House Republicans are not a group known for their senses of humor, but they deserve credit for one bit of jocularity — making Representative Devin Nunes head of the House Intelligence Committee.
If there’s anything we’ve learned in the past week or so about Nunes, it’s that he’s not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Nunes has long been a partisan bomb-thrower, but his recent actions have tipped into the realm of self-parody.
They began with his convening of an unusual press conference to announce that several Trump associates had been caught up in incidental surveillance during last year’s presidential transition. This isn’t controversial: Trump transition officials regularly met with foreign officials who are typically monitored by the intelligence community. Indeed, Nunes made clear that no laws had been broken.
Nunes suggested, however, that it was easy to figure out the identity of the Trump aides talking to these foreign officials. So why make this public? It appears that Nunes publicly revealed classified information, which is nothing if not ironic since during FBI Director Jim Comey’s recent testimony to Congress on the FBI’s criminal investigation of the Trump campaign, Nunes focused much of his questioning on why the leaking of classified information is allegedly the worst thing ever.
Nunes, however, wasn’t done. Even though he had not informed other members of the committee about these alleged revelations, he immediately went to White House and briefed President Trump about what he’d found. It lent credence to the notion that the White House orchestrated Nunes’s stunt in order to bolster the fallacious accusation, made by the president earlier this month, that President Obama had wiretapped him.
That theory looked even more spot-on when Nunes continued to dig his hole by claiming this week that he received this surveillance information from someone he met on the White House grounds. Nunes said he met his source at the White House because he needed access to a secure facility in which to review classified information, even though as head of the Intelligence Committee he has regular access to just such a facility on Capitol Hill.
To add even more fuel to the fire, newly-released documents show that the Trump administration tried to block former acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying before Congress . . . and lo and behold, last week Nunes cancelled a hearing in which Yates had been scheduled to appear.
It’s almost as if Nunes is going out of his way to prove to the country that he’s incapable of running a fair and impartial investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia.
Not surprisingly, this is the position being taken by Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee, who are demanding that Nunes recuse himself.
At this point it seems only a question of when, not if, Nunes is forced to step down. That this is even up for debate is remarkable. But unfortunately, in hyper-partisan Washington, it’s also not surprising. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Republicans repeatedly looked the other way at Donald Trump’s words and actions for fear of upsetting his supporters. Now, with Trump ensconced in the Oval Office, the fear of crossing him continues, but with even more profound consequences.
No effort to date has been made by Republicans in Congress to shine a light on Trump’s myriad financial conflicts and his violation of the Constitution’s Emolument Clause. If anything, the GOP is simply ignoring these issues and making it impossible for Democrats to investigate them. On Russia, they have consistently opposed a select committee to investigate allegations of electoral interference that could represent treason. Instead, they seem willing to continue an investigation that can be — and so far has been — undermined by partisan members of Congress. For the GOP, allegiance to party has quite clearly trumped allegiance to country.
Devin Nunes is surely the most spectacular example of this phenomenon, but his actions are more a symptom of the cowardice that has infected virtually the entire Republican Party. Politically, it’s hard to understand why Republicans remain so willing to tie themselves to a politician with an approval rating of 36 percent and more skeletons in his closet than red power ties. But when considering their oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution, it looks far worse. And there is nothing funny about that.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.