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

House Intelligence Chair’s antics generate bipartisan criticism

Updated
At one point yesterday afternoon, in a Capitol Hill hallway, a reporter asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) if he’s prepared to recuse himself from the Russia investigation the Republican congressman compromised. Nunes responded to the reporter, “Why are you so lame?”

That’s emblematic of the state of the debate surrounding Nunes and his increasingly strange behavior.

One of the key points of contention surrounding the House Intelligence Committee chair is his effort last week to bolster Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory about being the subject of covert surveillance. Nunes claims to have a secret source, whom he met secretly at the White House complex last week, who gave him secret information Nunes was eager to share with the media last week in vague and unhelpful ways.

The Huffington Post noted yesterday that the beleaguered GOP lawmaker said yesterday he’ll never identify his source – even to the Intelligence Committee he ostensibly leads.
“We will never reveal sources and methods,” Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said to ABC News’ Mary Bruce on Tuesday.

Even other members of the committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the presidential campaign, will not learn how Nunes obtained information he said indicated that key figures close to Trump were monitored by U.S. intelligence, Nunes said.
Reuters had a related report, noting that Nunes will not divulge information on who gave him intelligence information on Trump, even to his colleagues on the intelligence panel.

This isn’t a situation in which other committee members lack the necessary clearance, but rather, Nunes simply wants to keep a secret from his colleagues related to the investigation on which they’re supposed to be working together. It’s as if the Intelligence Committee is proceeding with a bifurcated process: one investigation from the panel, and another from the panel’s chair.

If there’s a compelling defense for this, Nunes hasn’t come up with it yet.

And while most congressional Republicans are dutifully defending Nunes against Democratic calls for his recusal (and possibly his ouster as the Intelligence Committee chair), some GOP lawmakers are starting to raise concerns publicly.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, conceded yesterday that Nunes may have “lost his ability to lead” the investigation into the Russia scandal, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Nunes “absolutely” must explain how and where he received his information about Trump. McCain added, in reference to Nunes’ recent antics, “I’ve been around for quite a while, and I’ve never heard of any such thing.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), a bit of a Republican gadfly, yesterday endorsed Democratic calls for Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia investigation in light of the chairman’s lack of objectivity. (Jones is not a member of the Intelligence Committee.)

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), another leading Trump ally, told MSNBC yesterday, “I do believe Devin Nunes does need to clear things up. The controversy right now is not good and I certainly acknowledge that.”

An editorial in Nunes’ hometown paper, the Fresno Bee, described his recent conduct as “bewildering.” Even National Review, a prominent conservative magazine, published a piece yesterday calling on Nunes to step down as chair of the intelligence panel.

The California Republican, at least for now, insists he’s keeping his post, even as his committee is suddenly frozen, and even as he ignores questions about his unusual conduct.

As this continues to play out, there’s one question in particular I’ve been thinking a lot about. Last week, Nunes said he went to the White House complex to meet with his secret source, but White House officials didn’t know he was there. That’s very hard to believe: to enter the complex, everyone has to go through security, and someone from the White House had to clear Nunes in.

So, who signed him in? White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer would only say yesterday that Nunes was “properly cleared,” though he wouldn’t say by whom.

Intelligence, Scandals and White House

House Intelligence Chair's antics generate bipartisan criticism

Updated