Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) used his questions Wednesday in the first public impeachment hearings to push discredited conspiracy theories claiming that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Nunes raised the claims in an attempt to argue that President Donald Trump was correct to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the 2016 election; and to dispatch Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, to meet with Ukrainian officials.
“Since the meddling was aimed against his campaign, he’d have good reason for sending his personal attorney to make inquiries about it,” Nunes said.
The congressman was alluding to conspiracy theories that are little-known outside of Fox News and the right-wing media ecosystem, and were widely divergent from what witnesses Ambassador William Taylor and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent were at the hearing to discuss.
In the conspiracy theorists’ telling, Democratic National Committee staffer Alexandra Chalupa conspired with Ukrainian officials during the 2016 election to dig up dirt on Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Chalupa has denied collecting any opposition research for the DNC.
Nunes echoed the idea that Ukraine meddled in the election in his questioning, calling the “black ledger” that revealed cash payments to Manafort “disputed” in a nod to unsubstantiated allegations that the ledger was a fabrication. Other Trump partisans, including Giuliani, have made similar claims—even baselessly charging billionaire Democratic financier George Soros of being involved in the scheme.
The Republican claim that Ukraine meddled in the election is based on a 2017 interview Chalupa gave to Politico, in which she said a handful of Ukrainian officials had been “helpful” with her attempts to investigate Manafort. Trump defenders like Nunes see this as proof that Ukraine interfed in 2016 in an attempt to sabotage Trump.
But Chalupa has stressed that the assistance was minimal, saying that there were “no documents given.” Meanwhile, the Manafort ledger has held up to scrutiny, with other people named in the ledger confirming the accuracy of the payments detailed in the document.
On Wednesday, Nunes complained that Kent and Taylor didn’t know enough about the claim that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election.
“What’s strange is that some of the witnesses at these hearings and previous depositions who expressed alarm about these inquiries were remarkably uninformed about these indications of Ukrainian election meddling and why the president may have been concerned by them,” Nunes said.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) slammed Nunes’s questions, accusing him and other Republicans or attempting to avoid asking the witnesses real questions or defending Trump’s actions by throwing around allegations about Ukrainian interference.
“They spin theories about black ledgers or Steele dossiers,” Himes said.
While Nunes pushed his claims about Ukraine, he still found time to dismiss the actual purpose of the hearing, dubbing the charge that Trump pressured the Ukraine to investigate the Bidens “the mother of all conspiracy theories.”