The most prominent Republican defending Trump during the impeachment inquiry is a man who is suing a fictional cow, Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA).
Nunes has used his time in the spotlight to push "fantastical conspiracy theories" and draw attention away from Trump's conduct. He falsely accused the Democratic chairman of the committee, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), of trying to obtain nude photos of Trump. Nunes "brought up elements of the prominent, but baseless, CrowdStrike conspiracy theory that a cybersecurity firm attempted to cover up evidence that Ukraine tried to meddle in the 2016 presidential election." He also tried to reveal the identity of the whistleblower.
Nunes has always been a fiercely loyal defender of Trump. But he may have had another motivation to throw up a smokescreen: He allegedly was an integral part of the conspiracy that brought about the impeachment inquiry in the first place.
Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Guiliani, alleges that Nunes met with "former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin" in Vienna last November, CNN reports. Parnas says, "he worked to put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help Nunes dig up dirt on Biden and Democrats in Ukraine."
If what Parnas is saying is true, it could be a very big deal. Nunes was asking a foreign national for something of value (dirt on Biden) to help his preferred presidential candidate (Trump). That could violate federal law.
Parnas, however, is not necessarily reliable. He currently faces criminal charges for "illegally funneling foreign donations to U.S. political candidates." He's also trying to convince Democrats to grant him some form of criminal immunity in exchange for his testimony.
A short-lived denial
Nunes started with what seemed like a strong denial. Stories about Parnas' claims by CNN and The Daily Beast were "demonstrably false and scandalous" and "the perfect example of defamation and reckless disregard for the truth," Nunes told the far-right website Breitbart. Nunes promised to sue CNN, The Daily Beast, and their sources right after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Notably, while criticizing the reporting, Nunes did not specifically deny he met with Shokin in Vienna. According to Congressional records, Nunes did make a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe with three of his aides at the time in question.
Congressman Jim Hines (D-CT), who is on the House Intelligence Committee, explained on CBS' Face the Nation how the use of taxpayer funds creates additional problems for Nunes:
Look, I don’t know what happened on that trip, but the allegation is that Devin Nunes used federal funds to fly himself and a couple of staffers over there in the search of dirt on Biden. That’s actually what the president is accused of doing -- misusing public dollars for a political purpose.
On Sunday, Nunes appeared on Fox News and was asked point-blank whether he met with Shokin in Vienna: “Bottom line, were you in Vienna with Shokin?”
I really want to answer all of these questions and I promise you I absolutely will come back on the show and answer these questions. But because there is criminal activity here, we’re working with the appropriate law enforcement agencies, we are going to file all this -- everyone’s going to know the truth, everybody is going to know all the facts but I think you can understand that I can’t compete by trying to debate this out with the public media when 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt. And because this is criminal in nature and because it is so bad, so slanderous, we’ve got all the facts on our side and we are going to file in federal court because I'm not going to sit here and try to compete against the media that I have no chance of winning this.
Nunes’ dodge doesn't make much sense. If the meeting never happened, Nunes could say that and offer proof.
Nunes faces likely ethics investigation
Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Nunes would "without question" face an ethics investigation over the alleged meeting. Smith said Nunes' conduct was endemic of a “systematic problem" in the Republican Party "that is a threat to the country.”
If the House Ethics Committee launches an investigation into Nunes, it would be the second ethics investigation that Nunes has faced in the last two years. In 2017, the House Ethics Committee investigated whether Nunes "made unauthorized disclosures of classified information" related to House Intelligence Committee's work on Russian interference with the 2016 election. The committee cleared Nunes and closed the investigation.
That decision, according to a report in The Atlantic, was controversial because "the committee was never able to obtain or review the classified information at the heart of the inquiry, according to three congressional sources briefed on the investigation." According to one source who spoke to The Atlantic, "[t]he panel’s inability to determine for itself what may or may not have been classified—and what Nunes had actually been shown—likely contributed to its decision to close the investigation."
If Nunes did it
On Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney who orchestrated the effort to pressure Ukraine, responded to Parnas' allegations. "Devin Nunes said he didn't meet with Shokin. I have no reason to believe that he did," Giuliani said. Nunes, however, actually has never denied meeting with Shokin.
But, Giuliani said, "if he did, there would have been nothing wrong with it."
Similarly, Giuliani says there was nothing wrong with Trump asking the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden and the Democrats.
Bloomberg on Bloomberg
In 2018, Michael Bloomberg said that, if he were to run for president, he would put Bloomberg News in "a blind trust" or "sell it."
It's now 2019, and Bloomberg is running. But he's not selling Bloomberg News or putting it in a blind trust. Instead, this is happening, according to a memo to Bloomberg News staff by Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait:
We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike (and his family and foundation) and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries. We cannot treat Mike’s Democratic competitors differently from him. If other credible journalistic institutions publish investigative work on Mike or the other Democratic candidates, we will either publish those articles in full, or summarize them for our readers — and we will not hide them.
Bloomberg News is one of the largest news outlets in the United States, employing about 2700 journalists. It is now placing these journalists on the sidelines of the 2020 election because its billionaire owner does not want them to produce negative stories about him.
That isn't speculation. Bloomberg admitted as much last year. "I don’t want the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me! I don’t want them to be independent," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg News employs some of the nation's best journalists who produce meaningful investigative pieces about the campaign. It was Bloomberg News, for example, that uncovered that Mark Zuckerberg recommended staff members to Pete Buttigieg. Under the new policy, that story would not have been published.
It's unclear how the prohibition on investigative work into any Democratic candidate will work in many situations. The impeachment inquiry into Trump, for example, involves Trump pressuring the government of Ukraine to produce dirt on former Vice President Biden. Will Bloomberg News allow reporters to do investigative reporting related to impeachment?
Micklethwait doesn't pretend that the policy is clear or that he knows how it will be applied in practice. "No doubt, many of you are already thinking of possible complexities that may arise. My response is: let's get back to work," Micklethwait writes in the memo.
Thanks for reading!