Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top minority-party member of the House Intelligence Committee, was the first Republican to present a defense of President Trump during the first public hearing of the House’s impeachment inquiry.

For many observers, Nunes’s arguments might have been somewhat confusing, relying at times on shorthand references to rhetoric popular in conservative media. To others, Nunes’s introduction of the Republican case might have seemed tangential to the day’s discussion.

With that in mind, we’ve endeavored to explain and contextualize Nunes’s remarks, as well as to indicate where they might align with or deviate from the points central to the impeachment inquiry. Nunes’s prepared testimony follows in its entirety. Inset text is additional context from The Post.

Nunes’s remarks

In a July open hearing of this committee following publication of the Mueller report, the Democrats engaged in a last-ditch effort to convince the American people that President Trump is a Russian agent.

It’s useful to remember that Nunes has frequently been a strong defender of Trump’s. In 2017, he took the lead in defending Trump after the president accused former president Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, leaking information about the Obama administration unmasking the identities of people involved in phone calls. In 2018, Nunes’s staff drafted a document alleging abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and suggesting that the Russia probe broadly was falsely predicated.
That probe overlaps with Nunes’s reference to the “Mueller report” above; specifically, to the final report compiled by then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which was released in April of this year. The open hearing to which Nunes refers is that in which Mueller himself testified on July 24.
Nunes’s presentation of the Democrats’ “effort” to paint Trump as a “Russian agent” is political rhetoric; the Mueller hearing was focused on the special counsel’s inquiry and, largely, on evidence that Trump sought to obstruct the Russia investigation. Nunes later echoes Trump’s own rhetoric referring to the Mueller probe as the “Russia hoax,” a shorthand that glosses over what Mueller’s probe found.

That hearing was the pitiful finale of a three-year-long operation by the Democrats, the corrupt media and partisan bureaucrats to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election.

This framing is a constant among Trump’s defenders, suggesting that the concern of Democrats is that Trump is president at all. The mention of “corrupt media” is an effort to cast outlets like our own as untrustworthy, so that people will be skeptical if we, say, contextualize erroneous public statements from politicians.

After the spectacular implosion of their Russia hoax on July 24, in which they spent years denouncing any Republican who ever shook hands with a Russian, on July 25 they turned on a dime and now claim the real malfeasance is Republicans’ dealings with Ukraine.

As Nunes notes, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone the day after the Mueller hearing. During that call, Trump pushed Zelensky to open politically useful investigations.
What Nunes blurs is that Democrats didn’t immediately seize upon the July 25 call as problematic. Instead, that focus only emerged in mid-September, when a whistleblower in the intelligence community filed a complaint focused on concerns about Trump’s interactions with Zelensky. That complaint triggered the current probe and the emergence of evidence bolstering the whistleblower’s complaint.
What Nunes is doing here, unsubtly, is framing the impeachment process itself as a function of partisanship. The next section makes that even more obvious.

In the blink of an eye, we’re asked to simply:

  • forget about Democrats on this committee falsely claiming they had “more than circumstantial evidence” of collusion between President Trump and the Russians;
This is a reference in part to committee chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). For Schiff and other Democrats, incidents like the meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 establish an effort by Trump’s team to collude with Russian actors. Republicans, including Nunes, reject such claims.
  • forget about them reading fabrications of Trump-Russia collusion from the Steele dossier into the congressional record;
  • forget about them trying to obtain nude pictures of Trump from Russian pranksters who pretended to be Ukrainian officials;
The “nude pictures” comment is a reference to Schiff’s having been tricked by Russian pranksters offering purported incriminating photos of Trump. This reference, like the reference to the dossier of reports filed by former British intelligence office Christopher Steele, is meant to embarrass and undermine Schiff rather than to specifically defend Trump.
  • forget about them leaking a false story to CNN, while he was testifying to our committee, claiming Donald Trump Jr. had colluded with WikiLeaks;
Nunes again tries to disparage House Democrats by suggesting that they leaked erroneous information to the press. CNN, making an error on dates, incorrectly reported that Donald Trump Jr. had received early notification about a release of documents from WikiLeaks.
  • and forget about countless other deceptions, large and small, that make them the last people on Earth with the credibility to hurl more preposterous accusations at their political opponents.
This is the main point: Democrats can’t be trusted to hold an unbiased impeachment inquiry. (Again, though, note that this doesn’t address Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.)
Nunes continues on this line.

And yet now we’re supposed to take these people at face value when they trot out a new batch of allegations. But anyone familiar with the Democrats’ scorched-earth war against President Trump would not be surprised to see all the typical signs that this is just a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign. For example:

  • After vowing publicly that impeachment requires bipartisan support, Democrats are pushing impeachment forward without the backing of a single House Republican.
True, but only in part because the one Republican who supported impeachment, Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) left the party. It’s also the case that Republicans maintained a solid front in part to be able to make this argument.
  • The witnesses deemed suitable for television by the Democrats were put through a closed-door audition process in a cultlike atmosphere in the basement of the Capitol, where the Democrats conducted secret depositions, released a flood of misleading and one-sided leaks, and later selectively released transcripts in a highly staged manner.
This is broadly misleading. A review of transcripts reveals that Republicans were given equal time to question witnesses. Republicans participated in the interviews; dozens were members of committees that allowed them to do so. Both Democrats and Republicans leaked information from the depositions.
  • Violating their own guidelines, the Democrats repeatedly redacted from the transcripts the name of Alexandra Chalupa, a contractor for the Democratic National Committee who worked with Ukrainian officials to collect dirt on the Trump campaign, which she provided to the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
  • The Democrats rejected most of the Republicans’ witness requests, resulting in a horrifically one-sided process where crucial witnesses are denied a platform if their testimony doesn’t support the Democrats’ absurd accusations. Notably, they are trying to impeach the president for inquiring about Hunter Biden’s activities, yet they refused our request to hear from Biden himself.
Democrats, who hold the majority in the House, did reject several witnesses proposed by Republicans. One rationale is that witnesses like Hunter Biden, former vice president Joe Biden’s son, would have little to offer on Trump’s interactions with Ukraine — the focus of the inquiry.
  • The whistleblower was acknowledged to have a bias against President Trump, and his attorney touted a “coup” against the president and called for his impeachment just weeks after his election.
Republicans have seized on the bias of the whistleblower — revealed by the inspector general for the intelligence community — as being disqualifying. The whistleblower’s complaint, however, has been broadly confirmed by subsequent testimony.
The comment about a “coup” is from a tweet at the beginning of Trump’s administration. Republicans displayed an oversize version of the tweet during the hearing. Embracing a tweet from a lawyer for a whistleblower seems somewhat at odds with the long-standing complaint from Republicans that the impeachment inquiry relies on secondhand information.
  • At a prior hearing, Democrats on this committee read out a purely fictitious rendition of the president’s phone call with [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky. They clearly found the real conversation to be insufficient for their impeachment narrative, so they just made up a new one.
Trump has also focused on this “fictitious rendition” — a paraphrasing of the call by Schiff — as problematic.

And most egregiously, the staff of Democrats on this committee had direct discussions with the whistleblower before his or her complaint was submitted to the inspector general, and Republicans cannot get a full account of these contacts because the Democrats broke their promise to have the whistleblower testify to this committee. Democrat members hid these contacts from Republicans and lied about them to the American people on national television.

Nunes is again attacking Schiff, suggesting impropriety in his interactions with the whistleblower (also a Trump focus). Outreach to congressional committees is, however, an acceptable part of the whistleblower process. There’s no indication Schiff knew who the whistleblower was or what the complaint was centered on before its being filed.

I’ve noted before that the Democrats have a long habit of accusing Republicans of offenses they themselves are committing. Recall that:

Again a conservative-media talking point. The Steele dossier is used as a rebuttal to questions about Trump’s interactions with Russia, despite that rebuttal centering on the idea that doing research involving Russians is equivalent to allegations about Russia trying to integrate with Trump’s 2016 campaign.
  • And now they accuse President Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine when they themselves are culpable. The Democrats cooperated in Ukrainian election meddling, and they defend Hunter Biden’s securing of a lavishly paid position with a corrupt Ukrainian company, all while his father served as vice president.
The “Democrats cooperated in Ukrainian election meddling” line links back to the Democratic National Committee contractor mentioned earlier, Alexandra Chalupa. A 2017 Politico article reported on Chalupa’s efforts to get information on Paul Manafort in 2016. Manafort was then Trump’s campaign chairman and had worked in Ukrainian politics for years. There’s no indication that the Democratic Party broadly or the Ukrainian government was part of the effort.

Despite this hypocrisy, the Democrats are advancing their impeachment sham. But we should not hold any hearings at all until we get answers to three crucial questions the Democrats are determined to avoid asking:

  • First, what is the full extent of the Democrats’ prior coordination with the whistleblower and who else did the whistleblower coordinate this effort with?
  • Second, what is the full extent of Ukraine’s election meddling against the Trump campaign?
  • And third, why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden, what did he do for them, and did his position affect any U.S. government actions under the Obama administration?
Observers might consider those questions in a different light: What might their answers reveal about Trump’s apparent efforts to pressure Ukraine into launching politically useful investigations?
The question at the center of the impeachment inquiry is what Trump did and whether he leveraged his power appropriately. If there were evidence that Ukraine interfered in 2016 (which there isn’t) or that Hunter Biden violated the law (which there isn’t), perhaps Trump’s position would be stronger. It would not necessarily be exculpatory.

These questions will remain outstanding because Republicans were denied the right to call witnesses who know the answers.

What we will witness today is a televised theatrical performance staged by the Democrats. Ambassador Taylor and Mr. Kent — I’d like to welcome you here, and congratulate you for passing the Democrats’ Star Chamber auditions held for the last six weeks in the basement of the Capitol. It seems you agreed, wittingly or unwittingly, to participate in a drama. But the main performance — the Russia hoax — has ended, and you’ve been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel.

I’ll conclude by noting the immense damage the politicized bureaucracy has done to Americans’ faith in government. Though executive branch employees are charged with implementing the policy set by our president, who is elected by and responsible to the American people, elements of the civil service have decided that they, not the president, are really in charge.

It is certainly true that faith in government has eroded over time.

Thus, as we’ll learn in these hearings:

  • After expressing skepticism of foreign aid and concern about foreign corruption on the campaign trail, President Trump outraged the bureaucracy by acting skeptically about foreign aid and expressing concerns about foreign corruption.
Trump didn’t mention corruption at all in his conversation with Zelensky, instead focusing only on the hacking of the DNC in 2016 and on Biden and his son.
  • Officials’ alarm at the president’s actions was typically based on secondhand, third-hand, and even fourth-hand rumors and innuendo.
But not always. Several witnesses testified to firsthand interactions with others or with the president.
  • They believed it was an outrage for President Trump to fire an ambassador, even though the president has full authority to retain or remove diplomats for any reason at any time.
  • Officials showed a surprising lack of interest in the indications of Ukrainian election meddling that deeply concerned the president at whose pleasure they serve.
Again, these indications are flimsy.
  • Despite all their dissatisfaction with President Trump’s Ukraine policy, the president approved the supply of weapons to Ukraine, unlike the previous administration, which provided blankets as defense against invading Russians.

By undermining the president who they are supposed to be serving, elements of the FBI, the Department of Justice, and now the State Department have lost the confidence of millions of Americans who believe that their vote should count for something. It will take years, if not decades, to restore faith in these institutions.

Nunes himself has been at the forefront of raising questions about U.S. intelligence institutions as part of his ongoing defenses of Trump, on whose presidential transition team he served.

This spectacle is doing great damage to our country. It’s nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.

It’s a minor nit, but an important one: Presidential impeachments don’t depend on the commission of a crime.