In our current topsy-turvy political environment, major groundbreaking news can be both explosive and completely unsurprising. Such is the case with CNN’s scoop that Rep. Devin Nunes was an integral part of the conspiracy to get Ukraine to smear Joe Biden:
A lawyer for an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani tells CNN that his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had in Vienna last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.
The attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, represents Lev Parnas, the recently indicted Soviet-born American who worked with Giuliani to push claims of Democratic corruption in Ukraine. Bondy said that Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes.
Let’s just back up a bit and recap where we are, based on everything we’ve learned from the witnesses at the impeachment inquiry and from reporting in the media. As a key tenet of its pro-democracy initiatives to strengthen Kyiv’s resilience against both corruption and Russian aggression, the Obama Administration (led by Joe Biden) pushed Ukraine to oust a prosecutor (Victor Shokin) for not pursuing corruption cases aggressively enough. Moscow, for its part, ran a massive interference campaign against the Clinton Campaign and the DNC in order to help Trump get elected, including electronic burglary and theft of documents exponentially dwarfing the scale of the Watergate crimes. Not content with their success there, they then muddied the waters: they sowed the conspiracy theory, which has now become popular within the Trump Administration, the Republican Party, and right-wing media, that the real culprits were the DNC itself and officials in Ukraine. The Trump Administration bought into this Russian propaganda effort so deeply–whether unwittingly or intentionally–that they made it a key aspect of their foreign policy.
Concomitant with that, the Republican political apparatus also saw an opportunity to accuse Joe Biden, a possible opponent for President Trump in the 2020 election, of corruption related to his son Hunter’s position with a Ukrainian gas company. The end result of that obsession? An impeachment inquiry to ascertain whether President Trump illegally leveraged foreign aid to Ukraine as a bribe to secure Ukrainian interference in American politics.
That’s what we knew so far. What we didn’t know is that Ranking Member Nunes—who was supposedly acting simply as Trump’s main defender in Congress during the inquiry—was allegedly an active participant in the scheme, and, while he was still Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, tried to work with the very same corrupt prosecutor opposed by the Obama Administration in order to secure a politically motivated attack on Joe Biden. In short, Nunes used his official position as the Chairman of a Congressional Committee on Intelligence to pressure a foreign government into peddling a false conspiracy theory backed by Russia to obfuscate its crimes against the American people, their government, and the norms of democracy itself.
The entire Republican establishment, in both the Administration and in Congress, has swallowed this Kremlin propaganda hook, line, and sinker. Perhaps they actually believe it. Or perhaps they realize that Trump’s level of corruption and self-dealing is so spectacular that the only way to defend it is through cynical whataboutism: muddy the waters by announcing that a likely rival has also being investigated for corruption. It wouldn’t be the first time they’re run this playbook: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, then the House majority leader, said the quiet part out loud to Sean Hannity regarding the political nature of the Benghazi investigation into Secretary Clinton, and they likely see a similar investigation into Joe Biden as something that could have a similar effect and save Trump’s chances in 2020. And it works because the American press is all to willing to comply with the charade in the interest of seeming balanced and anti-partisan.
If you’re the Democrats, what do you do now? The first and most obvious step is to insinst that Devin Nunes ought not to be Ranking Member of HPSCI, and should be subject to whatever ethics inquiries are appropriate for this situation. The second would be to put the brakes on the desire to wrap up the impeachment inquiry as soon as possible and figure out just how deep into the Republican establishment the Ukraine conspiracy narrative goes.
It sounds like a paranoid fever dream, but it seems increasingly like the truth: the entire Republican Party has bought into propaganda produced by Russia in order to blame its crimes on a long-suffering nation-state with whom it is at war, and manufacture false dirt on a political opponent in order to keep themselves in power. This has been ongoing for years, and not just in the Oval Office but among some of the highest-ranking Republicans in Congress. The rot runs very deep, indeed.
[Note: this post was co-written with Dante Atkins, a former Congressional staffer]