Devin Nunes Calls an Experienced Organized Crime Researcher Funded by Paul Singer a Democratic Operative

There’s a key part of Devin Nunes and Mark Meadows’ defense of the President yesterday that deserves far more attention, both for the way it distorts the factual record and how it suggests that simply being an expert on Russian and Ukrainian organized crime makes one a Democratic operative.

At issue is their bid to make the impeachment inquiry about Nellie Ohr, whom they’ve past falsely suggested had a role in mainlining the Steele dossier into DOJ and FBI. They’ve brought Nellie, the spouse of a key DOJ expert on organized crime, Bruce Ohr, back into their narrative by claiming she testified to Congress that Fusion GPS relied on Ukrainian sources. The idea is that Ohr’s testimony would prove that Trump had good reason to think Ukraine had it in for him in 2016, so could rightly ask Ukraine to investigate whether that amounted to tampering in the election.

Here’s how Nunes laid it out in his demand that Ohr be called to testify:

Nellie Ohr, former contractor for opposition research firm Fusion GPS. In a 2018 interview with the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Ms. Ohr stated that, during her work with Fusion GPS that ultimately assisted in the production of the Steele dossier–comprising false allegations against then-candidate Trump–Fusion GPS used information from sources in Ukraine, including Serhiy Leshchenko who recently lost his post from the Ukrainian parliament. Given President Trump’s documented belief that the Ukrainian government meddled in the 2016 election to oppose his candidacy, which forms the basis for a reasonable desire for Ukraine to investigate the circumstances surrounding the election and any potential Ukrainian involvement, Ms. Ohr is a prime fact witness who can assist Congress and the American public in better understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.

In his demand, Nunes helpfully provides a footnote, to make it easy to see how many errors he makes in this paragraph. Here’s the passage of Ohr’s testimony before Congress that, Nunes falsely claims, backs his insinuations that Ohr tampered in the 2016 campaign.

GOP counsel Ryan Breitenbach is questioning her.

Q Was there indication from [her boss at Fusion GPS, Jake] Berkowitz or [Glenn] Simpson that they had any inside information as to whether there were suspicious connections with any of President Trump’s orbit of individuals including his family?

A What do you mean by “inside information”?

Q I would say any information that they specifically gave you, in terms of your employment with Fusion GPS, that would indicate that there were some level of connections with President Trump’s family and Russia?

A They would give me leads based on their open-source research and, you know, legal documents and other things.

Q Did they ever indicate that any of their leads were based off of sources of theirs?

A I don’t remember get- — regarding the Trump family, no.

Q Regarding any of the research during this year, 10-, 11-month period, was any — was any research based off of sources of theirs that you were aware of?

A Yes.

Q And who were the sources?

A I recall a — they were mentioning someone named Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian.

Q And did they give you any indication as to Leshchenko’s connections with them, how they got to know him? Were they doing work for him?

A With Fusion GPS?

Q Correct.

A I am not aware of how they

Q Were you aware of how they had a connection with him?

A I am not aware.

Q But you were aware that he was a source of information that was leading to information that they had, that they were then presenting to you as reasons for following up on opposition research or what research —

A Yes.

Q — that is, on President Trump or his family?

A My understanding is that some — yes. And — yes, it was not necessarily on his family that Leshchenko’s research was on.

Q Are you aware of what his research, or what his source information included?

A His source information, I am not aware.

Q You are just aware that he was a source of —

A Yes.

Q — Glenn Simpson? Or was it a source of Mr. Berkowitz? Or both?

A I am not aware of a differentiation between them. Just a source for Fusion GPS.

Q That is one source. Were there any other sources that you were aware of?

A I don’t think so. I don’t recall that there were.

Q And were you aware of Mr. Leshchenko prior to him being mentioned to you as a potential source of their information?

A Yes.

Q In what way?

A He is very well-known, Ukrainian, anti-corruption activist. So I had read about him in the press.

Q Had you studied him before?

A What do you mean by “studied”?

Q Performed independent research for any prior employer.

A No. I followed him in the — you know, if I saw him mentioned in the press, I read — I read about it.

Q And previous to this particular incoming knowledge from Mr. Simpson or just from Fusion GPS, were you aware of any connections between Mr. Leshchenko — am I saying that name, by the way?

A Yes.

Q — Mr. Leshchenko and President Trump, or anyone in President Trump’s familial orbit or even friendly orbit?

A I was unaware of any connections before that. [my emphasis]

Before this colloquy, Ohr had already testified that she had “no reason to believe” that her work was integrated into the Steele dossier at all. Democratic staffers walked her through passage after passage in the Steele dossier and asked her if her work had provided background for it, which she said it did not. She also had already explained (to both Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows in separate interactions directly) that she, “did online open source research using Russian sources, media, social media, government, you know, business registers, legal databases, all kinds of things.” Ohr’s testimony was backed by Glenn Simpson’s earlier appearances before Congress — including an appearance before HPSCI that Nunes attended; Simpson also said his own research was based off open source research.

Moreover, both the reports Nellie did (PDF 216 to 299) and a table she put together on Trump and his flunkies’ ties to suspect Russians show that the bulk of her research for Fusion preceded the time when Christopher Steele was working on the dossier. Significantly, that means much of Nellie Ohr’s work was paid by GOP billionaire Paul Singer, not the DNC.

So in this passage, Nellie Ohr is talking leads she got from her boss at Fusion, Jake Berkowitz, based off open source research he had done, that she would use to do more open source research, for a project mostly paid for by a Republican billionaire interested in the ties between Trump and Russian organized crime.

And what the passage shows is that:

  • Ohr said the information from Berkowitz came from open source reporting
  • She described herself getting information on Serhiy Leshchenko’s efforts, because he was a very well-known anti-corruption activist who was covered in the press
  • She twice said she was not aware of how Berkowitz and Simpson got their information from Leshchenko
  • She also said she didn’t know where Leshchenko got his information
  • Ohr said that Leshchenko’s reporting wasn’t focused on the Trump family (it almost certainly was focused on Paul Manafort, about whom Ohr wrote a detailed timeline)

In short, the transcript Nunes says supports a demand that Ohr testify does no such thing. Instead, it shows that this side of Fusion’s work relied on open source reporting, and that information on Leshchenko’s efforts was available via open sources. It also shows that Ohr repeatedly denied knowing whether the Fusion focus on Leshchenko was based on anything but open source reporting.

This transcript also shows that if Republicans really wanted to know about how Leshchenko’s work informed Fusion’s work, they should ask Simpson or Berkowitz to testify, because Ohr was only ever working from open sources — that is, doing research, mostly paid for by a Republican billionaire.

That background is all critically important for how Nunes ended yesterday’s testimony. In his closing statement at the hearing, Nunes restated his demand that Schiff permit Republicans to call their chosen witnesses, which he listed as:

  • The whistleblower
  • The folks that he spoke to
  • Numerous Democratic operatives who worked with Ukraine to meddle in the election

Obviously, Nellie Ohr — an experienced researcher on Ukrainian and Russian organized crime — must fall into the latter category.

So on top of all the ways Nunes misrepresented the Ohr’s testimony (or her ability to testify on the issues he claims to want to hear), there’s this. The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, believes that an expert on Ukrainian and Russian organized crime being paid to do open source research by a Republican billionaire must be a Democratic operative.

64 replies
  1. Wm. Boyce says:

    Nunes is a moron, that’s been well-established in the past. The fact that he was sidelined during all the closed session depositions (according to sources in the Times) shows how ineffective he is. The Repugs have no cohesive defense against the impeachment evidence, but they count on a stupid country going along w/their charade. I hope they are wrong.

  2. klynn says:

    Nunes deserves a snail mail accountability action of folks printing this post off and snail mailing a copy to him registered mail.

  3. Glacier says:

    The GOP impeachment defense strategy seems to be about using their time to make a case to explore GOP conspiracy hot spots related to Clinton or Obama, versus defending trump from the actual crime of bribery. Their chaotic shotgun approach is not unlike trump’s 2016 campaign to sling out mud and see what attracts media interest — and use (rabbit hole) distractions to take away from the impeachment focus.

    • timbo says:

      What the DP should have been doing earlier was anticipating this and preparing to investigate all that they bring up… “just to clear the air” perhaps? The DP could still do it. They just need to figure out a way to do it so that the morons can really remove all doubt… but the DP leadership doesn’t really know how to do that it appears. Hopefully Schiff is learning how to go about this now. Is anyone holding their breath over this though?

  4. sproggit says:

    Devin Nunes is an interesting character. suggests that his election fundraising enjoyed a *remarkable* spike in 2018 (although it’s possible that they don’t yet show all 2019 submissions). See here:-

    When you look at the trend, from 1998 through 2016 the pattern is barely inflation-busting. Then in 2018 he gets an approx 500% increase. Am I alone in thinking that looks just a trifle odd? And then, when you look at his actual election results, he saw an actual *drop* in % of the vote, see here (bottom of page):-

    How do you take a 5-fold increase in campaign capital and turn it in to a 12% drop in vote share? That’s impressive, right there…

    • David B Pittard says:

      Nunes is interesting in the same way Flynn, Graham and others are interesting whose actions and words in the last few years have demolished the character they once had established or positions they once maintained. His essay, “Rep. Nunes – The Bear Out There” published in the Washington Times on 8/14/14 to see his essay warning of Russia’s threat to create chaos in the 2016 elections was prescient, but seemingly forgotten by him as he strives to ensure the success of that chaos. How, except by some corruption, has this happened, I cannot imagine.

    • Tracy Lynn says:

      Perhaps he had a more competitive opponent in 2016? A couple of my friends volunteered for Andrew Janz’s campaign that year. There were a lot of people who felt invested in the outcome and the Janz campaign (and the Democratic Party) brought a lot of folks into the district to campaign against Nunes.

      • Raven Eye says:

        Janz was the first serious challenge to DevinCow. My guess is that Nunes was caught off guard and had to scramble for the 2018 election. This is a pretty conservative area (including the odd cross burning in the ’60s), and he didn’t expect any serious opposition. His education is classic for agribusiness families in Tulare and Kings Counties: College of the Sequoias and Cal Poly.

        • P J Evans says:

          I’m assuming that’s Cal Poly SLO (almost typed “Cow Piley” – a school joke, not a Nunes joke).

          • bmaz says:

            PJ – Cow Piley! I swear, I don’t think I’ve heard that before. Lol. It is actually an extremely good school though, and a gorgeous location. Kevin Drum did a post yesterday that is based on a report on colleges that is different than the old US News type of rankings, and the Cal State schools come out very well. It is actually pretty interesting.

            • Raven Eye says:

              Thanks for the link. Fascinating and engrossing. Interesting to note how well the maritime academies do. And also ponder the connection between public 2 year degree colleges and the income profiles of the communities they serve.

              • bmaz says:

                Yep. Obviously these kind of things are not perfect or definitive, and subject to public perception, but the relative distinctions are fascinating in spite of that.

                And yes!…Maritime. I may have missed my calling.

    • bitte says:

      The really crazy conspiracy theory I read was Nunes leaked Nato sub positions to the Russians because he has family in Lajes. The argument centered on his receiving “Grand Officer of the National Order of Prince Henry the Navigator” from Portugal in 2013 for no particular reason, and his sudden reversal on Russia was in response to having his chain yanked.
      It’s roughly on par with the “Jared K okayed MBS’s arrest of Kashoggi”, likely being put forward as disinfo.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If Fusion GPS had relied on “Ukraine sources,” it would not mean the sources were or remain in its current government.

    If the claims were true, it would not lead to the conclusion Goopers want. It would not make it legitimate for Donald Trump to personalize for his sole benefit US foreign policy toward Ukraine because he was irritated at a critic of his 2016 campaign.

    The argument is an after-the-fact excuse for something his supporters know Donald Trump could not stop himself from doing. It is further evidence of how bad a president he is.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, believes that an expert on Ukrainian and Russian organized crime being paid to do open source research by a Republican billionaire must be a Democratic operative.

    It’s as if Trump’s most ardent supporters want to remove from the US government any experts on what Russia does or might do. That fits a pattern this administration has woven since before Trump entered the White House.

      • harpie says:

        That’s what Anne Applebaum is discussing in this thread:
        3:00 AM – 14 Nov 2019

        Since 2014, I have worked on projects designed to analyze and push back against Russian (and other) disinformation schemes. But the open use of false stories and conspiracy narratives by Republican members of Congress is not a hurdle that I anticipated.

        Swedes, Lithuanians – everyone who fights Russian disinformation knows that the creation of trust in national institutions is central to any counter-campaign.

        In the US that is now impossible. […]

        The Republican use of blatantly false conspiracy narratives about Ukraine, plus their attacks on our core institutions, will divide our country further, and will help make Russian (and other) disinformation campaigns more successful in future. Happening before our eyes.

  7. Pete T says:

    Maybe a rich Ukrainian oligarch might want to contact Trump Org about building a hotel in Kyiv. Moscow-Kyiv, Kyiv-Moscow. Just saying…

    • timbo says:

      If we go back and look at Cohen’s role in “The Organization” this would not be too far of a stretch. Are there any Ukrainian journalists looking into everything Guiliani and his henchmen were up to in Kyiv?

  8. Savage Librarian says:

    Maybe Nunes is trying to tee up some propaganda in anticipation of reaction to Glenn Simpson’s new book:

    “Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump,” will be released on November 26 by Random House.

  9. setlistthief says:

    I find it hilarious that Nunes is the “Ranking” Member of the House “Intelligence” Committee.

  10. TooLoose LeTruck says:

    It’s as if Trump’s most ardent supporters want to remove from the US government any experts on what Russia does or might do…

    Hey… they’re just trying to protect themselves…

    I’ve never seen a guiltier looking bunch of clowns, albeit dangerous clowns, in my entire life…

    Meanwhile… over in the Senate, Lindsay Graham has moved the goal posts…

    I am amazed at the degree to which Repubs have fixated on this one individual… if they can only out him, or her, and publicly destroy him/her, all their problems will be solved…

    This is beginning to look like magical thinking…

    • P J Evans says:

      I am surprised at Lindsey acting as if impeachment is something he’s never heard of before, and has no clue how it works. He should know better.

    • Greg Hunter says:

      It would seem they know whom he or she might be and have a pretty good smear campaign lined up?

      Despite the obvious lies their antics have “pizazz” as Jim Jordan’s prayer chain rant was the lede on Fox News AM stations and NPR coverage.

  11. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    EW wrote:

    The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, believes that an expert on Ukrainian and Russian organized crime being paid to do open source research by a Republican billionaire must be a Democratic operative.

    Add also that FBI investigator quite knowledgeable about the Russian mob, Peter Strzok, was drug through hearings slime by the GOP and no longer works for the FBI. And McCabe, who IIRC also investigated Russian mob threats has also been sidelined.
    Something nefarious this way comes, and Nunes is enabling and abetting it. Why? What’s in it for him?

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Steven Menashi confirmed, obtains lifetime appointment to the 2d Circuit Court of Appeals, tied with the DC CofA as the second most important court behind the Supremes. The vote was 51-41. The soon-to-be-unemployed Susan Collins voting with the Dems. Her staged vote cost her party nothing, and will earn her no points with the Maine voters.

    Like Kobach, Menashi has stellar academic credentials. Like Kobach and Stephen Miller, he is a confirmed bigot and white nationalist. Apart from that, he has never tried a case, civil or criminal. He has never even made an argument in court or observed a criminal proceeding. He never picked a jury or weighed evidence. Even the establishment-oriented ABA gave him the rare ranking of “unqualified.” His qualifications were his extremist views and his nomination by Len Leo at the FedSoc.

    Moscow Mitch has a special circle of Hell waiting him. He earned it by denying Merrick Garland a seat on the Supremes and by giving one to Brett Kavanaugh. But shepherding the grossly incompetent Menashi onto the 2d Circuit is a close second.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Let’s also remember Ms. Rao, who soiled herself again in the en banc review of her earlier dissent on Individual-1’s taxes. This is in addition to the many other unqualified federal judges, all with lifetime appointments. I’m sure someone is keeping score on that.

      It’s as if the GOP knows they will be turfed out in 2020.

  13. TooLoose LeTruck says:

    And now Rudy is making jokes about an ‘insurance policy’ if the GOP decides to throw him under the bus to protect the Orange One…

    ‘But Giuliani joked that he had good “insurance” in case Trump did turn on him, amid speculation Republicans will seek to frame him as a rogue actor.’

    Man, this just keeps getting better and better by the hour…

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Yea, raise your hand if you think Rudy was talking about a medical insurance policy, rather than the kind of insurance Mitch McDeere had to keep mob bosses away from his door.

    • punaise says:

      Hey Rudy, if you’re going around shooting your mouth off don’t forget that you can’t spell blunderbuss without underbus.

      (And thanks to Merriam-Webster): blunderbuss = a blundering person

  14. K-spin says:

    Slightly OT, but I found it great to see Nancy repeatedly using the term ‘bribery’ today to describe Trump’s actions. IMO, the previous use of ‘quid pro quo’ was confusing the narrative in the same way the term ‘collusion’ distracted from the discussion of Mueller’s findings. For her to describe DJT’s actions as ‘bribery’ (which they were) is a real positive moving forwards, as the term is clear, well aligned with legal terminology, and is understood by most to be a crime. I hope others run with this.

      • Greg Hunter says:

        I listened to NPR today and they had a gentlemen on belittling Schiff’s interpretation. I hope they are taking note of the audience as Schiff has to come out in the opening statement and cite the narrative, that also knocks down the nutters.

        • Mooser says:

          NPR’s coverage of the impeachment, and Trump’s ‘Presidency’ generally seems to be motivated by a death wish.

      • K-spin says:

        Thanks @punaise! A very interesting read…
        I also wonder if a focus on bribery will strengthen/expedite requests that have, until now, been held up in the courts (e.g. financial records), as the need to define/ examine anything ‘of value’ that DJT may have received would – IMO – clearly sit within the purview of an impeachment inquiry focused on that charge.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      These two witnesses – there may be others – did not hear Perp A and Perp B talk about a crime they committed at some earlier time and place. Their conversation was part of the crime they were in the process of committing. Big difference.

      More basically, the House is gathering evidence, as would a prosecutor and her grand jury. Hearsay is a rule that governs the admissibility of that evidence at trial, not its relevance during the investigation stage. And there are plenty of exceptions that would allow its admissibility in a Senate trial. As usual, Rudy is full of special pleading and shit.

  15. Wm. Boyce says:

    They are busy warming a seat for Mr. Sondland next week. About 250 degrees farenheit will do.

    A second staffer of Mr. Taylor has come forward, saying he heard the creature’s phone with Sondland.

    We could always ask Russian intelligence for a recording – they are sure to have it, since the morons were on an open cell phone in a Kiev restaurant.

    • rip says:

      So a very slow stew rather than a quick roast. In neither case would I like the smell of his flesh being cooked, like an overfed turkey.

  16. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump is so used to losing money on every deal, he obsesses like Bela Oxmyx about getting his piece of the action. Today, he’s not happy about the vig the South Koreans are paying. He’s demanded they pay 5X more next year.

    The South Koreans pay an agreed amount every year to help defray the costs of the US military presence. Trump’s demand comes out of nowhere and can’t be met without serious repercussions for the South Koreans. The problem is obvious and predictable, which usually means creating it was intended.

    The large presence the US has maintained in South Korea since the 1950s serves major US interests. Deterring Russian or Chinese meddling on behalf of North Korea is one of them. Making concrete US support for its allies in East Asia and elsewhere is another.

    Trump wants to throw a monkey wrench into the system. Now, it’s hard to argue it does not need major reform. But, like Obama’s ACA, that’s not what Trump has in mind. He wants to trash the place, not make it work better. He’s also likes to create problems so that he can later pretend to be the only one in history who can fix them. Like everything else Trump does, that largely benefits Putin.

  17. may says:

    off topic but pertaining to Russia.

    on one of the comment threads the subject of the fictional character “Flashman” was referred to as a historical reference.

    oh dear.

    “The Romanovs”
    Simon Sebag Montefiore.

    published 2016
    Weidenfeld & Nicholson
    1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
    ISBN (hardback) 978 0 297 852667.

    the footnotes aren’t bad either: putins’ grandfather was a cook for lenin and stalin.

    the push for territorial expansion is not new.

    mind you, a well researched historical novel is not to be sneered at.

    apologies for previous smartarsery—- i’m prone.

    • P J Evans says:

      Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series has one book set in Russia under Tsar Ivan [the Crazy], and the next has some of the characters getting out of Russia and back to western Europe. Her research was generally very thorough; the period of that series is roughly 1547-1557.

    • Tracy Lynn says:

      God, I totally forgot about the Flashman series! I read most of the books in the series about 15 years ago… but the one that took place in “The Crimea” sticks in my mind. Must re-read. Thanks for reminder.

    • vvv says:

      Also pertaining to Russia, if a little OT, but Martin Cruz Smith (*Gorky Park*) has a new Arkady Renko novel out, *The Siberian Dilemma*. Typically wonderful.

  18. CD54 says:

    Reiterated from before:

    Trump and the Republicans are displaying classic mob psychology (little “m”) — someone in the group acts outside of normative values and waits for any group backlash. After none, someone else feels impervious to consequences and goes to an even further extreme and the group watches for any sign of group disapproval. Escalate until stopped.

    Example (and shoot down):
    Republican Senate President Robert Stivers suggested a dicier option Tuesday night: Let the GOP state legislature decide the winner. Section 90 of the state Constitution says “contested elections for governor and lieutenant governor shall be determined by both houses of the General Assembly, according to such regulations as may be established by law.” Stivers said his staff believes that might apply in this case. The last “contested” governors race was in 1899, the Courier Journal reports.

    They are all scum, Every repulsive “reach” must be met with overwhelming rejection and force.

  19. e.a.f. says:

    Watching Nunes you do wonder how bad the Republicans are, when this is the best they have to “offer” and have him in the position he is in. They could have found high school students who would do a better job than he and some of the others. These Republicans are making speeches, when I thought they were supposed to be asking questions. the speeches are bad to boot. The rest of the world must be sitting around having a good laugh at how dumb these people are. Meadows looks like some used car salesman and acts like one also and I don’t mean to offend decent used car sales people.

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