What Was Speaker Paul Ryan Doing in Prague Three Weeks Ago?

Two weeks before House Speaker Paul Ryan announced his retirement, he visited the Czech Republic. According to his web site, it was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Czech relations. But while he was there, he said several things that contradict the messages sent by the Trump administration. For example, here is part of his speech to the lower house of Congress:

“When Havel said ‘We shall not surrender freedom’, he surely knew that there were powers that would try and wrest it back and that would try and take us backwards. He knew that there were forces that would seek to remake the world in their own authoritarian image.

“And as we gather to celebrate the ties of the last century, we are called to confront the challenges of the next century. The Czech people are no strangers to Russian influence, whether in the guise of oppression or whether in the guise of subversion.

“Russia has violated its international norms with its aggression against our closest allies in eastern Europe. More furtively, it spreads disinformation and engages in cyberattacks. It meddles in elections throughout Europe as it did in the United States. Russia does not share our interests or our values; if anything it is seeking to undermine those values. We must see this for what it is.”

That sounds more like the kind of thing we heard from Barack Obama than Donald Trump.

During this trip, Ryan also repeatedly emphasized this country’s “rock-solid commitment to our NATO allies.”

While in Prague, Ryan met with the Czech prime minister and gave speeches in both chambers of the Czech Parliament. But he didn’t meet with President Miloš Zeman, a Putin ally.

Finally, Ryan spoke with lawmakers to urge the extradition of Russian hacker Yevgeniy Nikulin to the United States.

The Czechs arrested Yevgeniy Nikulin in Prague in cooperation with the FBI in October 2016. He is accused by U.S. prosecutors of penetrating computers at Silicon Valley firms in 2012 and they want him extradited to face trial.

Moscow also wants him extradited on a separate charge of internet theft in 2009…

Czech courts previously ruled both extradition requests meet the necessary legal conditions, leaving the decision to Justice Minister Robert Pelikan…

Pelikan recently said in Parliament that the Czech Republic’s pro-Russian President Milos Zeman “repeatedly” asked him to allow Nikulin’s extradition to Russia. Zeman didn’t comment.

For some background on this, yesterday I wrote about the fact that Nikulin was in Prague (not yet jailed) at the time that Michael Cohen allegedly held his clandestine meeting with Russian operatives, specifically to discuss payment of the Russian hackers.

Three days after Ryan’s trip to the Czech Republic, Nikulin was extradited to the U.S. and immediately appeared in Federal District Court in San Francisco. As I noted yesterday, perhaps it is just a coincidence that two weeks later McClatchy reported that Michael Cohen had, in fact, traveled to Prague during the time frame reported by the Steele dossier. Perhaps it’s also a coincidence that two weeks later the Speaker of the House announced his retirement.

To be honest, I have no idea what any of this means. But it is important to keep in mind that Ryan is better known for his ideological commitment to Ayn Rand economics than as a foreign policy expert. It sure looks like he knows that the whole Trump-Russia conspiracy is about to blow up and, as a final act, positioned himself for a 2020 presidential run as the non-Trump candidate. I’ll admit that is pure speculation on my part, so what do you make of all of this? Could it all be just one gigantic coincidence?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.