How Devin Nunes Turned the House Intelligence Committee Inside Out
In inquiries on Benghazi and Russia and beyond, the California congressman has displayed a deep mistrust of the expert consensus on reality — a disposition that has helped him make friends in the current White House.
In Late August 2016, Donald Trump paid a visit to Tulare, Calif., a small city in the agricultural Central Valley and an unlikely stop for a Republican presidential campaign. California is a solidly blue state, and although Trump was in Tulare to speak at a fund-raiser, the $2,700 that most guests ponied up to attend hardly seemed substantial enough to justify the presence of a busy candidate. (At a fund-raiser Trump attended in Silicon Valley the day before, guests paid $25,000 a head.) At least one senior Trump campaign official argued against the trip, deeming it a colossal waste of time.
But Trump had one very good reason for visiting Tulare: It is the hometown of Representative Devin Nunes. While many Republican elected officials had maintained a wary distance from their party’s presidential nominee, Nunes, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was one of the few, not to mention one of the most prominent, to offer Trump his unequivocal support — which included holding the fund-raiser. Better still, Trump liked Nunes. Although the 44-year-old congressman seems to wear a permanent grimace in public, as if trying to lend his boyish face some gravitas, in private he is a bit of a bon vivant. “He’s a pretty easy guy to like,” says Johnny Amaral, Nunes’s longtime political consigliere and friend. “And he’s fiercely loyal. I think Trump recognized that.”
The day before the Tulare event, Nunes drove up to the Bay Area to meet Trump and brief him on his district. Nunes expected to drive back to Tulare that evening, but Trump invited Nunes to fly with him to Los Angeles instead and then on to Tulare the next morning. It is unclear just what they discussed over those 24 hours, but by all accounts they seem to have strengthened their bond, and Nunes soon entered Trump’s inner circle — cementing a political alliance that would become one of the most consequential of the Trump era.
In the beginning, it was Nunes who influenced Trump. During the campaign, he tutored the candidate on water policy — a crucial issue to California agribusiness interests — and Trump heeded his warnings about the perfidy of environmentalists and government bureaucrats who were creating a “man-made drought.” At the Tulare fund-raiser, Trump promised the crowd that he would get their water back for them. Once Trump was elected, he appointed Nunes to the executive committee of his transition team, where Nunes helped shape the nascent Trump administration’s foreign policy. “He just took a very proactive role,” one Trump transition official recalls. “He was very aggressive and assertive about things and people we had to have.” According to the Trump transition official, Nunes was among the strongest advocates for Mike Pompeo, a colleague of his on the Intelligence Committee, to become the C.I.A. director and for James Mattis to become the secretary of defense. He also recommended a number of staff members, including his Intelligence Committee aide Derek Harvey, for positions on the National Security Council. “If we didn’t have Nunes,” the transition official says, “we wouldn’t have had anything stood up. He took the lead and was very important.”
Some 17 months later, that looks to have been a remarkably prescient decision — as Trump appears to have been able to influence Nunes to a remarkable degree. So much so that during Trump’s time in the White House, Nunes has transformed the Intelligence Committee into a beachhead from which to rally his fellow Republicans in support of the president against his perceived enemies — not just the Democratic Party but also the F.B.I., the Department of Justice and the entire intelligence community.
In March 2017, the committee started an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections in order to produce, as Nunes promised at the time, a “bipartisan” and “definitive” report. But since then, Nunes has used the committee only to sow confusion — confusion that has benefited Trump. Perhaps his most notable disclosure from the investigation occurred in February when, over the objections of committee Democrats as well as the Justice Department and the F.B.I., Nunes released a memorandum alleging a conspiracy against the president. He argued that federal investigators seeking a secret surveillance warrant for Carter Page, a former adviser of Trump’s, had failed to fully inform judges that the information in the application came from a potentially biased source, the infamous dossier compiled on behalf of Democrats by the former British spy Christopher Steele. “Political dirt was used by the F.B.I., and they knew it was political dirt, to open a counterintelligence investigation into the [Trump] campaign,” Nunes told Fox News’s Sean Hannity. “It seems like the counterintelligence investigation should have been opened up against the Hillary campaign when they got ahold of the dossier.”
Then, in March, Nunes and the committee Republicans abruptly wrapped up the investigation into Russian meddling, having concluded that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and that, contrary to the official consensus of the American intelligence community, the Russian government was not even seeking to help elect Trump. The president soon promoted the findings on Twitter: “THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14 MONTH LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION OR COORDINATION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA TO INFLUENCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.”
In addition, Nunes has begun a parallel investigation of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department for supposedly abusing their powers in an effort to hurt Trump. On April 10, Nunes instructed the Justice Department to give Congress the two-page document that started the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation in 2016 and threatened the impeachment of the F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if they didn’t comply. “We’re not messing around here,” Nunes told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham. Wray and Rosenstein acquiesced. Then on April 13, Nunes, along with two other Republican committee chairmen, demanded that Rosenstein turn over copies of the memos James Comey had drafted, as F.B.I. director, about his conversations with Trump. Rosenstein had previously refused to do so, on the grounds that the memos were part of the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, into the 2016 elections, but on April 19, he complied. The move set a dangerous precedent for Congress to interfere with the bureau’s active investigations, especially Mueller’s — which it will almost certainly continue to do. Continue Reading
You do an article like this when you want to get this person OUT of the way.
What is funny about this article is that they are still under the impression that he is in a safe district. I have friends with FAMILY in that district. He is NOT completely safe. He is up but it may only be by a point or two that he wins/loses by.