Political Notebook

Nunes' ties to winery in sex-harassment suit violate House ethics rules, complaint says

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, heads to a GOP conference at the Capitol in January.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, heads to a GOP conference at the Capitol in January. Associated Press file

A complaint against Rep. Devin Nunes with the Office of Congressional Ethics demands an investigation into whether the congressman violated the House code of conduct because of his partnership in a winery that was sued for sexual harassment and more.

The complaint, sent by the left-wing nonprofit American Democracy Legal Fund on Thursday, alleges that Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee who represents parts of Fresno and Tulare counties, has failed to "conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House" — the first rule for members of the House of Representatives.

The complaint points to a lawsuit settled in 2016 against Alpha Omega, a Napa County winery that is listed as one of Nunes' primary assets on financial disclosure forms. The lawsuit alleges that in 2015, aboard a cruise on a yacht owned by the winery that was auctioned off at a fundraiser, an employee witnessed 25 of the company's top investors (all men) use cocaine and hire sex workers — some who looked too young to consent. The employee, who allegedly witnessed men "fondling and suckling" womens' breasts, said she, too, was asked to “provide services of a sexual nature."

The complaint asks the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics to review the allegations in the lawsuit and investigate whether Nunes was on the yacht during the event.

Nunes, who is listed as among more than 50 people who own a part of the company, was not named in the lawsuit, and the identity of the 25 John Does is unclear. He has declined to answer questions about the case.

"At best, congressman Nunes' company hosted an event featuring sex workers and illegal drug use, and even worse, it is possible he participated in illegal activity along with his business partners," said Brad Woodhouse, treasurer of the American Democracy Legal Fund, based in D.C. "Nunes' constituents deserve a prompt and thorough investigation to determine exactly what took place and the extent to which congressman Nunes was involved."

Left-leaning organization

Woodhouse also oversees Protect Our Care, an organization that opposes “the Republican healthcare agenda” and served as the communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

The ADLF, founded in 2014, has filed several complaints this year against President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Nunes' continued business with Alpha Omega "creates ethical issues that are troubling and concerning," according to the complaint.

The complaint also takes issue with Alpha Omega Winery selling wine to Russian clients, since Nunes — an ally of Trump's — has been at the helm of a federal investigation of Russian meddling into the presidential election.

Kelly Carter, a spokeswoman for Alpha Omega, said in a statement Friday that "this is a classic case of no good deed goes unpunished" and that the allegations made in the lawsuit were false and no investors were on the yacht that night.

"No one in the group had any personal or business connection to the winery or its owners and no Alpha Omega staff knew anyone in the group," Carter said via email.

The company only did business with Russians in 2013 when a broker handled a one-time transaction for 22 cases of wine, according to Carter.

Nunes' office did not respond to questions about the complaint.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against members of the House of Representatives and referring matters to the House Committee on Ethics.

The OCE declined to comment, saying that the investigative process is confidential, but, that if the complaint against Nunes does trigger an investigation that warrants being sent to the Ethics Committe, it would become public.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays