For the past 17 months, the investigations led by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) have looked to anyone with eyes like they’re chiefly about protecting President Trump.
Now a new tape of Nunes speaking at a fundraiser, obtained by The Rachel Maddow Show, makes indisputably clear that that is indeed his aim — even, he says, if special counsel Robert Mueller finds presidential wrongdoing.
“If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones,” Nunes says on the tape, referring to his colleagues in the GOP-controlled House. “Which is really the danger.”
He continues: “That’s why I keep — and thank you for saying it, by the way — I mean, we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”
The logic is obvious, albeit cynical. Mueller really may find wrongdoing from Trump, Nunes effectively admits, and if he does, the president will need a House GOP majority to boldly look the other way.
In a sense, it’s shocking that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee would reveal that his goal isn’t to get to the bottom of Russian interference in US politics, and find out whether President Trump or his associates were involved in it — but rather, to protect the president in case investigators refuse to “clear” him.
But of course, Nunes has been doing this in public view for nearly a year and a half now. He’s seemed largely indifferent to questions of the Trump campaign and Russian interference. Instead, he’s has focused his work on trying to investigate the investigators themselves — aggressively aiming his subpoena power at the Justice Department, to try to find whatever documents and information he can that he can use to discredit the investigation.
A year and a half of Devin Nunes investigations
This started all the way back in March 2017, when President Trump tweeted out the false accusation that President Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.” Of course, he had no evidence for this.
Days later, it was Nunes who took on the task of trying to find that evidence — or, more accurately, to find some tangentially related stuff that Trump and his allies could pretend was evidence for his claim.
What he came up with was the now-forgotten “unmasking” controversy — basically, that certain Obama officials had reviewed surveillance intercepts about foreigners meeting unnamed Trump aides, and tried to learn the names of the specific Trump aides they were meeting. Experts generally said this happens all the time, and no one came up with any evidence that anything illegal had taken place.
But it was good enough for Fox News and the president’s Twitter account, both of which were desperately trying to counter Trump-Russia scandal media coverage by inventing new scandals in which Democrats were the ones at fault.
The big story is the "unmasking and surveillance" of people that took place during the Obama Administration.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2017
Nunes has followed this basic playbook again and again ever since. He’d send out subpoenas and demand testimony from Justice Department officials, under the pretext that he’s merely doing oversight work. And of course, congressional oversight of law enforcement agencies is a useful and necessary thing.
Yet overall, Nunes has used his committee powers in a remarkably political and partisan way. Rather than making a fair-minded effort to review investigators’ work, he’s constantly tried to use whatever he can find — often wrenched out of context or misleadingly spun, as in his infamous “Nunes memo” — to attack the Justice Department and try to discredit Mueller’s investigation of Trump.
The true goal appeared to be to search for anything that could be spun as wrongdoing from Obama officials or Justice Department leadership. And pseudo-scandal after pseudo-scandal has been drummed up, fed to conservative media, and echoed from the presidential bully pulpit — from unmasking to “FISA abuse” to “Spygate.” In each case, Nunes and his allies try to spin the act of even looking into the Trump team’s ties to Russia as inherently scandalous and partisan.
Meanwhile, Nunes continues to demand the FBI and Justice Department hand over yet more documents about the Trump-Russia investigation — even though the investigation is still ongoing. DOJ has resisted handing over these documents, and Nunes’s allies have then cited this resistance as grounds for trying to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
So yes, Nunes has now been secretly taped admitting that his goal is to protect Trump in the case of an adverse finding by Mueller. But he’s been doing it in plain sight all along.