Devin Nunes can no longer play defense for Donald Trump

Even though he survived his re-election bid, Nunes will no longer be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 8, 2018 11:20AM (EST)

Elijah Cummings; Donald Trump; Devin Nunes   (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/J. Scott Applewhite)
Elijah Cummings; Donald Trump; Devin Nunes (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., may have been reelected on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean his career didn't take a major hit.

Nunes managed to comfortably defeat Democratic challenger Andrew Janz in the latter's bid to oust him from his seat in California's 22nd congressional district. Nunes has enormous built-in advantages going into the race, including the fact that his district already leans Republican, that he is an eight-term incumbent and that he received more than $1 million from corporate donors. Even though Janz attempted to offset these disadvantages by focusing on Nunes' water policies (the district is heavily agricultural and Nunes has been criticized for his pro-corporate outlook), that wasn't enough to stop Nunes from rolling up an easy victory.

But not all of the news on Tuesday night was good for Nunes.

Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives, so Nunes will lose his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, and with it his ability to protect President Donald Trump.

This is not inconsequential for Nunes. The California congressman rose from obscurity during the first two years of Trump's term by repeatedly carrying the president's water, even when that meant undermining his credibility as an ostensibly impartial overseer of the Trump-Russia investigation.

In April 2017 he publicly discussed classified foreign surveillance reports that he had viewed on the White House's grounds in order to claim that members of Trump's campaign had been wrongly unmasked by members of President Barack Obama's administration, a false charge seemingly motivated by a desire to validate Trump's equally false story about Trump Tower having been wiretapped. It was later revealed that Trump had told the intelligence community he was "going to mobilize to find something to justify the president’s tweet that he was being surveilled," and that Nunes' actions had occurred shortly thereafter.

That same month, Nunes was secretly recorded telling a Republican Party dinner that "the Democrats don’t want an investigation on Russia. They want an independent commission. Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that’s the reason that he won, because Hillary Clinton would have never lost on her own; it had to be someone else’s fault."

In 2018, Nunes has been criticized for pushing online for a #releasethememo movement, one that he claimed would declassify a memorandum that undermined the Steele dossier and with it the entire Trump-Russia investigation (the memo that was eventually released did no such thing). He has also threatened to hold Justice Department officials like Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt for not disclosing sensitive information about the Trump-Russia investigation, even though officials have explained that doing so would "risk severe consequences, including potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities."

In other words, Trump has needed Nunes in his role as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in order to make sure that a body which is supposed to place a check on his power and investigate him if necessary would instead do his bidding. With Nunes out of that position, Trump will face a House Intelligence Committee that might actually do its job.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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2018 Midterm Elections Andrew Janz Devin Nunes Donald Trump