Who Is Devin Nunes? The Politician Has Been Thrust Into The Spotlight
Devin Nunes is a Republican congressman from California who presides as chairman on the House Intelligence Committee. This is his 14th year in Congress, so deeply devoted followers of politics may have encountered Nunes before. But for most Americans, Nunes' short and hazy Wednesday press conferences will be the first real introduction to the representative. During said pressers, Nunes claimed to have received evidence that certain members of Trump's transition team had been surveilled. But Nunes immediately came under intense criticism for both the content (or lack thereof) and the manner in which he revealed his "shocking" news.
During Nunes' first press conference, he laid out four pieces of information he said he'd recently seen relating to President Trump's claims of having been "wiretapped." (And in the world of Team Trump, "wiretap" means any surveillance of any kind, just FYI.) First, information was incidentally gathered about people working in the Trump transition to the White House. Second, Nunes stated that intelligence collected included "details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value." Third, certain names had been "unmasked" in the report, meaning real identities were revealed. And finally, Nunes claimed "none" of the surveillance had anything to do with investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 election, or "of the Trump team." If that last bit seems to contradict his first assertion and you're feeling confused, welcome to the club.
It's difficult to ascertain exactly why Nunes came forward with this at all, especially considering that he himself said he's waiting on full reports to be delivered Friday. Additionally, Nunes did not first share his information with anyone else on the House Intelligence Committee, notably leaving ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff out of the loop. Instead, Nunes called a press conference and then went straight to the White House in order to brief Trump.
As Jay Caruso points out, this is problematic. For starters, Nunes was on Trump's transition team, meaning intelligence gathered could include details on him. But take a step back, and just think through the implications of this simple fact: Nunes himself was invested in Trump's executive success, and is now asking for Americans' trust to lead an investigation into that same POTUS.
There are other reasons to question the messenger here. Conor Friedersdorf notes that when Nunes was asked Tuesday about Carter Page and Roger Stone — two former members of Trump's campaign team who are being investigated for their ties to Russia — Nunes said he had never heard of them. That would be dubious enough, considering there are only a handful of named Trump associates publicly under investigation. But Nunes had also previously said this of the article naming Page, Stone, and Mike Flynn:
There was a New York Times story where three Americans were named in that story. And I was asked whether or not I was going to bring those people before the committee and ask them questions. And I said, "Absolutely not."
Nunes went on to argue that just because a person's name appears in a news article doesn't mean it's open season for a smear campaign. He did not explain why questioning pertinent people in an investigation after it comes to light that they are most definitely persons of interest in said investigation somehow amounts to a "witch hunt."
Additionally, Nunes made clear that all intelligence had been gathered legally. The key word in his initial announcement is "incidentally," meaning that the NSA, FBI, and CIA had been cleared for surveillance, and picked up information on Trump's team ostensibly because it came as tangential data in the course of a separate investigation.
Responding to his colleague's news "revelations," Rep. Schiff stated, "The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both." That clearly seems to be the case.
Speaking just before the 2016 election, Nunes defended his call for Hillary Clinton to be barred from receiving classified briefings. Toward the end of his interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace, Nunes insisted, "We are a separate branch of government."
Maybe someone should remind him of that. Last I checked, being a separate branch of government didn't include running off to the White House with news the executive branch might find pertinent or politically helpful — and especially not before informing members of one's own branch of government.