The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: devin nunes

Led By Nunes, Trump's Social Media Media Startup Falters

Donald Trump, expecting to make lots of money off his upstart social media venture Truth Social, has turned down offers to work with other platforms such as Gettr and Parler already on the rise in a flood of right-wing media sites.

Trump is simply too greedy to cut in anyone else on what he's sure will be a rich payoff from the conspiracy-laden haven he’s itching to launch. There's just one problem: It's a Trump venture and, therefore, already flailing, per The Washington Post.

Sure, Trump had a knack for sending off bogus tweets that lit his MAGA cultists on fire. That was his daily, if not hourly, ritual for four full years at the White House. That was governance to Trump.

But actually starting up a company that supposedly does something other than bloviate is proving to be a touch more difficult of a task for ol' Trump. For months, that failure has reduced twitchy-finger Trump to releasing nothing but a string of disgruntled statements that limp along in the mediascape until they're soon forgotten.

Twitter has permanently suspended Trump following lies he spouted in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Facebook and Instagram ultimately imposed a two-year suspension on Trump, which pushes the prospect of his reentrance on the platforms past the midterm election. While blowing up Twitter with lies and outrage was Trump's favorite pastime, Facebook actually served as a better small-dollar fundraising tool for Trump.

In the meantime, Trump's “Truth” platform has fallen victim to a series of delays ranging from the dozens of hires necessary to staff it up to scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission over a planned merger between Trump Media and a publicly traded company, Digital World Acquisition. Such mergers, made through a Special Purpose Acquisition Company or SPAC, typically take five to six months from the time the merger is announced to the time the deal closes, according to Michael Ohlrogge, an assistant law professor at New York University.

Enter new Trump Media CEO Devin Nunes, the newly resigned California congressman and former dairy farmer who appears to have no credentials equal to the task of standing up a social media startup.

Trump also didn't exactly hit it out of the park with his debut of TruthSocial.com last fall. The Post writes:

The early version of the site was quickly taken down after pranksters posted a photo of a defecating pig under the username “donaldjtrump.” Days later, the creators of the open-source social media software that the site used, Mastodon, sent Trump Media a letter saying Truth Social had violated the terms under which the software could be used.

Following that debacle, a planned beta launch in November never actually took place. Apple's App Store pegs the expected launch date for the Truth Social app at February 21.

Meanwhile, Nunes is reportedly burning up the phone lines with venture capitalists to get the lowdown on how to build a company.

Nonetheless, a Trump spokesperson said he remains undeterred.

“The demand for President Trump, his leadership, and his ‘America First’ solutions continue to grow despite Big Tech’s attack on his freedom of speech,” spokesman Taylor Budowich said.

If he could just find an outlet, Trump's special brand of paranoia would be super duper popular. Too bad he’s tripping over his greed.

Devin Nunes Retiring From Congress To Head Trump Media Outfit

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California is retiring from Congress at the end of 2021 to work for former President Donald Trump.

The news was first reported by Alex Tavlian of The San Joaquin Valley Sun, which initially claimed he'd stay on until 2022 before updating with the much more rapid timeline. The Trump Media and Technology Group later released a statement confirming that Nunes had accepted an offer to become its CEO, a position he'll assume in January of the new year.

Many observers quickly pointed out that Nunes was next in line to be chair of the Ways and Means committee, should Republicans take control of the House of Representatives — a particularly powerful position in Congress. But apparently, his options outside of government were even more enticing.

Nunes came to public prominence as a fierce defender of Trump during his presidency. For the first two years, Nunes led the House Intelligence Committee and waged an aggressive campaign against the government's investigations into the then-president. He was an aggressive opponent of the Russia investigation and stoked conspiracy theories about an inside plot to bring Trump down.

Nunes was also an outspoken critic of the House investigation of Trump's efforts to induce Ukraine into going after Joe Biden, which eventually led to the first of his two impeachments.

Since taking a prominent place in American politics, the California congressman launched a sweeping effort to silence some of his critics by weaponizing a series of lawsuits against media organizations and individuals whose reporting and commentary displeased him. Those lawsuits have been largely unsuccessful in court, but the effort may have nevertheless contributed to a chilling effect on people interested in speaking out against him.

Kremlin Assets Aided Pro-Trump 2020 Documentary Featuring Caputo, Nunes

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Russian government proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network" as part of the Kremlin's wide-ranging effort to influence the 2020 presidential election by falsely accusing President Joe Biden of corruption in Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community revealed in a report Tuesday.

The report does not explicitly identify the documentary or network in question. But the timeline and subject matter match The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder, which the pro-Trump One America News Network aired in late January 2020. Former Trump aide Michael Caputo hosted that one-hour special, which featured separate interviews with a former Ukrainian official later sanctioned by the federal government for his role in a Russian influence operation and with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), at the time the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

According to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized Russian influence operations aimed at undermining Biden's campaign and supporting then-President Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle. The report assesses that Russian intelligence services and their Ukraine-linked proxies -- including "Russian influence agent" Konstantin Kilimnik and Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach -- sought to use U.S. media outlets and prominent Americans to launder allegations of corrupt ties between Biden, his family, and Ukraine, and to falsely accuse Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The report does not specify which Americans or media outlets were caught up in the Russian plot. But it's clear to anyone who followed political news in 2019 that the intelligence community is referencing Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's anti-Biden disinformation campaign. Giuliani sought to bolster Trump's reelection by working with shady Ukrainians, some with links to Russia, to dig up dirt on Biden and then spread itthrough right-wing writer John Solomon, Fox News, and OAN. The effort blew up in Trump's face when the then-president's corrupt effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Bidens became public, triggering his first impeachment by the House of Representatives later that year.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the effort by Kilimnik, Derkach, and their associates to use U.S. media outlets to damage Biden's political standing on behalf of the Russian government, the Russian proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020."

That timeline matches the release of The Ukraine Hoax, which first aired on January 25, 2020. Moreover, the content of Caputo's film echoes the Kremlin-backed narratives described in the report, as well as other Russian government talking points.

OAN CEO Robert Herring Sr. described the special as "exactly what our One America News Investigates series is all about" in a press release announcing its premiere. That's undoubtedly true -- in keeping with his network's general aesthetic, The Ukraine Hoax is an hour of conspiracy theories united by slavish devotion to Trump. Caputo argues that Trump's impeachment is an unjust persecution that emerged from U.S. meddling in Ukraine, corrupt dealings by the Bidens, and joint efforts by Democrats and Ukrainians to stop Trump's election that resulted in Robert Mueller's special counsel probe. He concludes, "as Democrats pursue Trump, they're destroying America and Ukraine."

Caputo denied Russian government involvement in his film and said he had not talked to Derkach or Kilimnik, the proxies named in the report, in an interview with Mother Jones.

But Caputo's star interview is with Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomat and Giuliani ally who the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in January for his role in a "Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with" Derkach.

Treasury's press release describes Telizhenko as a member of Derkach's "inner circle" and states that he participated in Derkach's disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election. According to the release, Telizhenko "orchestrated meetings between Derkach and U.S. persons to help propagate false claims concerning corruption in Ukraine." Telizhenko previously sought to distance himself from Derkach.

In his interview with Caputo for OAN, Telizhenko falsely claimed that the Ukrainian government, with the encouragement of the Obama administration, interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.


Telizhenko became a fixture in right-wing media circles for that allegation because it allowed Trump propagandists to argue that Clinton, and not Trump, had been the real beneficiary of foreign interference in the 2016 election. The intelligence community report released Tuesday describes the effort to "falsely blame Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election" as one of the aims of the Russian proxies.

The documentary also features an interview with then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes. Nunes was one of several Trump allies that congressional Democrats said received materials from Derkach aimed at smearing Biden during the impeachment push.

In his interview, Nunes criticized pro-democracy organizations backed by American philanthropist George Soros, saying that they "have agendas" and that Soros "is extreme left-wing and he supports extreme left-wing causes." He apparently agreed with Caputo's claim that Soros was "building an extreme left-wing government" in Ukraine. Nunes also lashed out at "the Russia hoax," saying that "if people are not held accountable, you're going to have generations of Americans, part of the Republican Party, who will never trust the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA."

Elsewhere in the film, Caputo described the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, in which protesters ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, as a violent coup instigated by the U.S. government and Soros.


The description of the revolution as a U.S-backed coup echoes language used by Putin in defending Russia's invasion of Ukraine later that year, while the Russian presidentand Russian-backed governments have for years targeted Soros over his pro-democracy efforts.

Caputo also revived the false right-wing smear that as vice president, Biden improperly pushed the government of Ukraine to fire Viktor Shokin, the country's prosecutor general, to stop the investigation of a Ukrainian company and benefit his son Hunter Biden. The Ukraine Hoax includes clips from Shokin himself making that claim.

In fact, Shokin had been widely faulted by Western governments and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists for failing to prosecute corruption, including corruption by the company's founder; the probe had reportedly been "shelved" under Shokin; and his successor acknowledged that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. The intelligence community report appears to reference this false claim, stating that the Russian proxy network "sought to discredit the Obama administration by emphasizing accusations of corruption by US officials."

After producing a pro-Trump documentary, allegedly with Russian assistance, Caputo went on to bigger and better things. Less than three months after OAN aired his special, Caputo joined the Trump administration as assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services. He subsequently drew criticism for politicizing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about the coronavirus pandemic, and took a leave of absence after his Facebook video accusing CDC scientists of "sedition" became public.

In an interview promoting his special with OAN correspondent and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, Caputo bemoaned that some of the people he wanted to interview "ghosted" him during the filming process. But apparently he found help from other sources.

#EndorseThis: Greed And Hypocrisy As Trump Cronies Glom PPP Loans

You may recall how the Treasury Department and the Trump White House strenuously opposed any oversight of the hundreds of billions of dollars distributed by the PPP loan program. "I'll be the oversight," barked Trump. And now we know why: His friends, family, and political cronies have bellied up to federal cash box, grabbing with both hands.

In just 90 seconds, the liberal SuperPAC #MeidasTouch delivers a sharp summary of several egregious "borrowers" in a new ad titled "Leave Me A Loan." The offenders range from Jared Kushner to Kanye West and include that lifelong anti-government crusader, Grover Norquist. (Grover no longer wants to drown big government in a bathtub. He just wants to drown his principles in million-dollar hand-outs.)

Yes, businesses owned by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Devin Nunes are among the connected outfits that got some easy loan action too. Meanwhile, deserving small businesses were left to go under.

Which stinks worse, the hypocrisy or the greed? We report, you decide.


Former Trump Loyalist Sondland Delivers Damning Testimony

On Wednesday morning, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland decided to save himself. In dramatic testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Sondland — a Donald Trump appointee who gave the president $1 million for his inaugural party — gave up the president and pretty much everyone else.

Like former ambassador Kurt Volker on Tuesday, Sondland painted a picture of himself as a hapless naïf, unaware that the proposed “investigations” Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, kept demanding from Ukrainian leaders were actually an effort to fabricate conspiracy theories about former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic officials.

It’s not a likely story. Giuliani was, at the time, talking up this conspiracy theory to anyone who would listen, including New York Times reporter Ken Vogel. But it really doesn’t matter. Because, in his effort to save himself, Sondland had to rat out huge chunks of the senior staff at the White House, including President Trump himself.

“We followed the president’s orders,” Sondland said, in a statement full of these blunt statements that fit beautifully in headlines.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said of the scheme to extort Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky into making public statements to back Trump’s conspiracy theories.

“A lot of senior officials,” he noted, naming names: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and their respective staffs — and he brought emails to back these accusations up. Pompeo, in particular, is implicated in discussions about the specific language they wished Zelensky to use in order to stoke lies about Biden.

Sondland also threw Vice President Mike Pence under the bus, saying he spoke with the veep before a Sept. 1 meeting “with the Ukrainians” and explicitly told Pence “that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations.”

Lest there be any doubt, Sondland made quite clear that he knew for a fact that Trump had explicitly demanded a quid pro quo of Zelensky’s public announcement in exchange for a White House meeting.

He also made clear that he believed military aid was conditioned on this public announcement, so much so that he pulled aside Zelensky’s aide and told him “that I believed that the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

House Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman focused heavily on the issue of public announcements, repeatedly asking Sondland about how important it was for Zelensky to make a public statement meant to bolster Trump’s conspiracy theories.

As he “understood it,” Sondland answered, Zelensky only “had to announce the investigations” to get his White House meeting and military aid, and “didn’t actually have to do them.”

This was critical, as it underlines how much the Ukraine extortion scheme was not about “corruption,” as Trump has insisted, but about fabricating evidence to be used against Biden, who Trump sees as his likely opponent in the 2020 election. Trump simply wanted Zelensky to go on TV and imply that Biden had done something that needed investigation, likely in a U.S. TV interview that Trump and Giuliani clearly intended to use to stoke lies about Biden for the rest of the election cycle.

Throughout the testimony, Sondland’s affect was giddily nervous, a contrast to the more serious, composed faces of the professional diplomats who have testified previously. Sondland’s nervous smile only reinforced how much he is a man in over his head. He started this journey as just a typical wealthy Republican doofus, buying himself an ambassadorship and loving his big, dumb president. He is no elite criminal, but a guy who got caught up in Trump and Giuliani’s conspiracy — and who has the money to pay a lawyer sharp enough to know when the jig is up.

As for the Republicans, it’s clear that they had no idea what to do with this Trump enthusiast-turned-songbird sitting before them. House Intelligence ranking member Devin Nunes’ expression, before the Republicans started their questioning of Sondland, said it all:

h

Nunes resorted to his usual strategy in these hearings, which is to ask a bunch of non-questions that are just an excuse to name check a bunch of right wing conspiracy theories, like a rapper rattling off fancy brand names. Republican counsel Steve Castor tried valiantly to poke holes in Sondland’s account, but to little avail, since there’s overwhelming public evidence to support the story Sondland tells of an extortion campaign masterminded by Trump himself. Castor’s effort will give the Fox News propaganda corps stuff to chew over, but had little value outside of that.

Above all, what Sondland’s testimony does is drive home how much this extortion scheme was Trump’s baby. Sondland argued that he and the career diplomats he was tasked with working with supported Ukraine and wanted Trump to do more to support that nation in its war against Russian invasion. But in Sondland’s telling, Trump and Giuliani were only interested in extracting public statements from Zelensky that Trump could use to promote his conspiracy theories. This doesn’t just go all the way to the top. The top is where the entire conspiracy began.



Republicans Demand Hunter Biden, Whistleblower Testify At Hearings

 

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

House Republicans, in their ever-increasing efforts to disrupt congressional impeachment proceedings, have thrown one more curveball into the mix. They now want to have the whistleblower, an intelligence community official who has asked for anonymity, and Hunter Biden, the son of the Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, to their list of witnesses to testify in open, public, televised impeachment inquiry hearings, according to The Washington Post.

Democrats, who hold the House majority, are expected to overrule the request.

Intelligence Committee Ranking Republican Devin Nunes sent an embarrassingly facetious threat with the GOP’s request.

“We expect that you will call each of the witnesses listed above to ensure that the Democrats’ ‘impeachment inquiry’ treats the President with fairness, as promised by Speaker Pelosi,” Nunes warned, clearly aware the request was likely to be denied. “Your failure to fulfill Minority witness requests shall constitute evidence of your denial of fundamental fairness and due process.”

IMAGE: House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).

Danziger: Naked Untruth

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Republicans Mock Nunes Over Lawsuit Frenzy

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is being ridiculed and criticized by his fellow California Republicans for suing his own constituents in his congressional district.

Nunes has been in a frenzy of lawsuits lately. He sued Twitter over people making fun of him, and he sued McClatchy, the parent of the Fresno Bee newspaper. Nunes was angered when the Bee reported on his involvement with a winery busted for a fundraiser that allegedly involved drugs and prostitution.

The latest lawsuit “is Nunes’ third in which he alleges that political consultants conspired against him to damage his chances for re-election last year,” McClatchy reported on Thursday.

Nunes is suing four Californians, including retired farmer Paul Buxman, who told the paper he voted for Nunes in the past.

“There seems to be no strategy other than to attack his enemies,” Republican consultant Kevin Spillane told McClatchy. “He should focus on working his district and stay out of the politics of Washington, D.C.”

Spillane also told the outlet that the lawsuit does not help the growing belief that Nunes is increasingly disconnected from his district’s concerns, as Democrats have noted.

Nunes has positioned himself in the last two years as one of Trump’s most visible allies and defenders. He has regularly made the rounds on cable news speaking up in Trump’s defense.

In exchange, Trump has frequently mentioned him on Twitter.

“I don’t know what there is to gain here,” Republican consultant Carl Fogliani said of the lawsuit to McClatchy.

“He wants to put the muzzle on anyone who stands up to challenge him,” Democratic businessman Phil Arballo, who is considering challenging Nunes, told the outlet.

In a speech in front of Nunes office, Arballo said, “A sitting member of congress is suing his own constituents. This is outrageous, Rep. Nunes is unhinged.”

Nunes has consumed himself with defending Trump and frequently becoming the butt of jokes and ridicule as a result. Now, through the legal system, he is lashing out at critics, but there are already signs that it is backfiring.

Published with permission of The American Independent.