Nunes Attacks Dems, Media at Mahoning GOP Dinner

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio — Just hours after finishing the second day of hearings in the impeachment inquiry, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., stopped at a dinner hosted by the Mahoning County Republican Party Friday evening.

Some 560 attendees gathered at the Blue Wolf Tavern at the Maronite Center for the event. Elected officials joined GOP leaders and guests from throughout the Mahoning Valley, including those from Trumbull, Columbiana and Portage counties, as well as the Ohio Republican Party.

While the inquiry into the impeachment of President Donald Trump was the topic of the day, more than once Nunes took aim at the media, claiming news outlets are running a narrative designed by Democrats, from the impeachment hearings to Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s really a media operation wrapped with the Democrats and — the ‘dirty cops’ I call them — the FBI and [Department of Justice],” he said of the Mueller report.

Dan Rivers, host of the Dan Rivers Show on NewsRadio 570 WKBN, conducted a question-and-answer session with Nunes. He started by asking the California congressman if what President Donald Trump is being accused of rises to the level of impeachment.

Nunes answered by slamming the media for reporting on Trump’s tweets during the testimony of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch during her testimony Friday morning. Nunes said he was shocked that media outlets were reporting on the tweets.

“That shouldn’t surprise anybody because he sends out tweets all the time,” Nunes said. “And one thing we know, that if you attack the president, what’s he going to do? He’s going to attack you back.”

From the president’s Twitter account, Trump wrote “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”

Whether attacking someone via tweet is “the smartest thing in politics to do,” Nunes didn’t say, but acknowledged that it’s predictable for the president to do so.

“If somebody’s going to be testifying publicly, saying bad things about him, he’s going to point out what he thinks and the reasons why he fired the ambassador,” Nunes said. “Which he had every reason to fire.”

During her opening statements, Yovanovitch said she was given no reason for her ouster after 33 years of service in seven countries, including Ukraine where she served from August 2016 until May 2019. Yovanovitch acknowledged the role the Trump administration played in strengthening Ukraine since its war with Russia began in 2014.

“The Trump administration strengthened our policy by approving the provision to Ukraine of anti-tank missiles known as Javelins,” Yovanovitch said. “Supporting Ukraine is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do. If Russia prevails and Ukraine falls to Russian dominion, we can expect to see other attempts by Russia to expand its territory and influence.”

Initially expecting to remain in Ukraine until 2020, Yovanovitch was told in late April to depart “on the next plane,” which she blamed on a smear campaign targeting her. Ukraine had just elected Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which she said “was a sensitive period with much at stake for the U.S.,” requiring someone with her experience.

“When I returned to the United States, Deputy Secretary of State [John] Sullivan told me there had been a concerted campaign against me, that the president no longer wished me to serve as ambassador to Ukraine, and that in fact, the president had been pushing for my removal since the prior summer,” Yovanovitch said. “As Mr. Sullivan recently recounted during his Senate confirmation hearing, neither he nor anyone else ever explained or sought to justify the president’s concerns about me, nor did anyone in the department justify my early departure by suggesting I had done something wrong.”

Nunes, the ranking GOP member of the House Intelligence Committee, questioned why Yovanovitch was being questioned in the first place, asserting it was more of a human resources issue. Yovanovitch was ousted from her position in May after Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and others alleged she was obstructing the president’s efforts to have Ukraine investigate former vice president Joe Biden, and his son Hunter’s affiliation with Burisma Holdings, a Ukraine-based natural gas producer.

“I’m not exactly sure what the ambassador is doing here today. This is the House Intelligence Committee that’s now turned into the House impeachment committee,” Nunes said during the hearing.

In her opening remarks, Yovanovitch confirmed that many of the events in question occurred before and after her time as ambassador to Ukraine.

Key moments in the hearing centered on the way Yovanovitch was removed from her post. While the former ambassador acknowledges that she serves “at the pleasure of the president” and that it is common for incoming administrations to replace members of the previous administration with their own appointees, the way in which her ouster was handled left her “shocked and devastated.” Particularly so with Trump’s comments in the July phone call with Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch was “bad news,” and that she is “going to go through some things,” which she said felt like a “vague threat.

Speaking in Boardman, Nunes said Democrats and the media are changing the narrative about the July phone call. What began as an illustration of quid pro quo, then extortion, now is an example of bribery, Nunes said.

Rivers asked if using the term “bribery” changes anything.

“In any normal world, which we’re not in right now, but with any normal media, this is laughable,” he said.

Nunes addressed concerns over the identity of the whistleblower, saying that initially media outlets were wanting to interview the whistleblower. But now, with the whistleblower in witness protection, House Intelligence Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he doesn’t know the whistleblower’s identity, to which some in the audience responded, “Liar.”

“They can come in under the law under anonymity, but the main reason is for reprisal,” he said. “A lot of times when you’re using the intelligence agencies, the reason is maybe because it’s an undercover officer, so you need the protection of the intelligence committees, the intelligence community inspector general, so you don’t blow someone’s cover. Well, that’s not the case.”

The whistleblower is not an undercover agent, Nunes argued, so while the whistleblower may be protected from reprisal, “You should have to come out and face your accuser.”

Before opening the floor to questions from the audience, Nunes talked about his background in dairy farming and agriculture in California, saying “I come from the land of fruits and nuts, but the kind that you eat,” a remark that drew laughter.

“Of course you know the rest of California.”

During questions from the audience, Nunes called for an investigation into Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, whose handling of the whistleblower complaint has reportedly earned the ire of President Trump.

When the complaint was filed in August, Atkinson found it to be credible and forwarded it to Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence. While Maguire is required by law to turn the complaint over to Congress, he didn’t do so until pressured by Democrats after Atkinson advised lawmakers of the complaint, according to Nunes.

The New York Times reports that Trump, who appointed Atkinson in 2017, believes he is disloyal and conspiring with Democrats.

A member of the crowd took issue with the complaint Atkinson provided, saying that it was changed from reporting the whistleblower’s complaint from a first-person account to heresay, “which we know does not fly,” the audience member said.

“The transcript of the ICIG has not been released,” he said. “He has given us an unsatisfactory response. And as far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t have a good excuse and there needs to be an actual investigation of the IG.

“The challenge of that is, there is no longer a House Intelligence Committee,” Nunes replied. “We’re spending all day every day with impeachment.”

With that much time being spent on impeachment, Rivers asked if that endangered Trump’s chances of re-election.

“I think it helps him win, to be honest with you,” he said, citing the anger that the impeachment is fomenting among Republicans. “I think a lot of you are here tonight because you’re ticked off. You’re seeing what’s happening on television, and you’re mad. And you should be mad. And I think we see this all over the country.”

Nunes answered another audience member’s question about Chairman Schiff’s gaveling down points of order from U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-21 N.Y, and Jim Jordan, R-4 Ohio, during Friday morning’s hearings.

“At the end of the day, whoever has the votes makes the rules,” Nunes said. “Today, [Schiff] was on the cusp of doing some things wrong. … And so we’re going to have to explore whether or not you can continue to ignore points of order.”

Nunes left the event without taking questions from the local press.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.