The day before President Donald Trump nominated him to fill the position of director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, appeared on the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference to dismiss the validity of investigations regarding the president’s actions towards Russia and Ukraine. He also baselessly accused Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden of having executed a “quid pro quo” with regard to the firing of Ukraine’s corruption-coddling former prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. The panel on which Ratcliffe appeared was titled “The Coup: Impeachment—Hyped Slimes and Nancy’s Schemer.” Charlie Hurt of The Washington Times also joined the panel. The identity of “Nancy’s Schemer” was never explicitly revealed.
Asked by moderator Vince Coglianese of The Daily Caller whether he thought the Democrats had “learned their lesson” from their failure to remove Trump from office via the impeachment process or would instead “double down” on investigating Trump, Ratcliffe said he expected the Democrats to “double down.”
“And they haven’t learned a lesson,” Ratcliffe said of the Democrats, “despite the fact that throughout this process … whether it’s the Russia hoax or the Ukraine hoax—in every instance, the president’s been right. The president’s been the one that’s been telling the truth with respect to what’s happening.”
Ratcliffe also took aim at the intelligence community he has been nominated to lead, saying that Trump was correct to complain of the actions of the FBI and the Department of Justice regarding surveillance that revealed contacts between the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian Federation government.
“President Trump was right when the law enforcement community and the intelligence community didn’t get it right on all of those respects,” Ratcliffe said.
An investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general found errors and a falsification in the FBI’s renewal applications for surveillance of Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign, but concluded that the FBI was not politically biased against Trump in its investigation of Russia’s interference in the campaign. But that’s not the way Ratcliffe sees it.
The surveillance, he said, “was initiated in a Democratic administration with Democratic officials using foreign intelligence surveillance tools for political gain.” In the past, Ratcliffe has called for the prosecution of whomever leaked to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius the fact of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s December 2016 conversations with Sergey Kislyak, who was then Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
According to leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election in an effort to harm the campaign of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Later, Flynn was found to have discussed with Kislyak—before Trump’s inauguration—the potential lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration in retaliation for the election interference. Several of those calls took place the very day on which President Barack Obama imposed the sanctions. Flynn was charged with lying under oath to the FBI, and his case is currently before a federal court in Washington, D.C. (Flynn is currently attempting to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming to have received bad advice from his lawyers.)
During the CPAC panel discussion, Ratcliffe also repeated the debunked claim that Biden demanded the firing of Ukraine prosecutor Shokin because the prosecutor was investigating Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm on whose board Hunter Biden, the Democrat’s son, sat. In fact, then-Vice President Biden called for Shokin’s 2016 ouster in concert with leaders of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund because he was doing little to address the country’s rampant corruption problem, and seemed loath to prosecute members of the party once led by [[the Russia-leaning former Ukrainian president,]] Viktor Yanukovich, the Russia-leaning former Ukrainian president who fled to Moscow during an anti-corruption popular uprising. In fact, Shokin was also dragging his feet on the Burisma investigation, which commenced before Hunter Biden joined the board. Shokin also declined to prosecute apparent corruption in his own ranks. According to The New York Times:
In one high-profile example, known in Ukraine as the case of the “diamond prosecutors,” troves of diamonds, cash and other valuables were found in the homes of two of Mr. Shokin’s subordinates, suggesting that they had been taking bribes.
But the case became bogged down, with no reasons given. When a department in Mr. Shokin’s office tried to bring it to trial, the prosecutors were fired or resigned. The perpetrators seemed destined to get off with claims that the stones were not worth very much.
Nonetheless, Racliffe claimed from the CPAC stage that Trump’s demand that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky launch an investigation of Biden was legitimate, citing a video of Biden boasting of Shokin’s ouster and the Obama administration’s demand that it must occur if Ukraine was to receive the $1 billion in aid for which it was scheduled.
“There was a quid pro quo,” Ratcliffe said, “and everyone saw a video of the quid pro quo; it was Joe Biden shaking down the Ukrainians and ordering the firing of the prosecutor general investigating the company that his son was a board member on, or lose a billion dollars. So the idea—one thing as we went through that process that you didn’t see, you heard the Democrats say, ‘That’s irrelevant. Don’t look behind that curtain. That has nothing to do with what President Trump did.’”
He went on to defend Trump’s demand of Zelensky for “a favor”—the investigation of the candidate then projected to be the president’s most likely rival in the 2020 election—before the administration would release military aid appropriated by Congress for Ukraine’s conduct of a war against Russian invaders.
“[T]he idea that there was not a prima facie case of corruption [regarding Biden] for the unitary executive, the head of the executive branch, Donald Trump, to raise questions about was ludicrous,” Ratcliffe said. “It was entirely appropriate for him to raise those questions, and for that to be the basis of a conversation with the president of Ukraine before agreeing to spend your money—American taxpayer money—to support President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people.”
Ratcliffe, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., was introduced to the CPAC audience by Coglianese as “a guy who’s in the front seats—he’s got to work with Adam Schiff every day.”
Schiff served as the lead manager of Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. At the mention of Schiff’s name, the audience booed loudly.
“Do you ever boo Adam Schiff when you see him?” Coglianese asked.
Ratcliffe took a beat, then asked, “This is national TV, right?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Coglianese replied.