WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) speaks to reporters during a press conference at the...
Win McNamee

Ethics Committee to examine Nunes’ alleged leaks of classified info

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced this morning that he’s agreed to recuse himself from his panel’s investigation into the Russia scandal. Why now after weeks of controversy? Because the investigator is now being investigated: the Republican congressman learned this morning that the House Ethics Committee has initiated a probe into allegations of Nunes’ wrongdoing.

Of course, the Intelligence Committee chair has been accused of quite a bit lately, so let’s be more specific. What exactly will the Ethics Committee examine? A written statement from the panel explained:
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct. The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), is investigating and gathering more information regarding these allegations.

“The Committee has determined to investigate these allegations in order to fulfill its institutional obligation, under House Rule X, clause 11(g)(4), to investigate certain allegations of unauthorized disclosures of classified information, and to determine if there has been any violation of the Code of Official Conduct under House Rule XXIII, clause 13.”
I can appreciate that formal language like this may seem a little stilted, so let’s make this plain: the Ethics Committee is looking into whether Nunes leaked classified information.

Nunes, not surprisingly, has described the allegations as “false and politically motivated,” but given what we know, it’s hardly surprising the Ethics panel is going to take a look.

In case anyone needs a refresher, on Tuesday, March 21 – the day after FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed the existence of an ongoing counter-espionage investigation into the Russia scandal and Donald Trump’s political operation – Nunes made a secret trip to the White House. While there, the Intelligence Committee chairman reportedly received information from three White House officials, who were apparently trying to bolster one of the president’s conspiracy theories while creating a distraction from the Russia affair.

Literally the next day, on Wednesday, March 22, Nunes held two rather breathless press conferences – one for reporters on Capitol Hill, one for reporters at the White House – in which he spoke about the sensitive information he’d received, without bothering to inform his own colleagues on the committee.

This was problematic for all sorts of reasons. As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp put it, “Members of the Trump White House selectively leaked classified intelligence that doesn’t actually support their boss’s claim to a credulous congressman who uncritically parroted the information in a press conference just hours later.”

Nunes also appears to have lied about this, more than once. Indeed, asked at one of his press conferences about why he was briefing Trump administration officials about the information he’d received, Nunes told reporters, “Well, the administration isn’t aware of this, so I need to make sure I go over there and tell them what I know.”

He also suggested White House officials hadn’t seen the information given to him by White House officials.

Looking ahead, the question becomes more narrow: was the information leaked to Nunes, which he dutifully talked publicly about, classified? Was there any kind of legitimate process that made it proper for him to discuss the sensitive intelligence with the press? Were his actions illegal? How about unethical?

The Ethics Committee’s probe may take a while, but it’s a story worth keeping an eye on.

House Republicans, Intelligence and White House

Ethics Committee to examine Nunes' alleged leaks of classified info