Devin Nunes’ opponents in the Resistance seem to be spiraling.
Their latest effort against the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is to accuse him, without evidence, of secretly meeting in Vienna with a former Ukrainian official “to get dirt on Biden.” The official is former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, who former Vice President Joe Biden famously bragged about getting fired in exchange for $1 billion in loan guarantees from American taxpayers.
Incidentally, if there is one thing we have learned from the media in the last couple of months, “get dirt” is their code for Republicans doing investigations. “Investigate” is their code for Democrats trying to get dirt on political opponents. It appears the same term could be used regardless of the political views of those doing the investigations.
In any case, the Resistance theory goes that because of this unverified story,
they should get dirt on Nunes should be investigated and removed from his role in impeachment proceedings. It is just coincidence, surely, that Nunes has so effectively neutered the Democrats’ impeachment push by pointing out the flaws with Rep. Adam Schiff’s leadership of the proceedings. It is also coincidence that Nunes is chiefly responsible for blowing up the previous impeachment push through his oversight of the agencies that pushed the Russia collusion theory against President Trump.
It should be noted that the story about Nunes is not just objectively stupid but also extremely likely to be false. For one thing, Nunes denied the claims. “These demonstrably false and scandalous stories published by The Daily Beast and CNN are the perfect example of defamation and reckless disregard for the truth,” he said.
Shokin has also denied it repeatedly, even claiming through an associate to not even know who Nunes is. The denials are hidden in news stories, such as this one, which puts in a throwaway line deep in the piece. Ukrainian American Lev Parnas, the only source used by CNN and other Resistance Media outlets to make their claims, is extremely compromised.
Parnas appears to be attempting to get in front of Schiff in exchange for immunity, after being charged with campaign finance violations. And he’s not even the actual source. The claim appears to be that Shokin told Parnas of the secret Vienna meeting and that Parnas then told his lawyer who is now telling media figures.
There has not been a single shred of evidence supporting the claim that Nunes was in Vienna. And even Schiff, who spent years falsely claiming to a compliant media that he had evidence of President Donald Trump’s collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 election, is strangely quiet about this Nunes claim. Probably that’s because he knows it is false, since he would have knowledge of Nunes’ travel history.
The stupidity and likely falseness of the story has been no barrier for media outlets, who have run dozens of stories about the matter. Here are several ways that this story shows how the media are repeating their past failures on the Russia collusion hoax.
Remember Michael Cohen Goes to Prague?
For years the media were convinced of one of the key claims in the since-debunked “dossier” that the Hillary Clinton campaign had compiled against Trump. That claim was that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had brokered the collusion at a secret meeting in Prague.
As late as December 2018, McClatchy reporters Greg Gordon and Peter Stone claimed there was evidence that Cohen and his phone were in Prague. While they conceded that the Robert Mueller special counsel denied that Cohen was ever in Prague, they laughably refused to pull their two stories on the matter on the grounds that the report “is silent” on whether the phone was there.
“Devin Nunes secretly went to Vienna to collude!” is hardly even a re-write from the false “Michael Cohen went to Prague to collude!” stories that nearly every media outlet ran wild with, to their shame.
Source Credibility Should Matter
Speaking of Cohen, the media should really give some thought to source credibility. When Cohen turned on Trump, media outlets went from not believing his stories to running them without an ounce of skepticism.
In July 2018, CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Carl Bernstein, and Marshall Cohen — two of whom were responsible for one of the key Russia collusion hoax stories that got people hysterical back in early 2017 — reported that “Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, claims that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton, sources with knowledge tell CNN. Cohen is willing to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller, the sources said.”
The story claimed two sources, one of whom admitted to lying. That was Lanny Davis, the Clinton operative turned attorney for Cohen. Cohen was presumably the second source.
The reason for the lie can be hinted at in the lede — an attempt to curry favor with Mueller. This is very similar to Parnas working with his attorney to claim something false about others in exchange for help with his legal troubles.
It’s a perfectly fine legal strategy, but media should be a touch more skeptical about participating in it. Or, as one political wag put it:
Parnas was arrested with prescription antidepressants & opioids. The sole source for CNN’s “Devin Goes to Vienna” lie is a drug-addled, indicted sleazeball desperately hoping that Schiff can get him an immunity deal. He can’t. Hope CNN has good lawyers. https://t.co/9rHtXkGsQR
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) November 26, 2019
Fusion GPS, Is That You?
Nunes noted that the same political operative peddled the stories to “at least five different media outlets before finding someone irresponsible enough to publish them.” The Cohen in Prague story was peddled by Fusion GPS. That was the group the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee secretly hired to concoct the Christopher Steele dossier against Trump.
Peddling stories to multiple media outlets is the Fusion GPS operating style, and they have admitted to doing so against Nunes in the past. In a new book attempting to defend their work, they note that they served as a reporter clearing house during the 2016 campaign. And they do work on active court cases, having previously worked for Russian interests on the Prevezon case, and multiple other litigation issues.
Lazy media outlets love the group because they provide ready-packaged stories, typically against shared political opponents, but their history of getting things so very wrong should mean that media outlets that care even remotely about accuracy stop using them.
Made-Up Stories about Nunes Are a Cottage Industry
In the three years that I have covered the Russia-Trump collusion story, the attacks by the media on Nunes have been a constant. It is true he made the media look extremely foolish with his dogged oversight of intelligence agencies that spied on the Trump campaign, and his skepticism of the collusion conspiracy theory that gripped Washington, D.C. No one likes to be made to look foolish, so the revenge has been an onslaught of false stories about him and his investigative work.
The stories use anonymous sources with axes to grind to make false claims. For example, anonymous Democratic staffers on Schiff’s committee were used as sources for the false claim that Nunes made a “midnight run” to the White House to uncover rampant unmasking by Obama officials. Nunes corrected the false reporting on live national television, but the false story persists.
“Fusion” Natasha Bertrand, whose work in support of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory is legendary, was used to paint a Nunes trip to London as a nefarious adventure to undermine Steele, the author of the false dossier. The only problem with the story was that it was not true at all:
‘While in London, Chairman Nunes did not discuss Christopher Steele in any meetings, he did not try to schedule any meetings to discuss Steele, and he did not seek out or request any information whatsoever related to Steele,’ Jack Langer wrote to me in an email Friday. ‘It’s amazing how an utterly false story based on anonymous sources is uncritically re-reported by dozens of media outlets. Readers can determine for themselves whether these outlets are gullible or simply partisan mouthpieces for the Democrats—and those two things are not mutually exclusive.’
Fusion Natasha’s false claims were reiterated in a book by none other than Fusion GPS co-founders (what a coincidence!), so they had to be denied again.
For some reason, fake news reporters are enamored with the concept of Nunes flying abroad to have some nefarious meeting. They’re often just variants of the ridiculous ‘Michael Cohen went to Prague’ story.’ In this case, Nunes did not try to schedule any meetings to discuss Steele, and he didn’t mention Steele in any meetings. The trip had nothing to do with Steele. But two totally anonymous people claimed otherwise, and that’s all the media needs to assert it as fact, so long as these unknown people are saying what the reporters want to hear.
And now Vienna, in which on-the-record denials from Langer or Nunes himself are not sufficient to stop reporting based on questionable or anonymous sources with zero supporting evidence.
Again, the Resistance claim seems to be that Nunes met with Shokin, so he must be investigated and sidelined from his effective defense against their impeachment efforts. The story is almost certainly untrue, but even if it were, who in the world cares?
Shokin was famously fired via a pressure campaign from Joe Biden, so he is no longer a prosecutor in Ukraine. That means that no one meeting with him could pressure him to investigate Ukraine corruption or Ukraine election meddling in 2016.
It is reminiscent of stories about Trump looking into the Trump Tower Moscow project, which were painted as nefarious evidence of treasonous collusion with Vlad Putin and not, as seemed more reasonable, evidence that Trump was a global businessman.
Media figures should stop being so utterly deranged and stupid about Nunes. They should follow basic journalistic standards, stop repeating false claims, and stop regurgitating dubious information from compromised sources.