Russian Disinformation
Russian misinformation isn't new. Social media just made it easier to spread
03:45 - Source: CNN Business
CNN  — 

Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, declined to say at a closed-door meeting this week whether he had received foreign information meant to damage former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a transcript released by the committee on Thursday.

The information in question pertained to packets reportedly sent to GOP members of Congress, including Nunes, by Ukranian lawmaker Andrii Derkach – who has worked closely with President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani played a key role in the effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to publicly announce an investigation into the former vice president, an effort that led to the President’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal.

But facing questioning from Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Nunes declined to respond.

“I guess I would request an explanation from the ranking member why he is just not prepared to respond to a simple question whether he has received materials that have been called into question that seem designed to denigrate a former vice president of the United States, but, at a minimum, to share them with the rest of the committee,” Maloney said.

The exchange came during a committee meeting on Wednesday where the panel voted along party lines to allow all House members to view classified intelligence Democratic leaders provided to the FBI that warns about a foreign “disinformation” campaign targeting the 2020 presidential election. A committee source told CNN that the Democrats on the panel came in possession of a DHL receipt in December 2019 showing that a package had been mailed to Republicans on the committee. Democrats believed this package pertained to a foreign disinformation campaign targeting Biden.

A committee source says the Democrats were “so concerned” that they alerted the FBI to the shipping receipt in late January 2020.

But at this week’s committee meeting, Nunes would not comment when asked about the materials – or say if he would share them with Democrats on the panel.

“Mr. Chairman, there have been public reports that the minority has received materials from Andrii Derkach, and those materials would not be classified and they would not be prohibited from disclosure,” Maloney said during the meeting. “But, at a minimum, I also understand that majority staff has requested of the minority that they be shared with majority staff so that we might evaluate them independently.”

Maloney added that his question is whether Nunes is “prepared to disclose to the committee whether he has received materials that have been called into question in the public reports from Andrii Derkach and, if so, whether he is prepared to share them with the rest of the committee.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, then chimed in, asking, “Does the ranking member wish to respond?”

Nunes replied, “No.”

Maloney pressed on, asking Nunes why he would not confirm receipt of nor share materials from Derkach that Maloney said seemed intended to disparage Biden.

“I mean, as I understand it, committee staff is in possession of evidence that a package was received. None of this is classified,” Maloney said.

Maloney added: “Is the ranking member prepared to even respond to the question? How about it, Mr. Nunes? Did you receive a package from Andrii Derkach or not? And would you share with the committee or not? Well, I guess this is a case where silence speaks volumes.”

Schiff then adjourned the meeting.

Congressional Democrats have expressed interest of late in potential disinformation going after Biden. Last week, Democratic congressional leaders sent FBI Director Chris Wray a letter urging an FBI briefing to all lawmakers about 2020 foreign interference efforts.

Sources told CNN that a classified addendum from the Democrats included concerns about a Russian-linked “disinformation” campaign to target Biden in the 2020 election, including that information from entities with ties to Russia was being provided to Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who is leading an investigation into Biden.

In recent months, a small group of Ukrainian political figures has injected itself into the US presidential election by releasing and promoting alleged audiotapes of Biden. Some of these figures are connected to Kremlin interests or Russian intelligence agencies, which experts say suggests their actions may be part of a Russian-backed misinformation campaign.

The recordings are of Biden’s dealings with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and they appear authentic. But the material reinforces Biden’s claims that he promoted US interests and didn’t do anything improper in Ukraine. There is no proof of wrongdoing on the tapes, and the Biden campaign maintains that these releases are blatant Russian meddling against the former vice president.

Some Republicans and right-wing news outlets have embraced the baseless claims being levied by these controversial Ukrainian figures. Some of these figures, including Derkach, have worked closely with Giuliani. Johnson has tried to secure testimony from another Ukrainian in this orbit, former diplomat Andrii Telizhenko.

Johnson told CNN earlier this month that he wasn’t aware of any Russian disinformation sent to his committee but that his staff vets any evidence the panel is provided and takes anything coming from Ukraine with a “huge grain of salt.”

“I’m not aware of every piece of information our committee has gathered. We’re encouraging people to send us information, but then we fully vet it,” Johnson said. “We take everything with a grain of salt we get from Ukraine. I think you have to.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.

CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.