Correction: An earlier version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that Earl Landgrebe was a member of the House Judiciary Committee. This version has been updated.
Watergate showcased legislators on Capitol Hill in their finest hour: folksy and clever Sam Ervin (D-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee; Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), the committee’s vice chairman (“What did the president know, and when did he know it?”); House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), who reportedly went to a back room after voting for the third article of impeachment, called his wife and wept, telling her, “I hope we’ve done the right thing”; and Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.), who advised the committee that the United States had come too far for her “to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”
However, to me the most unforgettable Watergate lawmaker was House member Earl Landgrebe, a three-term Republican from Valparaiso, Ind. Landgrebe’s support for President Richard Nixon throughout the Watergate scandal set a standard for slavish loyalty that remains unmatched to this day.
As the case against Nixon mounted with the discovery of the White House tapes, Landgrebe shrugged the whole thing off, saying, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”
Landgrebe voted against accepting the final report of the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry.
With Nixon’s presidency fading into the sunset, Landgrebe vowed to “stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.”
They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
Or so I thought, until House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) arrived on the scene.
The chief difference between these two Republicans is that Landgrebe never got the chance to wield a gavel. In the post-Watergate elections, voters in Indiana’s 2nd District decided it was time to bring him home for good.
Nunes may not be an exact genetic copy of Landgrebe, but his behavior puts him in the same pedigree.
At the Intelligence Committee’s recent public hearing, FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers said they stood by the U.S. intelligence community’s Jan. 6 finding that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the meddling in the U.S. presidential election in an effort to hurt Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump.
Nunes also learned from Comey that the FBI was investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Echoing Landgrebe’s disdain for facts, Nunes chose to respond by leading the committee’s Republicans down a rabbit hole, chasing leaks and the unmasking of President Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was caught, reportedly via surveillance of the Russian ambassador, discussing sanctions and then lying about it to, among others, Vice President Pence.
What’s more, Nunes, wannabe private eye, surreptitiously examined information that he thought would exculpate Trump from his bogus tweet that he had been wiretapped at the Trump Tower last year by President Barack Obama.
Nunes revealed himself to be a sleuth of the Inspector Clouseau variety: klutzy, incompetent and prone to produce chaos wherever he turns up.
As at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex, where Nunes said he met with a secret source who provided classified material purportedly suggesting that Trump and transition-team members were picked up during U.S. surveillance of foreign targets and improperly identified in intelligence reports.
From there it went zany: See Nunes rush to the media the next day to disclose his discovery. Watch him circumvent committee members in his mad dash to the White House to clue in Trump. Hear Nunes subsequently backtrack on what he discovered: First, Trump and the team were caught up in an accidental collection; oops, Trump and the team may not have been surveilled, maybe just mentioned in the report; oh, shucks, let’s wait, he now says, until more information comes in from the National Security Agency.
And the pièce de résistance: Nunes, standing before microphones in front of the White House saying with a straight face that he had rushed to see the president because he “felt [Trump] needed to understand what I saw” — meaning what he saw the evening before, in a building just a stone’s throw from the Oval Office.
As if the White House had no idea what Nunes was talking about until he showed up at Trump’s door. For goodness’ sake, the information in question is custody of the executive offices of the president.
Somebody was getting played. We now know who (Nunes) and by whom (White House officials). The congressman is so in over his head.
Nunes’s antics sparked an editorial in his hometown newspaper, the Fresno Bee, describing his performance as “inept and bewildering” and saying he had “betrayed the Constitution and its separation of powers by running like an errand boy to the White House to share with Trump classified information that he had received.”
Nunes has embarrassed the House, tainted his chairmanship and reduced himself to a farce.
That said, it can be stated with confidence that Devin Nunes has done Earl Landgrebe proud.
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