“Does the ranking member wish to respond?” asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
“No,” Nunes replied.
Maloney responded by suggesting that Nunes’s refusal to answer “speaks volumes” and indicated that committee staffers are “in possession of evidence that a package was received.”
That evidence, according to committee officials, is in the form of a DHL shipping receipt that was sent to the Intelligence Committee’s majority office shortly after the package was sent to Nunes. The officials say they sought to access the materials from Nunes at the time but that he never agreed to share them.
Nunes’ office has declined requests to respond to inquiries about whether he ever received the package or learned of its contents — and whether he or his aides delivered it to the FBI for vetting, which committee Democrats and Republicans say is the typical practice when receiving parcels from foreign sources.
In late January — in the midst of the Senate’s impeachment trial — the committee’s Democratic staff reported the existence of the package to the FBI and has since received no response from the bureau, according to committee officials.
Derkach has provoked growing alarm among Democrats, who have noted his increasingly public efforts to promote anti-Biden allegations, from releasing tapes — whose provenance is unknown — of Biden’s conversations with Ukrainian leaders to holding news conferences to publicly declaring his efforts to unite with GOP officials to take down the former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Derkach has launched a public website, NabuLeaks, that includes links to materials he has purported to send to top GOP lawmakers. It’s unclear whether the items posted on his site are the same as those sent to Nunes and the other lawmakers.
In a statement to POLITICO last week, Derkach said he sent the materials to the lawmakers and former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney with the goal of “creating an interparliamentary association called ‘Friends of Ukraine STOP Corruption.’” He added that he recently notified Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Grassley, Graham, and Democratic Sens. Gary Peters of Michigan and Ron Wyden of Oregon “about the content and materials published and voiced” at his news conferences. Graham, Grassley, Peters and Wyden indicated they never received materials from Derkach.
Details about the packages, however, were contained in a classified addendum to a letter top House and Senate Democrats released earlier this month demanding that the FBI brief Congress on “specific” evidence of a foreign effort to interfere in the 2020 election. In particular, they described intelligence that a foreign power was seeking to influence congressional actions in a way that was meant to weigh on the election between Biden and President Donald Trump.
POLITICO reported last week that the evidence pertained to pro-Russian Ukrainians and involved the dissemination of the packets from Derkach, who delivered them amid the House push to impeach Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden. It’s unclear whether the addendum included additional details that might shed light on why Derkach’s information — which has been available on his own website for weeks — speaks to a broader foreign interference plot.
Maloney emphasized that the details about the packages he described in Wednesday’s meeting are unclassified, which suggests there is additional information in the addendum that is more sensitive.
The discussion of Nunes’ receipt of a packet came after the committee voted along partisan lines to share the classified addendum with the full House. Committee officials say two dozen Democrats requested access to the addendum, requiring a committee response. Republicans voted against sharing the material, calling it an effort to distort and weaponize classified information for political gain. Nunes described the contents of the addendum as “extremely sensitive” and said he was sure the information would leak publicly if the full House were granted access.
“This document contains extremely sensitive information that Democrats will leak if the document is made available to the full House. That is a fact, and that is the intent,” Nunes said. “In fact, some of this information may have already been leaked, a matter I hope the FBI is investigating.”
Questions about Derkach’s activities have begun to bubble up on both sides of the Capitol.
Derkach’s website lists Secretary of State Mike Pompeo among the Republicans to whom he has sought to provide information. On Thursday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) asked Pompeo whether Derkach is credible, during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I don’t want to comment on any particular individual like Mr. Derkach,” Pompeo said. “I will say this. We’re taking seriously the threats that Russia will try to engage in disinformation campaigns.”
When pressed on Derkach, Pompeo added, “There’s still work ongoing and there’s still unsettled intelligence around these things.”
Democrats have also accused Nunes and other GOP lawmakers of conflating allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — a premise largely rejected by national security and intelligence experts — with Russia’s sweeping Kremlin-backed campaign of disinformation, hacking and leaking emails to damage Hillary Clinton.
During an October impeachment deposition, two months before Derkach’s package arrived, Nunes indicated that Republicans on the panel were “very concerned by Ukraine’s actions during the 2016 election, and they have long been a target of our investigation and have continued today to try to get to the bottom of what they were up to in the 2016 election.”
Before the transcript of Wednesday’s House Intelligence Committee meeting was posted publicly, Republican members of the panel spoke to friendly media outlets to allege that Maloney may have violated House ethics rules by raising questions about Nunes.
“He was very rude,” Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas told Breitbart News. “Members don’t question other members in hearings. This wasn’t on the agenda for the meeting. It was really inappropriate in my opinion, and pretty childish.”
Breitbart reported that “House GOP leadership lawyers” would consider bringing ethics claims against Maloney, though what violation would be alleged, based on the exchange, is unclear.
In his interview with Breitbart, Crawford appeared to confirm that Nunes receivd a package from a foreign source, and suggested that Nunes turned it over to authorities.
“[I]t’s standard practice that if you get a package from unknown source in a foreign country, it’s probably a good idea to call the FBI and let them handle it and not handle those packages and don’t open them and go, ‘Hey I wonder what this is? I guess it’s Christmas came early this year’,” Crawford said. “No, you follow the protocol, which is you turn that over to the FBI. That’s what happened.”
In an interview, Maloney called claims that he violated House ethics absurd and said his goal is to root out foreign interference attempts in the 2020 election, regardless of their source or which candidate they might benefit.
“Russians are still trying to interfere in the election using bogus claims about events in Ukraine. So I don’t know what the secret is,” he said. “What’s in the box, is my question. Just show us and explain why it’s some big secret. We’ve literally got the receipts. The committee received this material. Why wouldn’t he share it?”