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The worst — and most intriguing — parts of the secret Devin Nunes tape

The Fix’s Aaron Blake analyzes the key takeaways from a secret recording of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night broadcast a secretly recorded tape of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) at a closed-door fundraiser talking about the Russia investigation — a more Trump-friendly version of which his own committee conducted.

And while plenty have focused on his comments that the GOP needs to keep the majority to protect President Trump, that might not even be the most interesting — or objectionable — part of it.

First off, here’s the full quote, in context:

So therein lies what’s like your classic Catch-22 situation where we’re at a -- it puts us in such a tough spot. If Sessions won’t un-recuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones, which is really the danger. That’s why I keep -- and thank you for saying it by the way -- I mean, we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away."

We don’t know quite what Nunes was responding to, regrettably. But what first strikes you is how quickly he pivots from talking about Trump’s fate in the Russia investigation to the GOP’s electoral fortunes — as if the purpose of keeping Republicans in power is to shut the whole thing down.

That said, Nunes and others of his ilk have been arguing for months that the Justice Department, and even Mueller, are treating Trump unfairly and conducting a witch hunt. Nunes would perhaps argue that he’s talking about trying to protect Trump from an already overzealous prosecution and a Democratic Party that is intent upon impeaching him and removing him from office. Republicans may indeed need a House majority to guarantee that Trump isn’t impeached.

But Nunes isn’t just your average congressional partisan; he’s the guy who was tasked with running a fair investigation into the Russia situation for the usually bipartisan House Intelligence Committee. His investigation is finished, so perhaps he can let loose a bit. But here he seems to let his true feelings come rushing out — behind closed doors, at least. And it confirms everything we thought we knew about the man behind that probe and his suspiciously pro-Trump actions.

But what sticks out to me here are two things:

First, he talks about Attorney General Jeff Sessions “un-recusing” himself as if it were a way out of this whole mess. That’s making a real assumption about the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, but it’s one that Trump himself has hinted at. Reporting has regularly described Trump ruing Sessions’s recusal because he believed his attorney general should be there to protect him. But it’s one thing for Trump to reportedly muse about such an unholy alliance behind closed doors; it’s another to have Nunes doing it on tape.

And the second is the last part: “If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.” Again, Nunes is the House Intelligence Committee chairman, and he’s privy to all kinds of things we don’t know about. The committee’s report concluded there was no evidence of collusion with Russia, but it clearly took pains not to reflect poorly on the GOP president. (The whole thing created a rift between the GOP majority on the committee and the Democratic minority, which didn’t sign off on the report.)

But removing Trump from office would require a majority vote to impeach in the House and a two-thirds vote to convict in the Senate (which means plenty of Republicans going along). Nunes is leading the crowd to believe that this would happen. Perhaps that’s just overheated partisan rhetoric — the kind of thing you say to fire up the base — but the fact that the guy running the House Intel Committee’s Russia probe suggests it’s actually possible that Trump could be removed from office based upon Mueller’s Russia investigation seems significant.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has been a controversial figure in the House's Russia investigation. But how did he get to where he is today? (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)