GOP’s Ukraine Nexus: The Curious Aide Swap Between Trump and Nunes

An associate of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer is willing to tell Congress that Devin Nunes personally met with corrupt former Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin to try to get dirt on Joe Biden, according to a report from CNN. But a curious aide exchange between Nunes and Trump may be key to the fuller story of the nexus of the GOP’s Ukraine conspiracy.

The meeting between Nunes and Shokin took place in Vienna late last year, after the midterm election but before the victorious Democrats took power in the House of Representatives. As such, Nunes was still the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee of Intelligence, and did not have to keep Adam Schiff (D-CA), who was not yet chairman, appraised of the details of his trip.

Lev Parnas, the associate of Rudy Giuliani’s who’s offered to testify about the meeting between Nunes and Shokin (and who also arranged contact between Shokin and Giuliani), is under indictment by the the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) for laundering foreign (Ukrainian) money to Republican campaign coffers. Parnas’s lawyer has urged the House Intelligence Committee to schedule time to hear from his client in a way that would not violate his fifth amendment rights (this likely means some form of immunity for the testimony he would provide to the impeachment inquiry).

Devin Nunes has been working on selling Russia’s fictional version of the 2016 US election invasion - that Ukraine did it for Clinton (and not Russia for Trump) - for a long time, as well as staying in shape by running classified information between the White House and Capitol Hill.

In that course of time, a staff exchange has taken place between Nunes’s House Intelligence Committee (HIC) staff and the White House’s National Security Council (NSC) staff. A former NSC official in the White House allied with the convicted felon Mike Flynn - who himself fed Ukrainian conspiracy theories to Trump - now works for Nunes, and a former Nunes staffer who ran point to discredit the FBI and drum up the Ukraine allegations now works at the NSC.

Derek Harvey was hired by Michael Flynn on January 27, 2017 on the National Security Council, and dismissed by H.R. McMaster exactly six months later. In September of 2017, he was hired on by then-Chairman of the HIC, Republican Devin Nunes, to be on the HIC staff. At the time, the committee was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Nunes, however, had recused himself from the Russia probe in April of 2017 in the wake of a House ethics probe for leaking classified information from the Committee, likely to the White House.

But Nunes would not remain severed from the Russia investigations. Instead, he launched a secret and separate probe against the FBI and its warrant applications. A memo detailing that inquisition’s conjectures - highly disputed by the FBI and the Department of Justice - became known as the ‘Nunes Memo’ and was released on February 2, 2018 with the sole purpose of smearing the FBI for investigating the Trump campaign for links to Russia.

The Nunes Memo was in large part the work of then-HIC staff member Kashyap Patel, a protégé of Nunes. Among the many colorful accomplishments of Mr. Patel are attempting to practice law without an up-to-date license in Florida and earning, as a counterterrorism prosecutor, the entire Department of Justice an Order of Ineptitude from a federal judge.

Shortly after Nunes’s trip to Vienna to meet with Shokin, Patel moved from the Republican staff of the HIC to the White House NSC staff in February of 2019. He was then quickly promoted to a senior counterterrorism role, and was so vocal within the NSC about the Ukrainian conspiracy theory that Trump himself thought Patel was the “Ukraine Director” within the NSC, although his formal role at the NSC had nothing to do with Ukraine.

From Harvey’s hiring in September 2017 to Patel’s move to the NSC in February of 2019, Patel and Harvey worked together on the Republican staff of the House Intelligence Committee under Devin Nunes.

Keep that in mind as you consider the following: Earlier last week, Politico noted in an explosive report that Kash Patel passed on Ukrainian conspiracy theories to Donald Trump for the better part of this year leading up to the extortion phone call that started the impeachment inquiry. And when right-wing media began to publicize the purported identity of the whistleblower, the Daily Beast reported that the leak came from Patel’s former colleague in the Republican staff of the HIC, Derek Harvey.

To say that Patel’s role in the White House on Ukraine was unusual is an understatement. Formally the Ukraine portfolio in the NSC fell to Dr. Fiona Hill - who eviscerated the Ukraine conspiracy theory as doing a favor to Putin in her testimony in the public impeachment hearing this week - and following Dr. Hill’s departure in July, to her successor, Tim Morrison, who also testified in the hearings. Dr. Hill testified that she had heard of a ‘Kash' Patel within the NSC.

Patel's formal role as a senior counterterrorism adviser at the NSC did not, nearly at all, involve Ukraine. In fact, Joshua Geltzer, Panel's predecessor in the role told Politico that such involvement is “wildly outside the scope” of that formal role.

A senior counterterrorism role would, however, give Patel access to considerable and sensitive intelligence. A senior role in the NSC staff would also give Patel access to the upper echelon of the NSC, including the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire - the same DNI who illegally withheld the whistleblower report from Congress and went to the White House with it instead.

But Patel’s connection to Maguire might go deeper. Maguire became the DNI in August of 2019 - after the extortion phone call - but prior to that, Maguire was the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the counterterrorism office within the DNI. It is not inconceivable that as a senior counterterrorism official at the NSC, Patel would have the ear of the man soon to become DNI even before Maguire assumed that role.

This raises 4 important, answerable - though yet unanswered - questions. In the order of importance

  1. Did it become necessary to have Trump himself pressure the Ukrainians on the fake Biden investigations because Nunes (and his staff) would no longer be able to continue their “digging” under cover once the Democrats took power in the House?

  2. Did Kash Patel have insider information about the whistleblower?

  3. If so, did he pass it on to his former colleague Derek Harvey for leaking to conservative media outlets?

  4. Did Devin Nunes know all along about Trump’s pressure campaign?

To be sure, staff swaps between the White House and the members of the president’s party in Congress are not unusual. What makes it suspicious in this case, however, are Patel’s seeming obsession with Ukraine at the White House despite his formal role having little to do with it, his former colleague’s alleged role in revealing the whistleblower’s supposed identity, his former boss’s reportedly deep personal involvement in the spreading of the Ukraine conspiracy theory.

If the whole thing had been designed on purpose, it would be hard to imagine a better plot to discredit the US and western intelligence consensus about Russian interference in favor of Trump, create a smokescreen fabricated Ukrainian intervention in favor of Clinton, and concoct a lie that Joe Biden was dirty.

The plot would have succeeded, too, if that pesky whistleblower hadn’t been such a stickler for the rule of law.

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