Devin Nunes, who recused himself from the House intelligence probe yesterday, is primarily a victim of his own political clumsiness.
There’s no evidence that Susan Rice committed a crime, as President Trump suggests, but her initial denial on television has undercut her credibility.
As the investigations of President Trump, Russia and surveillance lurch forward, there are so many conflicting narratives that it’s hard to untangle them all.
And the latest developments come as the president is grappling with the Syrian chemical attack, his meeting with the Chinese president, the Senate going nuclear over Neil Gorsuch and an elusive compromise on the failed health care bill.
But the subplots and sideshows involving the Russia investigations continues to permeate the media coverage day after day.
In stepping aside, Nunes issued a statement ripping “several left-wing activist groups” who filed charges against him with the congressional ethics office. He called those charges “entirely false and politically motivated,” essentially saying he was stepping down from his committee’s probe to avoid becoming a distraction.
But even some Republicans and conservatives had urged Nunes to take precisely that step.
The problem was that the California congressman acted more like a Trump ally than the chairman of a bipartisan investigation. He secretly went to the White House grounds to view classified information related to the surveillance probe, then made a show of going back to the White House to brief the president and announce his concerns to the press. When the New York Times disclosed that it was White House officials who showed Nunes the stuff—but not, for several days, the panel’s top Democrat—it looked like the chairman was carrying the administration’s water. And then he started canceling hearings.
So the most diplomatic way to put it is that Nunes had indeed become a distraction.
Susan Rice insisted on MSNBC that she had no political motive for “unmasking” Trump or his aides when they were picked up on foreign intercepts, and flatly denied leaking anything about them.
But the reputation of the woman who infamously and wrongly blamed the Benghazi attack on a video was undermined by the fact that she earlier told PBS she knew nothing about the Trump unmasking allegations.
It was extraordinary for Trump to tell the New York Times that Rice probably committed a crime, without citing evidence. But there are questions about her motivations, and why she ordered the unmasking, that can only be resolved by her testifying before Congress.
Will any of this—Trump’s original wiretap claim, alleged surveillance of him as a candidate and president-elect, purported collusion between his team and Russia—turn out to be more than just smoke? We have no way of knowing at the moment. But the thing about investigations is that they take unexpected twists and turns, sometimes even snaring those who are doing the investigating.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.