Let's be clear: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is temporarily stepping down from his role as the House's lead investigator of Russia because, at the very least, his actions appeared to compromise the impartiality of the investigation.
But it's also likely that Nunes wouldn't be in this politically compromising position without the White House leading him down that path.
We now know that in late March, Nunes made a secret visit to the White House to receive documents from three members of Trump's national security team that appeared designed to prove the president's so-far unprovable claim President Barack Obama spied on him during the campaign.
The very next day, Nunes went back to the White House, cameras in tow, to brief the president on some big news: He had evidence that Trump campaign officials were likely caught up in spying.
Nunes held a hastily gathered news conference outside the West Wing of the White House, where he refused to share his source or reveal the actual information he has.
A few minutes later, across the White House, Trump told reporters he “somewhat” feels vindicated by Nunes's discovery.
If the fact that Trump's name was caught up in unrelated spying was news to the world, it was also news to his Democratic and Republican colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, whom Nunes skipped over to brief the president first.
Nunes justified his actions by saying the surveillance had nothing to do with Russia. But as I wrote at the time, here’s what anyone trying to follow the twists and turns of this Trump-Russia-wiretapping story is left with:
A top Republican congressman and Trump ally was at the White House the day before he released information that appeared to somewhat defend the president on his defenseless wiretapping claims.
What’s more, the congressman released this secret information to the president — whose circle is under investigation by the FBI for alleged ties to Russia — before sharing it with his own committee members.
Nunes later indicated that prioritizing getting information to the White House was a poor judgment call.
Ethics and government experts The Fix talked to thought it was much more than that. His White House visits were a potential dealbreaker for the committee's impartiality on Russia, which was already in question given the committee was controlled by Republicans investigating allegations surrounding a Republican president.
“This is really unusual behavior of an oversight committee chairman,” said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow of governance studies at Brookings Institution and editor in chief of Lawfare, said. “And it's hard to understand what could possibly justify it.”
As Democrats slowly, then all at once, demanded Nunes step down from the investigation, more news from the White House ensured that Nunes's departure would be the inevitable conclusion of all this. The Washington Post reported Nunes got his mysterious wiretapping information from three senior members of the Trump White House, one with ties to Trump's inner circle of Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon.
By then, Nunes had lost all control of the narrative about what he did or didn't do. The House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation was basically on hold, and previously cautious Democrats like Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) demanded Nunes go.
On Thursday, the House Ethics Committee said it is going to investigate allegations Nunes improperly shared classified information — a charge Nunes denies.
To circle back to our first point, Nunes didn't do himself any favors in this wiretapping debacle. It's not just the White House visits that have called into question his impartiality, The Fix's Aaron Blake points out:
At numerous points over the past two months Nunes has made strange comments about his investigation. He's gone out of his way to downplay questions about alleged wrongdoing by the Trump administration — even more so than many Republicans who aren't tasked with running an impartial investigation.
But if Nunes handled this investigation poorly, his missteps were largely with information the White House gave him.