Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced Thursday that he is stepping down from leading the investigation into Russia’s interference in our election, and allegations that the Obama White House used surveillance information on Trump associates for political purposes. It is a terrible mistake, and a blow to Republicans.
The optics are terrible, suggesting that in pursuing information which has tied former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to the “unmasking” of people involved with the Trump campaign, Nunes has done something wrong.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but his withdrawal will buttress Democrats’ efforts to distract from the damaging findings, which tend to support to President Trump’s charge that President Obama had him “wiretapped.”
Democrats and their enablers in the liberal media have been pulling out all the stops to keep the public focused on suggestions that someone in the Trump campaign colluded with Russian agents in an effort to undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
This narrative has occupied center stage since the election, comforting those who will never understand why Mrs. Clinton lost to an upstart political neophyte who crossed every politically correct boundary imaginable. An upstart, as it turns out, that said what millions of Americans were ready to hear.
More recently, the media has continued to pump up the Russian connection story, even though FBI Chief James Comey and a former Director of National Intelligence have both said there is absolutely no evidence that any collusion took place.
At the same time, Democrats have attempted to discredit and ignore growing indications that the Obama White House collected possibly damaging information about the Trump team from “incidental” surveillance, which it then disseminated to media and political organizations.
While the trail grows cold on the hunt for the Russian connection, it has grown steadily hotter leading to President Obama and his confederates.
Chairman Nunes was alerted to the involvement of Susan Rice by the White House Counsel’s office, and reviewed in situ the logs which confirmed that it was she who requested to know the identities of individuals picked up through surveillance.
Her probes may have been legal, but they are suspicious. They had “nothing to do with Russia” according to Nunes, and they extend back almost a year before the election.
She has been asked to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. When she appears before its members she will have to explain why the unmasking requests were appropriate under the guidelines that determine how such secure material is to be handled.
It should be noted that such allegations are easy to register, even if there is no supporting evidence of misdeeds. They assert that in going to the White House and then speaking to the president, Nunes improperly put politics first. He has been accused of using his power to help Trump, rather than to conduct an unbiased investigation.
It is a laughable charge. The logs were physically located at the White House; that is where they had to be viewed.
It would have been better, in retrospect if Nunes had invited the ranking minority member Adam Schiff to join him at that visit; hindsight is always helpful. The reality is that Nunes was following a legitimate lead; Democrats simply don’t enjoy where it has led.
Nunes’ role will be taken up by Texas Congressman Mike Conaway, assisted by Trey Gowdy. Conaway is an ardent conservative and long-time ally of George W. Bush; he is also known as tough on Russia. Though he may be the perfect person for the role, the fact is that he is not well known, and does not bring the clout carried by Nunes to this role. He will be facing off before Adam Schiff, who has shown himself to be a political infighter.
Democrats are delighted because Conaway has not been a Trump loyalist. Republicans will be thankful that former prosecutor Trey Gowdy, best known as the head of the Benghazi inquiry, is at Conaway’s right hand.
The most negative aspect of this leadership change is that many Republicans will see Nunes’ decision as yet another failure of a squishy GOP leadership to stand up to Democrats.
For years conservatives have railed at Republicans in Congress for going along with higher debt ceilings, higher taxes, and generally ceding victory to President Obama even as they took over the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2012. Now that they occupy the Oval Office and have majorities in both houses of Congress, those on the right are ready for some wins.
The expected confirmation of Neil Gorsuch is a big win – for conservatives and for the GOP. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is well aware that had he allowed Democrats to broker a deal allowing the confirmation of Gorsuch but hamstringing future Supreme Court fights, which they had proposed, he would have been run out of town on a rail.
Republicans want their leaders to show some backbone; McConnell, in invoking the “nuclear option,” did just that. So did Nunes, in ferreting out Susan Rice’s role in “unmasking” the Trump team. And then he caved.
The good news is that Freedom Watch, a right-wing activist group, is taking up the fight. They have filed a strongly-worded ethics complaint against Adam Schiff, accusing him of trying to cover up unlawful surveillance and other violations for “partisan purposes.”
The ranking minority head of the Intel Committee praised Nunes for stepping away, and allowing the investigation to go forward in a less partisan manner. Will he follow suit?