As most of you probably know by now, The Rachel Maddow Show obtained a recording of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) speaking at a closed-door fundraiser last week. The California Republican, one of Donald Trump's most important allies on Capitol Hill, had quite a bit to say to GOP donors, and in the audience was someone who works with Fuse Washington, a progressive group in the Northwest that made the recording available to us.
I won't review every detail, but I do want to take a moment to highlight what I considered the most important revelation from Nunes' event. About halfway through the event, the congressman reflected on his role in the Russia scandal investigation and what he sees as the importance of the GOP majority in Congress.
"So therein lies, so it's like your classic Catch-22 situation, where we were at a -- this puts us in such a tough spot. If [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions won't un-recuse and [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones, which is really the danger. That's why I keep -- thank you for saying that, by the way -- we have to keep all these seats, we have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away."
As Rachel noted on the show last night, "So behind closed doors, when they don't think there's any recording of what they're saying ... the case they're making is that they either need to stop the investigation of the president, they need to stop the Russia investigation, or they need to keep using the power of Congress to impede that investigation, or else, right? Or 'all of this goes away.'
"That's why they want to 'keep the majority.' Those are the stakes for them keeping the majority. They're using the majority to impede the investigation. If they lose the majority the investigation might go forward, and then 'all of this goes away.'"
It's one thing to assume Nunes thinks this way; it's something else to hear Nunes tell an audience that he sees the Republican majority in Congress as some kind of emergency life-preserver for his White House allies, rescuing Trump if no one else will.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent had a good piece on this, explaining that the aforementioned quote from Nunes is "a straight-up declaration that the imperiled GOP congressional majority is the last line of protection" for the president, since his attorney general isn't stepping in protect Trump from an investigation that poses a threat to his presidency.
Nunes has perverted his oversight role into a nonstop harassment campaign designed to derail a legitimate investigation into a hostile foreign power's sabotaging of our democracy, all to shield Trump from scrutiny of whether he and his cronies conspired with that effort and tried to cover it up. He has engaged in a bad-faith-saturated effort to mislead the American people about the origins of that investigation. His committee protected the president politically by releasing a report that conspicuously broke with the intelligence community — and even with Senate Republicans -- by declining to conclude that Russia corrupted our election for the express purpose of electing Trump.In this audio, Nunes is forthrightly declaring that the importance of maintaining the GOP majority lies in the need for it to continue carrying out this campaign. What's really devastating about this quote is that it positions the GOP majority as a kind of backstop for Trump, should his attorney general keep failing in his duty to protect him from the investigation, a task, of course, that Trump himself has demanded Sessions carry out.
Many Democrats, I suspect, will embrace the dynamic Nunes described with great enthusiasm: the more power Dems have, the more scrutiny the White House will face. The surest way to see meaningful oversight of the Trump administration is to take control from the GOP majority.
And if you don't believe that Democratic message, just ask Devin Nunes.