I served in Congress with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Based on my experience working with him, nothing about the way he’s behaving now as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — overseeing part of the so-called Russia-Trump investigation — is particularly shocking.
The Nunes I knew was a purely partisan animal. When it comes to exercising good judgment and discharging his duties in service of the Constitution, he’s just not up to the task.
He saw everything through a Republican vs. Democrat lens. In weekly conference meetings for Republican House members, Nunes was always one of then-Speaker John A. Boehner’s or Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s go-to lieutenants, willing to tout the party line and make sure the rest of us lined up like obedient boys and girls. During my brief tenure, I was one of the more outspoken tea party members, regularly at odds with leadership when it came to budget or government-funding legislation. I still vividly recall Nunes lambasting us as obstinate obstructionists on many occasions, trying to bend us to leadership’s will on votes that went against our principles. With Nunes, I found it was all about politics, almost never about policy.
At one meeting, we were fighting over passing some budget resolution, and leadership had Nunes go to the mic, where he said something like: You tea party extremists are the problem. You’re making the Republican Party look dysfunctional. If you keep this up, Romney is going to lose in 2012. Well, Mitt Romney lost. The GOP looks dysfunctional now. And either way, I didn’t go to D.C. to get Romney, or anyone else, elected. I went to stop D.C. from bankrupting the country.
So it doesn’t surprise me to see Nunes today, acting more like the chairman of the president’s reelection campaign than chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He wants to please whomever he sees as the person or people running the show. Back then, it was House GOP leadership. Now it’s President Trump. And it’s pretty clear Nunes has decided his job is to protect Trump no matter what collateral damage results. How else do you explain his careless and dangerous rush to release his already infamous “memo”?
The FBI and Trump’s Justice Department have practically begged Nunes, and Trump, not to release it. Urging his fellow Republicans not to release the memo, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) said, “We can’t let the politics of the moment cloud our judgment.”
I agree. But it’s not Nunes’s style to care.
Instead, he’s doubling down on the farce that he started when he tried to steer the Russia investigation in the direction of documents the White House fed him that were meant to put the blame on President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice. But that’s not his job. He’s supposed to be sorting out a high-stakes national security crisis, not scoring political points. I’m a Trump supporter, and I’m definitely no fan of Rice, but if Nunes can’t keep his eye on the ball, he shouldn’t be running any part of the investigation, and he shouldn’t be chairman.
The congressional intelligence committees traditionally function as some of the least partisan committees — as they should. Oversight for security threats to this country is too great a responsibility to let committee business devolve into finger-pointing and score-settling along party lines, but that’s exactly where the level of discourse has gone under Nunes’s “leadership.” He’s not searching for truth, he’s running interference for the White House, abdicating his role as a member of a coequal branch of government, dragging his fellow committee members down with him and exposing House leadership as ineffectual and foolish.
As a former congressman — but more important, as a citizen — that’s not what I want. I want transparency because I believe that we need to get to the end of the Russia investigation and let Trump get back to being Trump on behalf of the American people. Whatever is happening now isn’t that.
If Nunes’s investigation and memo are about transparency, if he and the president have confidence in their case, then the committee should release the memo, with Nunes’s version of events — and the Democrats’ memo, with their version of events — at the same time. To the extent they can do this without disclosing classified sources and methods, they should release the underlying intelligence both memos are based on. Hell, at this point, they should release the FISA warrant the memo apparently alludes to. If they don’t, Nunes and anyone who backs him should be ashamed.
Some issues have to be partisan. But in this case, we’re not talking about lowering taxes, getting rid of the individual mandate or clamping down on immigration — all good things that Trump can be proud of. No, here, Nunes is at risk of turning what should be a nonpartisan issue — a foreign government trying to interfere in our election — into a game.
The president, and the country, are being poorly served.
My Republican colleagues would be screaming bloody murder if Russia, or any foreign government, was suspected of helping Hillary Clinton become president. If Chairman Nunes can’t lead them out of this sad of hypocrisy, it means he’s putting party over country. I’ll be disappointed. But not surprised.