Break up the Intelligence Committee: Devin Nunes can't be trusted with national secrets

Nunes will never stop being Trump's lapdog. Even if Democrats win back the House, his committee must be disbanded

By Heather Digby Parton


Published March 7, 2018 8:20AM (EST)

Devin Nunes (AP/Susan Walsh)
Devin Nunes (AP/Susan Walsh)

There are so many political stories breaking right now that it's honestly impossible to keep up. Kellyanne Conway has been charged with violating the Hatch Act for blatantly using her White House position to boost the campaign of accused child molester Roy Moore. A bunch of Democratic senators decided to party like it's 2005, voting with the GOP to deregulate some banks for no good reason. Meanwhile, Donald Trump took questions at a joint appearance with the Swedish prime minister and pretty much started a trade war with the EU, fatuously declaring that trade wars are good for countries with a trade deficit, so there's no way the U.S. can lose.

By the end of the day Monday, we had The New York Times reporting that Robert Mueller's team has a new cooperating witness who can shed light on that January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles between Trump's buddy Erik Prince, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates and a Russian investor close to Vladimir Putin. Apparently there is reason to believe that foreign money was being funneled into the Trump campaign, which would be not just unethical but illegal.

Oh, and adult film actress Stormy Daniels has filed a lawsuit against Trump, claiming that he never personally signed their non-disclosure agreement preventing her from talking about their affair. Whether Daniels will prevail is unknowable, but it's fair to assume that the atmosphere in the White House personal residence isn't great at the moment.

Now stop for just a moment and ask yourself what would be happening right now if the president were someone other than Donald Trump and the Congress was in the hands of officials other than his willing accomplices. Considering the past history of presidential scandals, I think we can be pretty sure that Republicans in the House would not be talking about wrapping up their investigation and calling it a day. (They held nine separate investigations into the Benghazi attack, five of them -- Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Judiciary, and Oversight and Government Reform -- in the House of Representatives alone.) But that's exactly what they are planning:

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee appear close to closing the committee's yearlong investigation into Russian interference . . .

“We're being shut off,” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said during a Monday appearance on “CNN Newsroom.”

“If I had to predict, in the next month they will shut down the House and Senate investigations and I would imagine they would cheer on the White House attempt to shut down Mueller,” he added.

That investigation is the only one happening in the House right now. There is no probe into the massive corruption and conflicts of interest in every agency of the executive branch, including the Oval Office. Congress isn't bothering to look into the issue of White House security clearances, nepotism, Trump's Syria policy or the military operation in Niger that went disastrously wrong. The executive branch is running wild, doing whatever the incompetent, unqualified and/or extremist agency head feels like doing, and Congress has decided it no longer needs to oversee the White House. Well, OK -- there is one exception. Congressional Republicans are intent upon investigating the FBI and the Department of Justice over the silly Carter Page FISA business and are demanding a parallel special prosecutor to oversee it.

Honestly, at this point, shutting down the House Intelligence Committee's investigation would probably be a blessing. It has more or less become an adjunct of the Trump administration's obstruction of justice strategy, going all the way back to March of last year with Rep. Devin Nunes' infamous "midnight run" gambit, when he pretended to have found information about the White House which it had actually surreptitiously provided to him. The New York Times dryly reported at the the time that it was "likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration."

Yes, well, that criticism definitely didn't stop him. We all know about Nunes' inane "memo" that turned out to be meaningless, and he's getting increasingly Trumpish by the day. Salon's Sophia Tesfaye reported yesterday on his latest Fox News appearances attacking Hollywood and the media because Stephen Colbert played a joke on him. He seems to be coming a bit unhinged.

Perhaps that's because of a couple of serious reports in recent days that show Nunes and his lieutenants may be going beyond aggressive partisanship and have ventured into real obstruction of justice. Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee accused members of Nunes' team of leaking text messages from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., showing that he had tried to set up a meeting with Christopher Steele. (Nunes had sent his top staffer to London to try to meet with Steele last summer, so the idea that this was a scandal is ridiculous.) That leak carries more than a whiff of suspicion, considering that a couple of weeks earlier, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had mistakenly contacted a fake Sean Hannity account on Twitter to discuss “other channels” for Assange to send information about Warner. It's the sort of connection that a House Intelligence Committee chairman with any concern for integrity or honesty would normally go out of his way to avoid.

On Monday, the Daily Beast reported that Nunes' committee has been feeding information to Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, he of the above-mentioned Stormy Daniels "hush" agreement and a starring role in the Steele dossier. Cohen's lawyer reportedly contacted the attorney for a witness who had earlier appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, telling him that a committee source had said the witness might have knowledge of the dossier that could help Cohen. The attorney for this unnamed witness declined to share information and complained to the committee about the leak. The committee spokesperson denied it had happened, but said the testimony wasn't confidential anyway. You have to ask yourself why a member of the House Intelligence Committee, supposedly tasked with protecting and overseeing national secrets, would want to tip off Michael Cohen about information that might help him. It's all very shady.

There has never been a case of congressional corruption on quite this level before. Speaker Paul Ryan is unwilling to rock the boat, and there's no appetite among the rest of the House GOP caucus to do anything about it. The only possible answer is to toss Nunes and the rest of Trump's toadies out of the majority in November.

But I'm not sure the American people should ever entrust this committee with investigative powers again. Even with Democrats in the majority, the Republican members would still have access to the government's most sensitive intelligence, and they've made clear that their loyalty is to Donald Trump, not the country. If Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker of the House next January, she may need to disband this committee completely. Devin Nunes and his gang are a serious national security risk.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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