I saw a fascinating interview just a few moments ago on CNN. It was with Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL). Great minds think alike, I guess. Here’s a bit of background before we get to the interview.
Over the last day or so I’ve been hearing these questions about whether the White House collaborated on writing the Nunes Memo. It seemed neither side – not Nunes or the White House – was giving a straight answer. After hearing this a few times, it clicked for me. Of course, they worked together! They have a history. This goes all the way back to the Spring of 2017 when Devin Nunes got caught up in that bizarre “un-masking” nonsense, working as the errand boy of the White House. Remember, that midnight visit to the White House, looking at supposedly highly classified documents that revealed a scandal about ‘un-masking’ and illicit Obama White House surveillance of the Trump 2016 campaign. The whole charade finally blew up in Nunes’ face and led indirectly to his what amounted to his forced recusal from the House intelligence committee investigation. So he’s got a history.
But it actually goes deeper than this. Looking again at what happened, in that case, gives us an important clue to what may be happening here.
Back in the first days and weeks of the Trump administration, Mike Flynn tasked his protege and deputy Ezra Cohen-Watnick to do a ‘review’ of intelligence community communications and surveillance. The pretty clear-cut aim of the effort was to help Flynn find out what the investigation of him – Flynn – had come up with. Cohen Watnick was working with a junior lawyer at the White House Counsel’s office on his ‘review’. Now, not long after this, Flynn gets fired. But Cohen-Watnick didn’t stop. Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon were protecting him at this time and interceded with President Trump to block General McMaster from firing him.
Eventually, Cohen-Watnick and his lawyer colleague took his findings to White House Counsel Don McGahn. McGahn’s response was basically: stop doing this. McGahn immediately saw that this amounted to interference with the investigation (perhaps even criminal interference) or at least could be viewed as such. So McGahn quickly shut the whole thing down. Or he thought he had. But Cohen-Watnick, or whoever he was working with or on behalf of, didn’t want to end it there. He needed a way to get his work public regardless of what McGahn said.
That’s where Devin Nunes comes in.
Cohen-Watnick brought Nunes over to the White House to share his ‘findings’ in that notorious midnight caper. That was how Devin Nunes went to work for the White House, got himself temporarily kicked off the Russia investigation (he’s the chairman of the committee) and began the ‘unmasking’ charade and clown show. (I did a more detailed narrative of these events in this post from last April if you’re interested.)
We know that for almost a year Nunes, whose responsibility is oversight of the executive branch, has made it his almost exclusive responsibility to run interference for the President on the Russia front. We know that back in March he was used as a conduit to end-run into the public sphere misinformation McGahn was wise enough to block. It actually makes perfect sense that the memo would have a similar lineage, even though Cohen-Watnick himself was finally fired in August.
So all of this is in my mind when I see the aforementioned interview this morning Rep. Quigley. The question about potential White House involvement in this memo seems to have started with his question to Nunes – one Nunes couldn’t seem to answer. Here’s the video.
Quigley doesn’t appear to have specific and concrete evidence of White House involvement. What he has is a logical suspicion based on Nunes’ prior behavior and a logical inference based on Nunes’ unwillingness to answer his question. The Daily Beast has more on Nunes’ refusal to answer here. Sarah Sanders also couldn’t answer a direct question about White House involvement.
Here’s Sanders this morning on CNN.
We need more answers on this. But I strongly suspect both Nunes and the White House have something to hide on this. Indeed, the creation of the memo – regardless of its authors – is part of a broader cover-up. But the origin of the memo itself seems compromised by the White House’s hands.