch
The Democrats’ report refers many times to a “scheme” carried out by President Trump and his allies to try and get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. And in their telling, this scheme began with an effort to oust the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was standing in the way of these demands.
The outlines will be familiar to those who watched Yovanovitch’s testimony: Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, spoke with Giuliani and Giuliani’s fixer Lev Parnas, making false accusations against Yovanovitch and claiming there were scandals involving the Bidens. John Solomon, a conservative journalist, then wrote up Lutsenko’s claims for the Hill beginning in March. Then, in late April, Yovanovitch suddenly got word she was being recalled from her post, at the White House’s instruction.
The new phone records in the report add further detail to this story, and document contacts between the key players at important moments. For instance, Democrats say:
- In the 48 hours before Solomon published his first article based on Lutsenko’s claims, Parnas spoke with Solomon at least six times. They spoke another time after the article, which attacked Yovanovitch, went live.
- Between April 1 and April 7, Parnas exchanged about 16 calls with Giuliani and about 10 with Solomon. On April 7, Solomon published another article attacking Yovanovitch.
- On April 10, Giuliani or Parnas exchanged calls with Solomon and with two other key players here — conservative lawyer Victoria Toensing, who was reportedly working with Giuliani on the Ukraine dirt-digging operation, and Rep. Devin Nunes.
Then, on April 12, there are a series of calls, each involving either Giuliani or Parnas, and the following other people or numbers:
- a “White House phone number”
- an “OMB phone number” (potentially acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who is still the OMB director)
- “-1” (an unknown number, which may, from context, be President Trump)
- Victoria Toensing
- John Solomon
- Devin Nunes
- Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for Trump
On April 21, however, outsider reformer Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidential election. In the days after that, Giuliani and his allies moved against Yovanovitch. The phone records for April 23 and 24 show the following:
- Multiple calls between Giuliani and Parnas
- A call between Parnas and Solomon
- Several short Giuliani calls to the White House, followed quickly by a call back for him from an unknown “-1” number
- A call from Giuliani to a phone associated with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton
- Three calls from Giuliani to an OMB number (which again, could be Mulvaney), and eight with a White House number
Finally, on the night of April 24, a State Department official called Yovanovitch and told her she had to return to Washington, due to White House “concerns.” Those concerns, another State official later explained to her, were coming from President Trump.
None of this is surprising, exactly — but in filling out the story of what happened, it’s useful to show that Giuliani was calling the White House right before Yovanovitch was recalled.
Giuliani responded by tweeting, “The mere fact I had numerous calls with the White House does not establish any specific topic. Remember, I’m the President’s attorney.” That is true. But the Democrats’ report also cited Giuliani’s tweets and media appearances to establish what may have been on his mind around the time of these calls — and, usually, it was Ukraine.
Why “-1” often appears to be President Trump
While the Democrats’ report doesn’t outright say that the calls coming from the unknown “-1” number are from President Trump, they certainly imply it — and the context shows that’s with good reason.
The key is what happens before the “-1” calls. Take, for instance, these records from on August 8.
- Giuliani initially texts the White House
- A little over an hour later, Giuliani gets a flurry of calls from “-1” to two different cell phones (the calls have very short durations so he appears not to have picked up).
- But minutes later, Giuliani then calls three numbers in succession — one listed as an “OMB number” (for the White House Office of Management and Budget), one for the Situation Room’s White House Switchboard, and one for the White House Switchboard. On the third, he connects.
- Then, in a call highlighted in the report, a “-1” unknown number calls Giuliani back and they speak for over four minutes.
So this certainly seems like a series of efforts from Trump and Giuliani to get in touch with each other, eventually succeeding. (The “OMB number” could be for acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who is still technically the director of OMB.)
Obviously, we’d expect Trump to be talking to his lawyer on the phone. That’s not scandalous in and of itself. But the placement and timing of these calls involving “-1” may be informative.
For instance, the series of calls on August 8 happened shortly after Giuliani met an aide to Zelensky in Madrid, and shortly before Giuliani, Gordon Sondland, and Kurt Volker started trying to dictate a statement for Zelensky in which he would commit to the investigations. So a phone call here could suggest that Trump was in the loop — and that Giuliani was speaking for him. (Though, theoretically, it could have been about another topic.)
Finally, one other reason why the “-1” number may be Trump is that we actually know he’s used a blocked number that shows up in other phone records this way. During the recent trial of Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone, prosecutors revealed that Trump’s phone had a blocked number in 2016, and showed up on Stone’s phone records as “-1.”
The role of Devin Nunes
Finally, the phone records have also focused renewed attention on the possible role of Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, in this whole saga.
As mentioned above, Nunes and Giuliani exchanged a series of brief calls on April 10. Theoretically, they could have been talking about any number of matters.
So it’s even more interesting that Nunes was also in contact with Giuliani’s fixer for Ukraine, Lev Parnas. On April 12 — amidst Parnas’s calls with Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, and John Solomon — Parnas also traded calls with Nunes, eventually speaking with him for about eight-and-half minutes.
Giuliani also had a series of contacts with Nunes or people close to Nunes around the time of his aborted trip to Ukraine this May.
- For instance, on May 8, according to the report, Giuliani separately spoke on the phone with someone at the White House, with Solomon, with Parnas — and Nunes staffer Derek Harvey.
- Then, on May 9, the New York Times revealed that Giuliani was planning a trip to Kyiv, to urge the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens. “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Giuliani told the paper.
- The next day, May 10, Giuliani traded calls with and eventually spoke with Kashyap “Kash” Patel — a former Nunes aide who is now an NSC staffer. A call from the “-1” number went to Giuliani shortly afterward.
- Shortly afterward, Giuliani spoke with Parnas. And that night, on Fox News, Giuliani announced he was calling off his trip to Ukraine.
Parnas’s attorney has previously claimed Nunes was in the loop for the Ukrainian dirt-digging effort, and these call records could well corroborate that statement. Nunes, of course, did not disclose any of this during the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings on the impeachment inquiry, during which he has argued the president has done nothing wrong with respect to Ukraine.