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EDITORIAL

Nunes not up to the task of getting to the truth on Russia

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes is pursued by reporters.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes is pursued by reporters. (AP PHOTO)

Paul Ryan, not Devin Nunes, bears ultimate responsibility for the House of Representatives’ troubled investigation into Russian election meddling. It’s the House speaker who keeps Nunes in the job as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, even amid the California congressman’s increasingly strange behavior. Nunes appears to be either unwilling or unable to conduct a credible investigation. If Ryan wants a thorough inquiry, he should replace Nunes or support a select committee to oversee the investigation instead.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government sought to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump, an explosive finding that spurred the FBI to launch an investigation into any potential criminal activity. Among the questions investigators are trying to answer is whether there was any collusion between the Russians and Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, the House and Senate have started their own inquiries.

Ideally, those congressional probes could go beyond the scope of the FBI’s. Not only does the American public deserve answers about the extent of last year’s Russian meddling, but Congress ought to be studying how to better defend the next election. Elections are the heart of the American constitutional system; in a recent speech, former vice president Dick Cheney said interference could be “considered an act of war.” A Democratic candidate was the victim of foreign interference last year, but GOP politicians should beware: They could just as easily be the target next time.

Nunes, though, does not seem to be up to the task, and has approached the investigation as a narrow partisan enterprise. Weeks ago, he seemed to prejudge the results, saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing, even before the committee had started collecting evidence. He later made excuses for the president’s bizarre suggestion that former president Barack Obama had tapped his phones. Nunes’s strange stunt last week — when he held a press conference to announce that a secret source had given him information indicating authorities may have incidentally overheard conversations of Trump transition members — added to suspicions that he’s coordinating his public statements with the president whose foreign allies he’s supposed to be investigating. Nunes also cancelled hearings that would have featured several former intelligence officials, whose testimony likely would have embarrassed the White House. His are not the actions of someone who sincerely wants to get to the bottom of an attack on American democracy.

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Every Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has asked Nunes to step aside, and his fellow Republicans are criticizing him too. North Carolina Republican Walter Jones called on Nunes to recuse himself. Pennsylvania Republican Representative Charlie Dent seemed to write off the House inquiry completely: “I think we’re going to have to rely on the Senate for a report on this Russian meddling in the election,” he said. That would be an astonishing abdication of responsibility by the House — and ultimately by its leader, Paul Ryan.

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