It would’ve been fairly easy for House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.) to maintain some semblance of credibility. Even if he wanted to be Donald Trump’s sycophantic cheerleader, even if the Republican congressman wanted to ignore his responsibilities and shield the president from potential embarrassment, Nunes could’ve at least pretended to take his duties seriously.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, 3/22/17, 9:25 PM ET
Nunes muddies Trump probe with abrupt claim of new evidence
But he didn’t. The GOP lawmaker, who’s spent months trying to protect Trump, going so far as to call reporters to wave them off of a controversy he was ostensibly investigating, engaged in antics so ridiculous this week that the editorial board of the Washington Posttoday argued that Nunes himself should be investigated.
[On Wednesday], Mr. Nunes himself held a news conference in which he cited a confidential source to describe what clearly appeared to be classified information about intercepted communications involving Trump associates. He did this outside the White House, where he had rushed to brief the president about the intercepts – even though the House Intelligence Committee he chairs is supposed to be investigating the Trump campaign’s possible connections with Russia.
We’ve said before that it was doubtful that an investigation headed by Mr. Nunes into Russia’s interference in the election could be adequate or credible. The chairman’s contradictory and clownish grandstanding makes that a certainty. His committee’s investigation should be halted immediately – and Mr. Nunes deserves to be subject to the same leaking probe he demanded for the previous disclosures.
Making matters quite a bit worse, while Nunes breathlessly told reporters – at two separate press conferences – that he had secret information about the collection of “incidental” communications involving the Trump transition team, ABC News reported yesterday that the Intelligence Committee chairman “does not know ‘for sure’ whether President Donald Trump or members of his transition team were even on the phone calls or other communications now being cited as partial vindication for the president’s wiretapping claims against the Obama administration.”
It reached the point yesterday at which his own aides have let it be known that they’re not comfortable with Nunes’ ridiculous antics. The Washington Postreported yesterday, “Nunes’s own staff were not aware of the chairman’s decision to go public and brief the president and were dismayed by his actions, said several individuals familiar with the matter.”
By way of a defense, Nunes told Fox News last night that he rushed to the White House to share information with Donald Trump because “I felt like I had a duty and obligation to tell him because, as you know, he’s taking a lot of heat in the news media.”
No, seriously, that’s his new excuse.
A few things are increasingly obvious. First, Nunes clearly can’t participate in any kind of serious inquiry related to Trump. Second, Nunes never should’ve been chosen for such an important congressional post, and common sense suggests he needs to be replaced immediately. And third, the House Intelligence Committee may never be the same. BuzzFeed’s piece on this yesterday was very compelling.
It was an unprecedented breakdown in one of the Hill’s most sacred relationships, with high stakes – it quickly raised questions about the ability of a key congressional committee to impartially investigate the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia. And the public was watching it deteriorate in real time.
The leadership of the Hill’s two intelligence committees – one senior Democrat and one senior Republican from the House, and the same arrangement in the Senate – is one of last remaining pillars of cooperation on Capitol Hill. The relationship is close, happens almost entirely behind closed doors, and involves cooperative access and oversight of some of the country’s most secret covert programs.
Nunes has put a fracture in that long-held tradition that may not be patchable.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described Nunes yesterday as a Trump “stooge.” For reasons even Republicans have not been able to explain, Nunes seems eager to prove Pelosi right, becoming less of an investigator of Team Trump’s alleged misdeeds and more of an accomplice.