Friday, March 24, 2017

Rep. Nunes Is a Lapdog in a Watchdog Role

Representative Devin Nunes looked uneasy. Mr. Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was struggling on Monday to elicit details from James Comey, the F.B.I. director, about his explosive revelation that the bureau is investigating whether Russia and the Trump administration colluded to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy. That disclosure, Mr. Nunes said, had put “a big, gray cloud” over the White House.

On Wednesday, Mr. Nunes tried to replace that cloud with a smoke screen. In a possible violation of the law, Mr. Nunes described intelligence reports that he said had suggested that American intelligence agencies incidentally intercepted communications of then President-elect Trump and people close to him, and then disseminated the information widely throughout the intelligence community. His disclosures, which have destroyed the credibility of his committee in investigating Russian interference in the election, make clear that he is unfit for the job and should be replaced.

Mr. Nunes’s remarks, which appeared to be deliberately vague, gave President Trump cover for his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had illegally wiretapped his phones. After making his disclosures during a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Nunes went to the White House to brief the president. In a startling break with tradition, Mr. Nunes, a Republican, briefed reporters before sharing his findings with fellow members of the committee, who are from both parties. Mr. Trump portrayed the congressman’s assertions as a vindication of his widely discredited accusation. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,” Mr. Trump said.[...]

Mr. Nunes unspooled his information on Wednesday over the course of two news conferences that had a strikingly improvisational air. At one point, he said he was referring to material that “appears to be all legally collected foreign intelligence.” Soon afterward, he proclaimed himself to be “actually alarmed by it.” It was hard to understand exactly what Mr. Nunes was alleging, perhaps because he didn’t have any truly alarming revelation to share.

Mr. Nunes’s remarks left the impression that American intelligence personnel may have been careless in redacting identifying information of American citizens whose communications were intercepted as part of the lawful monitoring of foreigners. He did not, however, claim that intelligence personnel broke rules.

By speaking expansively about intelligence gathering, Mr. Nunes may have broken the law by disclosing classified information, however obliquely. The congressman, who has assailed leaks to the press, said his information came from unnamed “sources who thought that we should know it.” That’s rich. [...]

But Mr. Nunes’s conduct stands out for his brazenness and heedlessness. His role as a committee chairman is to carry out responsible oversight of intelligence matters. Instead, he used his position to distract attention from the crucial question of whether Mr. Trump’s election was aided by collusion with an adversary.


  1. Does any of this vindicate or validate Donald Trump’s claims that President Obama wiretapped him?

    Answer: Not even close—even assuming that the most flamboyant version of Nunes’s comments are wholly true.

    Trump did not wake up early on a Saturday morning and tweet that the NSA or FBI in the course of its normal foreign intelligence operations incidentally intercepted communications or data involving the Trump transition. He didn’t allege that communications were intercepted legally. And he didn’t allege either that the problem—if there is a problem—lay in the masking or unmasking of U.S. persons in lawful intelligence community reporting.

    Trump alleged, rather, (1) that his own wires were tapped—with two p’s, no less, (2) that a specific facility in the United States (Trump Tower) and that he personally were specifically targeted for collection, (3) that the surveillance was illegal, (4) that it took place during the campaign, and (5) that it was all ordered by his predecessor, Barack Hussein Obama.

    All of those claims appeared to be malicious lies when he made them. And nothing that Nunes is saying, even if it’s all true, supports any of them.

    Read more:

  2. “But Mr. Nunes’s conduct stands out for his brazenness and heedlessness. His role as a committee chairman is to carry out responsible oversight of intelligence matters. Instead, he used his position to distract attention from the crucial question of whether Mr. Trump’s election was aided by collusion with an adversary.”
    For an opposite view see
    “Whatever their merits, the Trump tweets came four months after the election. They have no bearing on the alleged “collusion.” Indeed, if evidence of Trump-Russia collusion is as rampant as Mr. Schiff claims, it seems a mite odd to be stressing Team Obama’s failure to put Trump Tower under surveillance…But what of the question that usually excites conspiracy theorists like Mr. Schiff: Cui bono—who benefits? It’s impossible to know whether Russia’s DNC leaks accounted for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, though it hardly seems likely. Powerful circumstantial evidence, however, suggests Democrats believed that linking Messrs. Trump and Putin would actually be their ace in the hole. They still do. One conclusion recommends itself overwhelmingly on the basis of circumstantial evidence: President Obama, in his final days, used his authority over the intelligence agencies to advance this partisan narrative. A congressman with a modest profile, Mr. Schiff has been working hard ever since to become the public face—not to say the Joe McCarthy—of this witch hunt….Mr. Putin’s efforts in the U.S. election and elsewhere (Syria, Libya, Ukraine) really only ever had one audience, the Russian people, who must be kept supine despite an unraveling economy, lawlessness, corruption. How is their restlessness to be suppressed? By citing the supposedly warlike designs of the U.S. Notice that we don’t suggest collusion between Mr. Putin and Mr. Schiff, whose ambition plays so incidentally into Mr. Putin’s hands.”


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