The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee predicted a backlash from the release of a Democratic memo about foreign meddling in the 2016 election, telling a yearly gathering of conservatives that “the Democratic-controlled media” had misled Americans about the investigation.
“We actually wanted this out,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), addressing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference just as the Democratic memo was released. “It’s clear evidence that the Democrats are not only covering this up, but they’re also colluding with parts of the government to cover this up.”
Nunes’s remarks, part of a Q&A with American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, came at the end of a conference where the inquiries into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign were described as a partisan farce. Nunes was one of several speakers who suggested that the case against the Trump campaign was flimsy and that any investigation into the election needed to focus on whether the Obama administration had unfairly targeted the 2016 Republican campaign.
“We’ve seen no evidence of collusion,” Nunes said.
“We’ve seen no evidence of Republicans colluding,” Schlapp said.
“That’s fair,” Nunes said.
The conference, which unfolded over 3 ½ days at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just outside Washington, overlapped with breaking news about the long-running Russia investigation. On Friday, Trump campaign official Rick Gates pleaded guilty to two charges related money laundering, and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III filed fresh charges against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
But at CPAC, the news was received in two ways — as a distraction or as a hoax. According to the conference’s annual straw poll, 60 percent of attendees said the Mueller investigation was unfair. In a Saturday-afternoon speech, Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch said the probe and the media’s focus on it was designed to distract from scandals around defeated 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Stolen and destroyed records. Violations of national security laws. You name it — Judicial Watch has compiled enough evidence to compel the lawful arrest of Hillary Clinton,” Fitton said. “It’s no wonder that the D.C. establishment would rather talk about their made-up garbage about Donald Trump and Russia.”
A Saturday panel about the investigation, bringing together skeptical conservative reporters, was less dismissive. While they criticized some national news media as hyping each turn in the Russia story, they acknowledged that the investigations raise some questions about Trump’s campaign.
“The one thing that’s striking is that he has indicted a lot of people, some people have pleaded guilty, there have been a whole lot of counts — and if you accept the idea that there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians to influence the election, he hasn’t charged anybody with being a part of it, yet,” said Washington Examiner columnist Byron York. “I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, because I don’t know the future.”
The Nunes session took a different tone. Cheers of “thank you!” went up as soon as Nunes took the stage, and continued as he described why he released a memo about how research by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm, was used to justify probes of Trump’s campaign.
“Our memo was for one purpose only, and that was to show that FISA abuse occurred,” Nunes said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “They are advocating that it’s okay for the FBI and DOJ to use political dirt paid for by one campaign and use it against another political campaign.”
The rest of Nunes’s remarks focused on coverage of his investigation and the need, as he saw it, for a probe into “whether there’s been abuse or not” by federal investigators looking at the Trump campaign.
“What you’re really seeing is the collapse of the media. It’s really sad,” Nunes said. “Most Americans now understand that no matter where you’re getting your news from, it’s going to be biased.”
Nunes also got a chance to respond to an unnamed “Morning Joe” commentator who criticized his background as a farmer — proof, he said, that the media “despised” people with blue-collar jobs. And when the session ended, he stood to receive the American Conservative Union’s Defender of Freedom Award, conferred on him because of his “lonely pursuit of truth on behalf of the American people.”