Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Apparently, the House Republicans’ best defense of Donald Trump from impeachment is to distract from the truth and instead push Trump’s outlandish conspiracy theories.
That was made clear from the letter Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) sent to House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) on Saturday.
It listed the witnesses the Republicans are seeking to call in defense of Trump during the ongoing impeachment hearings. (Schiff still has to approve them in order to testify.)
The individuals the House Republicans want America to hear from include Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian American who worked with the Democratic National Committee. Nunes writes that Chalupa will be a prime fact witness who can assist in helping us understand “President Trump’s documented belief that the Ukrainian government meddled into the 2016 election to oppose his candidacy.”
Of course, the conspiracy theory that Ukraine actually interfered in our 2016 election has been debunked to everyone but Trump and perhaps some of his staunchest supporters.
While we are at it, why don’t House Republicans call witnesses who can help support more of “President Trump’s documented belief,” such as his claim that GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s father may have been involved in the assassination of JFK. Maybe they can call a witness to support Trump’s suggestion that windmills cause cancer?
And in keeping with their “tin foil hat” defense to impeachment, Republicans want to call as a witness, Hunter Biden. Nunes explained in his letter that the purported reason they are calling Biden is so that he “can assist the American public in understanding the nature and extent of Ukraine’s pervasive corruption.”
Obviously, if the House Republicans wanted to present evidence of corruption in Ukraine, they would call experts in that field, especially one who has made Ukraine their focus. In reality, this is simply the House GOP trying to help Trump by pushing the President’s baseless conspiracy theory that in 2016 Joe Biden used his position as vice president to help his son profit. There’s no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
However, if the GOP was truly concerned with rooting out conflicts of interest involving children of the heads of our executive branch, they don’t need to look back at events from years ago that occurred thousands of miles away in Ukraine. All they need to do is investigate Ivanka Trump’s apparent conflicts of interest that are far more recent and happened right in front of their eyes.
The most recent example of such conduct was flagged in January by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan ethics watchdog, that has called for the Department of Justice to investigate Ivanka for her possible violation of federal conflict of interest laws.
CREW alleged in its complaint that Ivanka personally worked on “a new tax law authorizing the Opportunity Zones program while her husband, Jared Kushner, held financial interests worth millions of dollars in an entity benefitting from that program.”
The ethics group alleges that Ivanka’s conduct violated 18 U.S.C. Section 208, which prohibits federal employees from participating “personally and substantially” in “matters that have a direct and predictable effect on a financial interest of the employee or their spouse.” ( A spokesman for Trump’s ethics lawyer denied the allegation, dubbing it “a politically motivated and meritless complaint” and said, “Ms. Trump is proud of her work on this legislation, and she adheres to the ethics advice she has received from Counsel about what issues she can work on and those to which she is recused.”)
CREW has also raised concerns over Ivanka receiving trademarks from both China and Japan in the last two years, posing the question of whether these countries approve the trademarks to curry favor with her father? For example, as CREW details, just last year Ivanka’s business received approval for two trademarks from the Japanese government in February, which is when Mike Pence visited Japan to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The watchdog group also sounded alarms over Ivanka’s business receiving approval for three trademarks from the Chinese government in June 2018 on the same date that sanctions were lifted from ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications company. And in November 2018, Reuters reported that Ivanka’s company received approval for 16 new trademarks from the government of China for a broad range of goods – from shoes and jewelry to voting machines.
These deals all came while Trump and China have been engaged in trade talks, raising obvious questions of whether China simply agreed to those trademarks for Ivanka in an effort to sway her father on tariffs and trade. (In defense of the applications for trademark, Abigail Klem, who was then the president of the Ivanka Trump brand, said in 2017, “We have recently seen a surge in trademark filings by unrelated third parties trying to capitalize on the name and it is our responsibility to diligently protect our trademark.”
Ivanka’s lawyer at the time, Jamie Gorelick, said, “Ivanka has had no involvement with trademark applications submitted by the business” because she resigned from her position with the company. “The federal ethics rules do not require you to recuse from any matter concerning a foreign country just because a business that you have an ownership interest in has a trademark application pending there.”)
If the House Republicans are sincerely concerned with conflicts of interest involving the children of the leaders of US administrations, they should start with Ivanka Trump.
But, of course, they won’t, because the GOP’s top priority is protecting President Trump, not rooting out corruption.