Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, panned the way the press covered last week's impeachment hearings in an opening salvo defending President Trump on Tuesday before nine more witnesses publicly testify this week.
Nunes called stories about allegations of Trump colluding with Russia for assistance in the 2016 election and more recent stories about allegations he attempted to arrange a quid pro quo with Ukraine -- American military aid for investigations that would benefit Trump -- "preposterous" and labeled the press "puppets" for the Democratic Party.
"If you watched the impeachment hearings last week you may have noticed a disconnect between what you actually saw and the mainstream media accounts describing it," Nunes said in his opening statement before testimony got underway Tuesday. "You saw three diplomats who disliked President Trump's Ukraine policy discussing secondhand and thirdhand conversations about their objections with the Trump policy."
"But what you read in the press were accounts of shocking, damning and explosive testimony that fully supports the Democrats accusations," Nunes continued.
Nunes went on to list several stories about alleged Russian collusion that were debunked before returning to his attacks on the press.
"With their biased misreporting on the Russia hoax, the media lost the confidence of millions of Americans, and because they refuse to acknowledge how badly they botched the story, they've learned no lessons and simply expect Americans will believe them as they try to stoke yet another partisan frenzy," he said.
What the press and Democrats are ignoring, Nunes said, were "crucial questions" Republicans have pushed to have answered.
Nunes asked to what extent the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry coordinated with Democrats and Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and what the whistleblower's political beliefs are, among other things.
In contrast, Schiff gave a subdued opening statement rehashing the testimony of the first week's witnesses before giving committee members a directive for how to handle the day's hearings.
"If [Trump] sought to condition, coerce, extort or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts -- a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid -- it will be up to us to decide whether those acts are compatible with the office of the presidency," he said.
Tuesday’s sessions at the House Intelligence Committee started with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer at the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, an adviser with Vice President Pence’s office.
The witnesses, both foreign policy experts, previously said they listened with concern as Trump spoke on July 25 with the newly elected Ukraine president. The government whistleblower’s complaint about that call led House Democrats to launch the impeachment inquiry.
Democrats allege that Trump withheld almost $400 million in military aid and a meeting in the Oval Office from Ukraine in hopes of leveraging Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelensky to investigate Burisma Holdings and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. 2020 contender Joe Biden's son, Hunter, worked for Burisma despite having few qualifications pertaining to Ukraine or energy. The election interference theory has been largely discredited.
Republicans and Trump have used multiple lines of defense against the impeachment inquiry, arguing that Democrats are not affording Trump proper due process, that the aid was eventually delivered even without any investigations and that Democrats have been searching for an issue to impeach Trump on since he was elected. Specifically, Republicans have pointed out that the Ukraine whistleblower's lawyer openly called for a "coup" and impeachment around Trump's inauguration.
Nunes' statement Tuesday also touched on another GOP defense of Trump -- that the president controls foreign policy and the diplomats testifying under subpoena in Democrats' impeachment hearings simply "disliked" his Ukraine policy.
Fox News' Gregg Re and The Associated Press contributed to this report.