The big news today was that the House Intelligence Committee released its report on its investigation into the Ukraine scandal that is at the heart of the impeachment case against Trump. Although the report was long, it had two very clear points: the facts against Trump prove that he solicited a bribe—wording designed to show that the scandal meets the Constitution’s threshold for impeachment—and that Trump obstructed justice in his attempts to stonewall Congress and intimidate witnesses. Obstruction of justice is a crime; it is what took Nixon down in 1974.
The report lays out that the Ukraine scandal is at heart an attempt to rig the 2020 election and destroy our democracy with the help of a foreign country. It points out that this is a pattern for Trump, who benefited from Russian aid in 2016 and who has openly called for help from China as well as Ukraine before the upcoming election. The report notes that Trump’s call with Zelensky took place the day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified in public, apparently convincing Trump he was no longer in danger of being nabbed for working with Russia in 2016, and was willing to try a similar scheme again.
The report also notes that the Founders worried about precisely this behavior, and that if it is not checked, democracy is over. The House Intelligence Committee report is a remarkably clear, concise, and powerful document.
For their part, the White House ignored all the facts and relied instead on disinformation. Yesterday, House Republicans released their own report about the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment investigations, and that long document exonerated Trump of any wrongdoing at all. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham (who has never held a press conference, but regularly talks to the Fox News Channel) said that the Democrats had “utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump…. Chairman Schiff’s report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”
This is a dramatically willful blindness to the fact that all the witnesses, including those called by the Republicans, were in essential agreement that Trump pressured Ukraine president Zelensky to announce an investigation into Burisma and Joe Biden’s son with the intention of sinking Biden’s presidential candidacy. Those facts are really not at all in dispute except within the Fox News bubble.
But the really big news from the report was its information about California Representative Devin Nunes. Nunes has grandstanded against the impeachment hearings since they began, and has embraced the idea that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that attacked our 2016 elections. So it was a surprise—for him, presumably, as well as us-- to find out that the Intelligence Committee had gotten access to records of the telephone calls on the phones of Lev Parnas, the associate of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani who was arrested for funneling money from Russian oligarchs to Republican candidates as he tried to flee the country, as well as on Giuliani’s. Together, those records show a high degree of coordination between the White House; the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where Mick Mulvaney was withholding Ukraine’s aid; Giuliani, and conservative reporter John Solomon, who pushed media stories attacking Marie Yovanovich and suggesting that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that attacked us in 2016. Also on the calls were an aid to John Bolton, and an unidentified number “-1” in the White House. That doesn’t look good for Trump, although that number is not yet clearly identified with him.
What really jumps out, though, is that Nunes, along with a couple of his aides, appears to have been deeply involved in the attempt to pressure Ukraine’s Zelensky to make a public announcement of an investigation into the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. Nunes was listed on a number of calls in the newly released records.
Nunes is the ranking member—that is, the top Republican member—of the House Intelligence Committee, and before Democrats took control of the House in 2018 he was the chair of that committee, making him the person in charge of national intelligence in the House of Representatives. During the impeachment hearings, he has constantly attacked the investigation and tried to undercut the process. Now, it turns out that he, himself, is deeply implicated in the scandal. At the very least, he should have told the committee that he was implicated. Instead, he tried to sabotage the committee’s efforts to figure out what happened. This is simply stunning.
For his part, Nunes sued CNN for a minimum of $785,000 today over its story that Lev Parnas’s lawyer claimed that Parnas would be willing to testify that he set up a meeting between Nunes and a Ukrainian official to get dirt on Hunter Biden. But it’s a really weird document, seemingly designed for consumption by those in the Fox News Channel bubble.
Its first statement reads: “CNN is the mother of fake news. It is the least trusted name. CNN is eroding the fabric of America, proselytizing, sowing distrust and disharmony. It must be held accountable.” Then it goes on to say that it should have been obvious to CNN “that Parnas was a fraudster and a hustler,” an unfortunate observation to make on the day it was revealed that Nunes was communicating with Parnas in the midst of a national crisis.
The complaint goes on to attack Joe Biden and Adam Schiff. It reads entirely like a press release, but I can’t figure out Nunes’s angle, because once this suit was filed, he is open to the process of discovery, in which CNN could demand testimony and documents, which would expose Nunes quite badly. I can’t figure out the angle here, but I am entirely convinced he is simply playing to the optics of the situation and has no intention of going through with anything that would lead to discovery. The document repeatedly says that CNN published the Parnas story to get Nunes taken off the impeachment hearing… perhaps he was trying to get ahead of today’s bombshell and argue that it is all a CNN conspiracy? I am intrigued....
Today’s information may have created its own backlash. Notably, Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been echoing pro-Trump propaganda, came out today to say that he was 1,000% confident that it was Russia, not Ukraine, that meddled in the 2016 election, and the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution to disapprove of readmitting Russia to the G7 economic group. Both of these things show cracks in the GOP lockstep behind Trump.
Things look bad for Trump on other fronts, too. Yesterday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson denied the stay order on her decision that former White House counsel Donald McGahn must testify before Congress. The White House had argued that Congress had no right to demand testimony from high-ranking White House officials; Brown demolished that argument, saying no one is above the law. Today, the president lost his appeal to block Deutsche Bank from handing over his financial records. While he argues that the subpoenas are invalid and will undoubtedly appeal to the Supreme Court, it is not good for him that the decisions against him are piling up.
Again, the big news today is that Nunes was involved in the very action he was charged with investigation, an investigation he tried to sabotage. Wow. Just wow.
I’d like to say it’ll be hard to top that for breaking news, but these days, the universe seems to take that as a challenge….