At a private fundraiser for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) conceded that collusion is in fact a crime.
Nunes’ position is at odds with that of President Trump and his legal team, who have recently argued that collusion is not a crime.
Audio of Nunes’ remarks at the private fundraiser that was originally obtained by Fuse Washington was aired on Wednesday’s edition of The Rachel Maddow Show. Using a hypothetical, Nunes conceded that if a political campaign exploited emails provided to it by a foreign government that hacked them, “then that’s criminal.”
Here’s a full transcript of what Nunes said about collusion, followed by the audio.
“Now if somebody thinks that my campaign or Cathy’s campaign is colluding with the Chinese, or you name the country, hey, could happen, it would be a very bad thing if Cathy was getting secrets from the Portuguese, let’s say, just because I’m Portuguese, my family was. So Cathy was getting secret information from the Portuguese. You know, may or may not be unusual. But ultimately let’s say the Portuguese came and brought her some stolen emails. And she decided to release those. Okay, now we have a problem, right? Because somebody stole the emails, gave ‘em to Cathy, Cathy released ‘em. Well, if that’s the case, then that’s criminal.”
The hypothetical Nunes outlined resembles key aspects of what we know about the Trump campaign’s interactions with the Kremlin in the months leading up to the 2016 election.
The FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, when emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee were published by WikiLeaks. That development prompted an Australian diplomat to come forward and report that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, bragged to him about having advanced knowledge that Russia “had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.” The diplomat’s report prompted the FBI to open up a counterintelligence investigation.
Trump’s own intelligence officials have accused WikiLeaks of serving as a Kremlin cutout.
As early as May 2016, Trump campaign officials publicly indicated they knew the Kremlin was in possession of “Hillary’s emails.”
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@DanScavino) May 12, 2016
The next month, top Trump campaign officials met with Kremlin-connected Russians in Trump Tower. While Trump and his advisors initially claimed the meeting was about adoption policy, they now concede the purpose of the meeting was to obtain dirt on Clinton. Before June 2016 was through, emails hacked from Democratic targets began to appear on a website that special counsel Robert Mueller alleges was a front for Russian hackers. That summer, Trump publicly encouraged Russians hackers and a longtime adviser of his was in direct contact with them.
Emails stolen by Russian hackers ended up being the centerpiece of Trump’s closing campaign message. In October 2016, he publicly mentioned WikiLeaks at least 164 times. After the election, however, Trump absurdly claimed WikiLeaks didn’t affect a single vote.
Nunes is one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress. In 2017, he worked directly with the White House to politicize intelligence in an effort to discredit the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. Nunes spent the early months of this year using disinformation and debunked talking points to make a weak case that the FBI’s investigation of Trump is rooted in political bias — an argument that puts him at odds with a bipartisan group of senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In June, Trump tweeted that he believes he has “the absolute right to PARDON myself.”
Other parts of the leaked audio make clear that Nunes is more concerned about protecting Trump than he is about bringing wrongdoers to justice or protecting American elections from foreign interference.
At one point, Nunes said that Republicans would more aggressively pursue impeaching Rod Rosenstein — a move that would allow Trump to appoint a new deputy attorney general who would curtail the Mueller investigation. But Nunes admitted that if they did, “the Senate would have to drop everything they’re doing, and then take the risk of not getting [Brett] Kavanaugh confirmed… it’s a matter of time.”
Nunes also explicitly linked the need for Republicans to maintain their majorities in Congress with their ongoing effort to help Trump cover up Russia-related wrongdoing.
NUNES explicitly links midterm elections w/GOP's ongoing efforts to aid Trump's coverup: "If Sessions won't unrecuse & Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones. Which is really the danger…we have to keep these seats. If we don't keep majority, all this goes away." pic.twitter.com/xdUlHiYP4Q
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 9, 2018
“If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones. Which is really the danger,” Nunes said. “That’s why I keep, and thank you for saying it by the way, I mean we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”