Devin Nunes caught on tape: GOP must first confirm Brett Kavanaugh to impeach Rod Rosenstein

Secret tape exposes Republicans' plan end the Mueller probe after Trump gets his Supreme Court nominee confirmed

By Matthew Rozsa
Published August 9, 2018 10:00AM (EDT)
Devin Nunes (Getty/Win McNamee)
Devin Nunes (Getty/Win McNamee)

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., admitted during a recent Republican political event that the House of Representatives is actually in no rush against impeaching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because it wants to rush through confirming Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court first.

During a fundraising event for Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers last week, Nunes fielded a question from a member of the attending audience about why the House GOP wasn't pursuing impeachment against Rosenstein. He has been harshly criticized for not shutting down special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal and for allegedly not providing House Republicans with requested materials in a sufficiently timely manner. As Nunes answered the question, a member of the "Fuse Washington" progressive group secretly recorded the exchange and later provided it to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

After explaining that the prospect of impeaching Rosenstein is "a bit complicated" because Republicans "only have so many months left" before the midterm elections, Nunes told the questioner that "if we actually vote to impeach, OK, what that does is that triggers the Senate then has to take it up. Well, and you have to decide what you want right now because the Senate only has so much time."

Nunes added, "Do you want them to drop everything and not confirm the Supreme Court justice, the new Supreme Court justice?"

"The Senate would have to drop everything they're doing ... and start with impeachment on Rosenstein. And then take the risk of not getting Kavanaugh confirmed. So it's not a matter that any of us like Rosenstein. It's a matter of, it's a matter of timing."

Nunes insisted to the audience that he hadn't given up his credentials as one of Trump's staunchest defenders, telling the audience that "I've said publicly Rosenstein deserves to be impeached" but that "the question is the timing of it right before the election."

Perhaps most notably, Nunes abandoned all pretense of being impartial in how he conducted the hearings and bluntly told the audience that their priority had to be keeping Republicans in control of the House of Representatives so they could protect Trump if it turns out he broke the law.

"If Sessions won't unrecuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones. Which is really the danger," Nunes told the audience according to the audio. "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."

Nunes even admitted that, despite recent claims to the contrary by Trump's legal team, it would indeed be a crime if it turned out that Trump had colluded with a foreign power in order to win the presidential election.

"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," Nunes told the Republican audience.

READ MORE: Right-wing talk show host Joe Walsh tells Salon: Donald Trump "betrayed his country"

Nunes' story that this was done so that energy could be focused on confirming Kavanaugh checks out with other recent actions by congressional Republicans, such as ignoring the fact that the National Archives will not be able to provide complete records about Kavanaugh's work with President George W. Bush before the midterm elections. Republicans are still planning on rushing through Kavanaugh's confirmation before the midterm elections despite now being forced to do so with incomplete information.

Nunes has found himself at the center of controversy for his actions on President Trump's behalf through his role as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Last year, after Trump falsely claimed in a tweet that Trump Tower had been wiretapped by former President Barack Obama, Nunes cooked up a scheme in which he said he had been informed about former National Security Adviser Susan Rice "unmasking" members of the Trump administration who were under surveillance. Later, he egged on accusations that there was a secret memorandum which could exonerate Trump and discredit the Mueller probe, but after the memo was released, it proved to be a non-event.

In terms of the latest matter that Nunes is trying to spin to the GOP's advantage: Last month Speaker of the House Paul Ryan shot down efforts to impeach Rosenstein, a decision that was unpopular among conservative Republicans but which at the time mainstream Republicans depicted as politically necessary. At the time, observers also noted that Kavanaugh has expressed opinions suggesting that he doesn't think a sitting president can be indicted, which would work to Trump's advantage if the Mueller probe finds that he engaged in criminal activity.

Nunes has previously gotten in trouble for a previous occasion when he was secretly recorded admitting that he viewed his job as House Intelligence Committee chairman as one of carrying Trump's water rather than finding the truth. During a Tulare County Lincoln Dinner in April 2017, Nunes was secretly recorded telling Republicans that "the Democrats don’t want an investigation on Russia. They want an independent commission. Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that’s the reason that he won, because Hillary Clinton would have never lost on her own; it had to be someone else’s fault."

He also tried to spin away the fact that he had been forced to temporarily step aside as chairman of the investigation due to the controversy over his role in trying to support Trump's hoax about having been wiretapped by Obama.

"They have tried to destroy this Russia investigation, they’ve never been serious about it, and one of the great things now that I’ve stepped aside from this Russia investigation, I can actually say what I want to say. I know that there’s probably media in here, you can write it but just try to get it right when you do," Nunes said, in effect characterizing his stepping aside as a personal choice rather than one forced on him.

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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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