At first blush, it’s tempting to assume House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) would be burdened by overwhelming embarrassment right about now. He’s not only proven himself incapable of leading one of Congress’ most important panels, but Nunes was also caught hyping a memo, based on intelligence he hadn’t read, that has become one of this Congress’ ugliest fiascoes.
What does the California Republican have planned for an encore? Apparently, more memos.
Nunes talked to Fox News’ Bret Baier on Friday afternoon, and this exchange from the interview stood out:
BAIER: Are there other memos that are going to come out? Are there other memos? You said that this was Phase One.
NUNES: Yeah, so this completes just the FISA abuse portion of our investigation. We are in the middle of what I call Phase Two of our investigation, which involves other departments, specifically the State Department and some of the involvement they’ve had in this…. And we continue to work towards finding answers and asking the right questions to try to get to the bottom of what exactly the State Department was up to in terms of this Russia investigation.
Or put another way, Nunes (a) is no longer even maintaining the pretense that he wants his committee to investigate the most serious attack on the United States since 9/11; (b) failed spectacularly in the “FISA abuse portion” of his efforts; and (c) has a new conspiracy theory to work on.
Axios reported over the weekend that Republicans close to the GOP committee chairman say “there could be as many as five” additional memos. Obviously, this is misguided. When one memo turns out to be nonsense, the solution is not to shovel more nonsense onto the fire.
But even putting that aside, it’s hard not to get the feeling that Nunes is confused about how the House Intelligence Committee is supposed to work.
The panel, known among many as HPSCI (the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) isn’t designed to churn out partisan memos drafted at the direction of a confused chairman, eager to carry a scandal-plagued president’s water. On the contrary, the Intelligence Committee traditionally publishes detailed reports.
In other words, up until fairly recently, the panel functioned a certain way: it would conduct oversight; it would examine intelligence; it would hold hearings and seek answers to sensitive questions; etc. Occasionally, the committee would focus its attention on specific events, which would lead the panel’s bipartisan members to produce a document on their findings – which is what happened, for example, after the panel examined the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.
A stream of “memos” is a new and unwelcome development. In the case of the Russia scandal, Nunes should want to know what a foreign adversary did when it attacked the United States, and whether it had any domestic confederates. If that wasn’t of interest to the chairman and his party, and they instead cared about targeting the FBI and the Justice Department, Nunes could bring in federal law enforcement officials for detailed, behind-closed-doors hearings, during which time members could scrutinize intelligence materials.
Nunes, however, appears to have no use for such a traditional course. He instead likes memos. Lots of ‘em. If one memo is exposed as dumb, the House Intelligence Committee chair will release several more.
I don’t know when the HPSCI will be a serious entity again, but it won’t happen in 2018, and it can’t happen under Devin Nunes’ guidance.