On the House side (and to some but a much lesser extent in the Senate) congressional oversight has been entirely focused on protecting President Trump. With so many key questions ignored and evidence covered up, that leaves an ample to do list of necessary investigations if the Democrats retake control of the House of Representatives in January 2019. Here’s another for the list – it’s about Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes and his probable collaborator in the White House.
As I noted last week, at the end of the ‘Memo’ drama Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) asked Nunes whether he’d worked with the White House on producing the memo. Nunes evaded the question. He has not followed up with any denial. Yesterday Rep. Adam Schiff said he thinks “it’s very possible his staff worked with the White House and coordinated the whole effort with the White House.” I think he’s right. I’d say it’s highly likely. But who and how?
You don’t need to look long to find the probable point of contact between Nunes and the White House. Michael Ellis is Senior Associate White House Counsel, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Council Legal Advisor. He’s an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve. Before he went to work at the White House Counsel’s office he served as Nunes’ General Counsel on the House Intelligence Committee.
That’s a pretty good clue to who Nunes might be in contact with at the White House. But we don’t need to rely on that professional connection. Ellis and Nunes have already done something just like this at least once before. You’ll remember that in early 2017, Mike Flynn directed his protege Ezra Cohen-Watnick to start reviewing what counter-intelligence investigators were finding in the Russia probe. Flynn was one of the primary targets of that probe. So this was highly irregular and not at all legit. That ‘review’ continued after Flynn was fired. Cohen-Watnick eventually took his findings to Don McGahn at the White House Counsel’s office. McGahn told him to stop immediately. Rather than doing so, he went around the Counsel’s office by having Nunes come to the White House in the middle of the night to share their findings. He and a colleague in the Counsel’s office called Nunes late one night and asked him to come to the White House immediately.
This was the origin of the “unmasking” conspiracy theory. H.R. McMaster tried to fire Cohen-Watnick when he arrived at the White House. But Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner asked President Trump to prevent McMaster from doing so. Cohen-Watnick was finally fired in August. So who was that colleague in the Counsel’s Office he worked with on his ‘review’ and his work with Nunes? Michael Ellis. Nunes bizarrely referred to Cohen-Watnick and Ellis as “whistleblowers” and refused to divulge their identities. But they were finally identified in press reports.
In other words, Ellis already did close to the exact same thing with his former boss Nunes. It’s a pattern of conduct if you will. In that earlier instance, Nunes was a conduit for bogus findings meant to discredit the Russia probe – findings Don McGahn was able to recognize as potential obstruction and quickly shut down. They took it to Nunes. It seems quite likely that something like this happened in this case too.
When the House gets around to doing real executive branch oversight, hopefully in January 2019, this should be high on the list of things to get to the bottom of.