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Devin Nunes in the eye of the storm

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

California’s Odd Couple find themselves on a wild ride in Washington, replete with cloak-and-dagger meetings, reports of Russian sneakiness and confusion all ‘round.

On the right, at the center of the hubub, is Republican Congressman Devin Nunes (NOON-ess), whose family emigrated from the Azores and has farmed for three generations. Nunes is not on the dairy farm anymore but he’s a big cheese: He now heads the House Intelligence Committee.

On the left, we have the committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who got along very well with Chairman Nunes  — until he didn’t.

Nunes briefed the president and reporters before furnishing the information to members of his committee — a move that outraged Schiff.

While Schiff and Nunes are both Californians and veteran politicians, that’s pretty much where the resemblance ends.

The are locked in a highly public dispute over the handling of classified information.

Nunes, who was born in Tulare deep in the farm belt and was graduated from Tulare Union High School, is a Central Valley native with an almost exclusively agricultural and safely Republican seat, the  22nd Congressional District.

He is of Portuguese descent, and is something of a celebrity in Portugal and the Azores. He first gained national attention for his efforts to move a U.S. military base to a remote island in the Azores, at a cost of an extra $1.2 billion.

He has a history of loudly denouncing environmental regulation and rejecting climate change.  “Global warming is nonsense,” the New York Times quoted him as saying in February of 2014. He has referred to it as “hysteria” and a “Doomsday cult.”

But it is not his views on the environment — views held by many in California’s vast, $46 billion farm sector — that are propelling him to national attention.

Rather, it is his role in the committee’s investigation into the possibility that Russians disrupted the 2016 U.S presidential election through weaponized social media and disinformation, and whether there was any connection between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Along with that, the committee has been looking into President Donald Trump’s accusation that the Obama administration “wire tapped” Trump Tower during the campaign.  FBI Director James Comey, who also is investigating,  has said there is no evidence that the Obama administration spied on Trump Tower.

There’s still more: The Senate is investigating, too.

Democratic leaders said Nunes — and some Republicans — should recuse himself from further investigation of Russian attempts to influence the presidential election.

Reportedly, Nunes secretly went to the White House complex — on CNN, Nunes disputed the term “secretly” — and met an unidentified source who provided him with intelligence information. That information suggested that Trump and others may have been picked up “incidentally” in American intelligence surveillance of foreign targets, establishing a presumably innocent mixture of Trump and Russians.

Nunes, a surrogate for Trump during the presidential campaign, briefed the president and reporters before furnishing the information to members of his own committee — a move that outraged Schiff. (Ed’s Note: Click here to see a more detailed description of Schiff.)

The evolving drama has thrust Nunes into the glare of intense news coverage, but despite their highly visible feud, Nunes and Schiff weren’t always antagonists.

There was a time when Nunes and Schiff got along like brothers from another mother,” noted the Fresno Bee’s Bill McEwen. “Here is what Schiff said about Nunes in April 2014: ‘I have always been impressed by him. He works in a very bipartisan way.'”

Democratic leaders said Nunes — and some Republicans — should recuse himself from further investigation of Russian attempts to influence the presidential election.

Meanwhile, Nunes says he will not step down. “Why should I?” he told a group of reporters clustered around him in a Capitol corridor.

“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,” Schiff said in a statement.

Arizona Sen. John  McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, also was critical.

“If we’re really going to get to the bottom of these things, it’s got to be done in a bipartisan fashion. And as far as I could tell, Congressman Nunes killed that,” he told a TV interviewer.

Later, in a separate interview, McCain said “there needs to be a lot of explaining to do. I’ve been around for quite a while, and I’ve never heard of any such thing. Obviously, on a committee like an intelligence committee, you’ve got to have bipartisanship, otherwise the committee loses credibility.”

Meanwhile, Nunes says he will not step down.

“Why should I?” he told a group of reporters clustered around him in a Capitol corridor.

Nunes postponed a previously scheduled public hearing with James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, and Sally Q. Yates, the acting attorney general, who was fired by Trump after she instructed Justice Department officials to not carry out  Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslin nations.

Nunes for years has argued that they have been denied sufficient water because “radical environmentalists” have turned the faucet off to preserve small, obscure fish.

Democrats charged that Nunes ordered the postponement without consulting the committee members, and accused him of attempting to stall the investigation — which Nunes denied. He said he postponed meetings because the committee could not move forward effectively until members had a chance to again hear from the FBI’s Comey and National Security Agency chief Michael Rogers.

But the fierce news coverage rolled on: The Washington Post, citing unnamed “U. S. officials,” identified three senior White House officials as being involved in the handling of intelligence files that were shared with Nunes during the meeting within the White House complex.

The three listed in the Post story are Ezra Cohen, senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council; the top lawyer for the National Security Council, John Eisenberg; and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who previously worked with Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee who joined the Trump administration as an attorney.

Nunes has said his source for the documents was not a member of the White House staff.

National notoriety is something new for Nunes, who has so far conducted his fiercest campaigns on behalf of his district’s farmers.

Nunes for years has argued that they have been denied sufficient water because “radical environmentalists” have turned the faucet off to preserve small, obscure fish. One of his chief opponents has been Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a moderate Democrat. They have disagreed over California water policy and other issues, and Nunes has even run advertisements against her in California.

His official biography says Nunes was first elected to public office at the age of 23, making him one of the youngest elected officials in the state.

Devin Gerald Nunes, 43, was elected to Congress in 2003 in a deep red district that takes in much of western Tulare County and eastern Fresno County.

A third-generation Californian, he worked on the family farm and attended College of the Sequoias before earning a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business and a master’s degree in agriculture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

When TIME magazine named Nunes to its “40 Under 40” list of rising political stars in 2010, it called him a “farm boy.”

Nunes and his wife Elizabeth have three daughters—Evelyn, Julia, and Margaret.

His official biography says Nunes was first elected to public office at the age of 23, making him one of the youngest elected officials in the state. As a member of the College of the Sequoias board from 1996 to 2002, he was an advocate for distance learning and the expansion of programs available to high school students. His book, Restoring the Republic, was published in September 2010. In it, he called environmental activists “followers of neo-Marxist, socialist, Maoist or Communist ideals.”

His views on climate change have proven especially controversial.

In 2012, Nunes declared:  “Despite dire predictions and prophetic warnings contained in a host of poorly researched Hollywood productions, there is no proof that our planet is warming because of mankind and there is certainly no proof that any of the radical changes proposed by environmentalists will end recent warming trends.”

As if on cue, the Senate  committee chairman announced that his committee has asked 20 people to be questioned in its investigation of Russian interference.

Nunes, who ran unopposed last year,  seems safe in his district for the foreseeable future.  But in Washington, some Republicans seem to regard him as a blunderer. Congressman Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania, says because the House investigation seems to have ground to a halt, the Senate Intelligence Committee should take over.

“It’s unfortunate we are where we are in the House. It seems like there’s not gonna be a House report on intelligence, on the Russian meddling, and so I think we have to turn our eyes to the Senate to see if they can come to a resolution,” Dent told reporters.

As if on cue, the Senate  committee chairman announced that the committee has asked 20 people to be questioned in its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“This one is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen in my time here,” Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said at a news conference with intelligence committee vice-chairman Mark Warner.

While many Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, rallied around Nunes, others were not aboard.

Speaking of Nunes’s recent actions, Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina, was caustic, declaring “The problem that he’s created is he’s gone off on a lark by himself, sort of an Inspector Clouseau investigation here,” he said, referring to the bumbling police inspector played by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films.

But Nunes said partisanship is the main motivator of his antagonists.

“If I really wanted to, I could have snuck on to the grounds late at night and probably nobody would have seen me, but I wasn’t trying to hide,” he told the Washington Post. “I’m sure that the Democrats do want me to quit, because they know that I’m quite effective at getting to the bottom of things.”

 


  • Martha Bartha

    This guy can’t be trusted! Now he outed Susan Rice for outing Trump & his associates!

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