The Circumscribed Ethics Investigation Into Devin Nunes
The House Intelligence Committee chair claimed he’d been completely cleared, but the panel probing his conduct never gained access to the intelligence he was accused of divulging.
·Bottom of Form
Early last April, the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into whether the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, broke rules governing the public disclosure of classified information when he told reporters that he had obtained details about “American intelligence monitoring foreign officials” who may have “incidentally picked up communications of Trump transition team members.”
Eight months later, after seeking an analysis of Nunes’s statements by classification experts in the intelligence community, the Ethics Committee closed the case. Nunes thanked the committee for “completely clearing” him, and said it had found he “committed no violation.”
But the committee was never able to obtain or review the classified information at the heart of the inquiry, according to three congressional sources briefed on the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. The panel’s inability to determine for itself what may or may not have been classified—and what Nunes had actually been shown—likely contributed to its decision to close the investigation, according to one source.
Those restrictions cast doubt on whether the committee was able to authoritatively compare Nunes’s statements to the press with what he had read in the classified intelligence reports. That, in turn, calls into question the thoroughness of the committee’s investigation, and the accuracy of Nunes’s claims of vindication. A spokesman for the Ethics Committee declined to comment. A spokesman for Nunes did not immediately respond.
Nunes said he would step aside from his committee’s investigation into Russia’s election interference until the Ethics Committee completed its inquiry, which marked the climax of a series of bizarre events that began with Nunes’s late-night excursion to the White House last March.
Nunes spoke to reporters at least twice about the classified information he’d been shown by a source he characterized as a whistleblower. (The New York Times andThe Washington Post later reported that three White House officials had helped Nunes gain access to the documents.)
In separate press conferences both before and after he briefed Trump on the material, Nunes offered details about when the collection of intelligence allegedly took place—“it appears most of this occurred, from what I’ve seen, in November, December, and January”—and on whom it focused: “There was clearly significant information about President Trump and his team and there were additional names that were unmasked,” the California congressman said at the time.
Two left-leaning watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, quickly filed complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics and pushed for an investigation into whether Nunes’s press conferences violated House ethics rules governing the disclosure of classified information.
The Ethics Committee declared its investigation closed in December. “The Committee does not determine whether information is or is not classified,” the panel’s Republican chairwoman and Democratic ranking member said in a joint statement on December 7. “In the course of this investigation, the Committee sought the analysis of Representative Nunes’s statements by classification experts in the intelligence community. Based solely on the conclusion of these classification experts that the information that Representative Nunes disclosed was not classified, the Committee will take no further action and considers this matter closed.”
Nunes thanked the committee “for completely clearing me today of the cloud that was created by this investigation, and for determining that I committed no violation of anything—no violation of House rules, law, regulations, or any other standards of conduct.” He blasted the investigation, after it was closed, as the result of “obviously frivolous” accusations “rooted in politically motivated complaints filed against me by left-wing activist groups.”
Now, Nunes has again come under scrutiny over his role in crafting a classified memo that has been described as a summary of surveillance abuses carried out by Obama administration holdovers at the Justice Department. Nunes has declined to share his findings with either his Senate counterpart, Richard Burr, or the Department of Justice.
The assistant attorney general for the Office of Legislative Affairs, Stephen Boyd, urged Nunes not to release the memo in a letter last week. He noted that Nunes had not seen the underlying intelligence that would allow him to judge whether or not the department had acted inappropriately in requesting and obtaining Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, and said the memo’s disclosure could carry significant national-security risks.
The New York Times reported on Monday that the memo focuses at least in part on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to approve a FISA application to monitor Carter Page, an early foreign-policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, which would have required a demonstration of probable cause to believe Page was acting as a Russian agent. Despite Boyd’s letter, the White House indicated that it would decide whether to support or oppose the memo’s release itself. “The Department of Justice doesn’t have a role in this process,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told CNN on Monday morning. A Justice Department spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, declined to comment.
Boyd indicated in his letter to Nunes that the department had established terms with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office for the DOJ’s release of thousands of pages of classified material that Nunes had requested last year. Nunes’s desire to declassify his memo and release it publicly could violate those terms, Boyd said.
But a Ryan spokesman, Doug Andres, disputed that claim last week. “As previously reported, the speaker’s only message to the department was that it needed to comply with oversight requests and there were no terms set for its compliance,” he told me.
Flores said Ryan’s office “was involved in a number of high-level negotiations regarding” Nunes’s subpoena, the production of the material, “and to what extent the production needed to be completed to satisfy the House’s oversight interest.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, Trump’s stooge, attacks FBI
By The Editorial Board
What, pray tell, does Rep. Devin Nunes think he’s doing by waving around a secret memo attacking the FBI, the nation’s premier law enforcement agency?
He certainly isn’t representing his Central Valley constituents or Californians, who care much more about health care, jobs and, yes, protecting Dreamers than about the latest conspiracy theory.
Instead, he’s doing dirty work for House Republican leaders trying to protect President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation.
It’s no accident that this latest attempt to discredit the FBI and distract the public is happening at the same time special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe appears to be picking up steam – and focusing on possible obstruction of justice by the president.
Reports this week say that Mueller’s team has interviewed former FBI Director James Comey – fired by Trump over the Russia probe – and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the investigation. Reports also say that Mueller wants to soon interview Trump about the dismissal of Comey, as well as the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with investigators.
Trump said Wednesday he’s willing to talk to Mueller under oath, subject to advice from his lawyers, of course. But he also suggested he’s being accused of obstruction because he’s “fighting back” against unfair allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Nunes of Tulare is sheltered in a relatively safe Republican district, and may believe he will pay no political price for unfairly attacking law enforcement and protecting Trump. But his performance as chairman of the highly sensitive House Intelligence Committee has been nothing short of embarrassing.
Instead of taking Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election seriously and leading an impartial and bipartisan inquiry, Nunes has colluded with the White House. Last March, Nunes said he’d seen secret intelligence reports backing Trump’s claims that President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” his offices, but it turned out the documents came from the administration.
The blowback forced Nunes to step away from the Russia investigation. But he never fully recused himself and after the Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee in December cleared him of disclosing classified information, he raised his profile again.
Now, he’s being celebrated in Trumpworld with the four-page memo that accuses the FBI of political bias and misdeeds. Drafted by Nunes staffers, it apparently summarizes classified material and alleges abuse of the surveillance process by the FBI and Justice Department to target the Trump campaign. Conservative media and some Republicans in Congress are calling for it to be released publicly and using it to call for Mueller’s investigation to be shut down.
There are reasons to be very skeptical of this memo. The FBI hasn’t been sent a copy or given a chance to respond. Democrats who have seen it, including Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, say it’s full of inaccuracies and innuendo. And the social media campaign #ReleaseTheMemo may be promoted by Russian-linked bots, just as during the 2016 campaign.
Nunes’s office did not respond Wednesday to our questions about the memo. But the Justice Department wrote to him, warning that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo without any review for possible risk to national security or ongoing investigations.
While the FBI has overstepped during its history (for instance the COINTELPRO operations against political dissidents during J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure), it is supremely ironic that the GOP – which long has proclaimed itself the party of law and order – is serving to undermine public trust in agents who risk their lives, combat organized crime, ferret out public corruption and protect us against terrorism.
We also can’t forget that Republicans defended the FBI when Democrats criticized Comey last year for reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just before the election.
But now we’re supposed to believe some Republicans that there’s some kind of anti-Trump “secret society” within the FBI? It’s ridiculous.
Everyone – Republicans, Democrats, advocacy groups on all sides and the media – should do our democracy a favor: Stop with the hyperventilating and let Mueller finish his investigation and get to the truth.
Devin Nunes Facing Local Protests, Challengers
Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is facing new allegations of odd behavior in the nation’s capital and new opponents who want to unseat him at home in the wake of a House Ethics Committee investigation.
With the primary election still months away, a host of candidates is coming forward with plans to unseat the long-time Republican. For Bobby Bliatout, 41, of Fresno, it’s Nunes’ stance on the health care that prompted him to begin his campaign for the congressional seat.
“I got into the race because of their effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA),” Bliatout said. “The idea for this one is that I am on the front line of health care. I serve the under-served, and I see how beneficial it is.”
For the last 15 years or so, Bliatout has worked as CEO for a company he founded, Greater Fresno Health Organization, a primary-care clinic serving low-income patients. He holds up his business experience in the private sector against that of Nunes, a career politician.
“It’s not like I applied for a job. I know what it’s like to put it together from the ground up,” Bliatout said. “Life wasn’t always an Easy Street for me. I know what it’s like to get assistance from the government and use it to better myself. It’s not an entitled handout; it’s a hand-me-up.”
The Congressman’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is yet another example of Nunes serving corporate interest
instead of his constituents in the Valley, says Bliatout.
“It wasn’t what was best for the community,” he said. “It was politics.”
That isn’t his only source of frustration with Nunes. When he offered his years of health care experience to Nunes as an advisor, he was rebuffed. That dismissal from the Congressman, he said, was the clincher that pushed him into the political arena.
“I sent a letter to Devin Nunes to say I’d love to serve on a committee of yours for free,” Bliatout said. “If I’m not going to be able to have a voice in that manner, I’m going to run.”
He’s far from alone on the list of candidates who will appear on the June primary ballot. Joining him from the Democratic side will be Andrew Janz, a prosecutor for the Fresno District Attorney’s Office, Fresno OB/GYN Dr. Mallory Kremer, and Clovis resident Ricardo Franco.
Also vying for Nunes’ seat are Bill Merryman of Clovis, a candidate from the Libertarian Party, and Brian Carroll, an educator who will represent the American Solidarity Party in the race.
‘Cruel’ and ‘Unfair’
The way Bliatout sees it, Nunes’ votes against the ACA are not just against the interests of the voters he is supposed to serve, they are also malicious. Nunes, Bliatout says, doesn’t see the ultimate result his behavior in Washington, DC has on people living here.
“I feel it’s being unfair to our community to watch these folks who have been given insurance and have been diagnosed with diabetes and other illnesses, now they have no insurance,” Bliatout said. “I believe that is cruel.”
The solution Bliatout would like to see is a scheme that covers all Americans without a negative financial impact at any level.
“I would like to see a single-payer plan that works for everybody,” he said. “That means it doesn’t affect our economy in a negative way.”
According to estimates, a universal health care program would save the federal government about $600 billion annually. Such a program, however, could increase participation, with more Americans able to seek health care, perhaps driving an increase in overall spending. Bliatout, however, says most people are unaware of the details.
“I’d love to do a town hall because a lot of people need an education,” he said. “A lot of people treat it like a football game. They just take a side.”
Bliatout isn’t the only resident of the 22nd Congressional District who wants a town hall meeting.
On Saturday, dressed in Santa hats, ringing bells, and carrying signs covered in Christmas decorations, a few dozen protesters rallied outside Nunes’s downtown Visalia office, calling for the Congressman to make himself more directly available to constituents.
The demonstration was organized by South Valley Civics, a group of “just common, everyday people who never raised a voice before,” says one of the group’s leaders, Cynthia Thorburn, and was timed to coincide with Congress’s winter break.
“Winter Recess is starting, and where’s our town hall? Where’s our free public forum where we can share our concerns?” Thorburn said. “So, since we can’t have one, we’re sharing our concerns via a little march here.”
Besides being more responsive to the people he represents, members of South Valley Civics are interested in a host of issues effecting the middle class.
Thorburn says they’d like a responsible tax bill, support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which aids middle-income families, and “reasonable and responsible” gun control measures.
They’d also just like Nunes to answer the phone.
“You can’t get into his office without an appointment,” Thorburn said. “They don’t answer their phones or return their messages so you can make an appointment.”
Nunes is just as inaccessible to the local press, though he did speak with Fox News following the end of an investigation into his behavior by the House Committee on Ethics.
That investigation, Nunes said, is a conspiracy between the government and unnamed leftists to hinder him.
“The ethics complaint was a joke from the beginning, designed, purely designed to remove me as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which they were unable to do,” Nunes told Fox. “I think, a clear design from the left, working in conjunction with parts of our government to keep information away from me and the House Intelligence Committee.”
The look into Nunes’ handling of classified materials began when Nunes received classified reports from staff at the White House, then later lied to the press about the incident.
The scandal prompted Nunes to remove himself from the House Intel Committee’s investigation into Russian tampering with the 2016 presidential election.
Ironically, Nunes took to the national airwaves to decry what he says is abusive sharing of reports on US surveillance of targets in the Russian-Trump investigation, the same action for which he was investigated.
“I hate to use the word ‘corrupt,’ but they become so dirty that, who is watching the watchmen?” Nunes said. “Who is investigating these people? There is no one.”
Specifically, Nunes is concerned there is no investigation into who leaked a transcript of a conversation between disgraced former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He believes there has been no action by the FBI or the Department of Justice.
House Intel Leak
Nunes also repeated to Fox News the assertion he never truly recused himself from the Russian-Trump investigation.
He said he “temporarily” gave control to Democratic Rep. Michael Conaway, co-chair of the House Intel Committee, and it appears Nunes never stopped his own look into the Steele Dossier, a file listing President Donald Trump’s alleged indiscretions documented by the Russian government as a means of blackmailing him.
The firm that put together that dossier now says Nunes may have leaked private data about it to harm its reputation.
Fusion GPS, the company that compiled the Steele Dossier, told a federal judge last week it believes a subpoena to the firm’s bank signed by Nunes is “part of an ongoing effort to discredit Fusion in retaliation for its role in undertaking research.”
The company also claims information its founder gave during testimony to the House Intel Committee in November was then leaked.
Nunes now intends to send investigators to the FBI and Department of Justice to “scrub” documents they wish to review, and will issue a subpoena to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Nunes has also had meetings about the Russian-Trump connection with Erik Prince, brother of Secretary of Education Betty Devos and founder of Blackwater, a private military contractor.
Prince was questioned last week by the Intel Committee about why he failed to provide documents it had requested.