WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) walks to the House floor on Capitol Hill, March 24, 2017 in...
Drew Angerer

Is the House Intelligence chairman trying to discredit himself?

Updated
Yesterday was not a good day for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). The beleaguered Republican publicly acknowledged that the day before his bizarre press conferences last week, which was intended to bolster an odd Donald Trump conspiracy theory, Nunes made a secret trip to the White House.

In other words, a top Trump ally, eager to defend the president, quietly visited the White House and talked to a Trump administration source. He then leaked ambiguous and secret information intended to help Trump to the media, then briefed the president on the findings before sharing it with his own committee colleagues.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/27/17, 9:20 PM ET

Embattled Nunes paralyzes House Intelligence Committee

Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has not kept the committee updated on intelligence he talked with the media and White House about, and has postponed…
Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has not kept the committee updated on intelligence he talked with the media and White House about, and has postponed…
A growing number of officials have decided they just can’t work with this guy anymore.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called for its chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, to recuse himself from “any investigation” into President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team after news of the Republican’s secret White House meeting on the issue emerged.

“This is not a recommendation I make lightly,” Rep. Adam Schiff wrote in a statement of his counterpart on the committee investigating Russia’s inference in the 2016 election. “I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the President’s campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the Chairman.”
Other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have reached the same conclusion, as have the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, who also believe Nunes’ gavel should be taken away. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee described Nunes’ bizarre antics as “more than suspicious,” which seems quite fair given the circumstances.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of Nunes’ committee, went so far as to say this morning, in reference to his panel’s chairman, “[T]his is what a cover-up to a crime looks like. We are watching it play out right now.”

As of this morning, the House Intelligence Committee has reportedly scrapped all meetings for this week, which comes on the heels of Nunes cancelling scheduled public hearings related to the Russia investigation.

All of which raises the question: is this Nunes’ elaborate attempt at self-sabotage?

It seems implausible, but if you were the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, you were concerned about the direction of an ongoing investigation into one of your friends, and you made a conscious decision to discredit yourself, what would you do? If you wanted to create conditions in which your current role would be seen as untenable, if not ridiculous, what kind of steps would be take?

Well, you’d probably destroy any sense of your objectivity and make it impossible for your colleagues to trust you. You’d start scrapping scheduled hearings without explanation. You’d discourage intelligence community professionals, some of whom may have concerns about the president, from coming forward with information. You’d freeze your committee’s work to the point that it’s paralyzed, indefinitely. You’d publicly contradict yourself and make clear that you have divided loyalties. You’d stop communicating with your colleagues and the committee’s aides.

And you’d probably go out of your way to appear spectacularly incompetent. (Reuters reported late yesterday, “A congressional source said congressional investigators have questioned agencies directly to try to find out what intelligence reports and intercepts Nunes is referring to, but that as of Monday the agencies were still saying they did not know what Nunes was talking about.”)

In other words, if your goal was to leave your reputation in tatters, deliberately, you’d probably act exactly the way Devin Nunes has acted recently.  

Two weeks ago, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee said publicly that if the panel’s investigation became a joke, they’d simply walk away. “I’m not going to be part of a dog-and-pony show that is not a serious effort to do an investigation because this is really serious,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said at the time. “If it’s not a legitimate and comprehensive and in-depth investigation, why would we be party to it?”

I don’t think Nunes saw that as a threat; I think he saw it as an invitation.