Who is Devin Nunes, and why is he in the news right now?
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was secretly recorded saying the 2018 midterms are about protecting President Trump from impeachment.
Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is back at the forefront of news about the Russia investigation. He had previously been accused of obstructing his own committee's investigation into the Russia matter in order to protect the president. This week, he made headlines for (in the words of Vanity Fair) "saying the quiet part out loud."
Nunes, 44, has represented California's 22nd District in Congress since 2003. He served as a member of President Trump's transition team and has been a staunch defender of the president in the Russia investigation.
He has been accused of running interference between the president and Democrats on the committee instead of conducting an objective investigation. He ultimately had to recuse himself from the committee's probe (although he continued to issue subpoenas and do other work related to it). In a headline-making stunt — supported by Russian bots on Twitter — he released what has become known as the "Nunes memo," which he said contained information that would disqualify the premise of the Russia investigation.
The memo contended that the FBI and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein abused their authority to surveil Trump associate Carter Page, basing a warrant on information in the Christopher Steele dossier. Documents later released by the government showed this to be untrue: Page had been on the FBI's radar for years, the warrant was based on several sources of information, and it was renewed three times by Republican judges.
Under Nunes, the committee released a report saying it found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But Democrats on the committee said they had not interviewed many key witnesses, and they vowed to continue their own investigation.
In a secret recording made during a fundraiser for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Nunes told donors that Republicans had to maintain control of the House in the midterm elections to protect President Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller.
"If [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions won’t un-recuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones,” he said. “Which is really the danger. 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.”
He suggested that House Republicans still had plans to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but not until after the midterm elections. (The implication being that this would prevent it from becoming a campaign issue, and even if the Republicans lose the House, it could still be done before the changeover happens in January. It would also allow Republicans to confirm controversial Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before November.)
"The question is the timing of it," Nunes says on the tape. "So if we actually vote to impeach, O.K., what that does is that triggers—the Senate then has to take it up. Well, and you have to decide what you want right now because the Senate only has so much time. Do you want them to drop everything and not confirm the Supreme Court Justice, the new Supreme Court Justice? So that’s part of why . . . I’ve said publicly Rosenstein deserves to be impeached."
On Fox News Thursday, Nunes called the controversy over his comments "left-wing media spin."
Nunes, like every member of the House, is up for re-election in November. He won his 2016 race by 35 points. A June survey by Public Policy Polling showed 49% for Nunes and 41% for his Democratic challenger, Andrew Janz — a swing of 27 points. But Nunes leads handily in fundraising: As of May, he had outraised Janz by almost 3-to-1.