Devin Nunes is a fighter. He attacks with verbal haymakers. And when the Republican congressman from Tulare is cornered, he just keeps punching.
The gallery of opponents on the receiving end of his sharp barbs is a Who’s Who of national and California politicians: Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Thus, it isn’t surprising he delivered an acid-dipped response to Thursday’s announcement that he is stepping away from the high-profile House investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Nunes said in a statement. “The charges are entirely false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power.”
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This was was vintage Nunes. He’s not a diplomat. He’s not a negotiator. He knows one speed – pedal to the floorboard. Whatever the consequences, he doesn’t second-guess himself.
If you’re thinking Nunes really stepped in it this time – maybe fatally so for his political career – well, not so fast.
Yes, it is alleged he disclosed classified material without proper authorization while serving as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. That is why he will be investigated by the House Ethics Committee and that is why he’s stepping away, at least temporarily, from the Russia probe.
The fact is, the Ethics Committee must investigate any allegation involving the disclosure of classified material. The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak explained how it works.
“There is a very low bar for the House Ethics Committee to launch a probe into whether a lawmaker made an unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Mak wrote. “The way the arcane House rules are written, the House Ethics Committee requires an investigation if there is merely an allegation of classified information being spilled.”
Then there is this statement from the House Ethics Committee: “The committee notes that the mere fact that it is investigating these allegations, and publicly disclosing its review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”
An additional problem for Nunes is that this latest development follows two weeks of media scrutiny and non-stop criticism from Democrats, as well as from a handful of Republicans, about his handing of the investigation.
Most controversial was Nunes’ trip to the White House to brief President Donald Trump on classified information he had obtained on his own and had not shared with Intelligence Committee colleagues. The information, Nunes said at a news conference, involved members of Trump’s transition team being “incidentally” caught up in American surveillance.
Though Nunes has refused to go into detail about what he alerted the president about, he called it “alarming” last week during a visit to Fresno. He also said that he was “well aware of the appearance” he created by briefing Trump, but insisted it “had to be done.”
During that same visit, he also blasted the mainstream media for “wildly inaccurate” reports about his handling of the investigation. And wrote, The Bee’s Rory Appleton, Nunes “blamed the intelligence agencies, which he declined to name, as well as Democrats for blocking his committee’s requests for information. …”
More vintage Nunes. Punch, punch, punch. Don’t weave. Don’t bob. Don’t even think about the rope-a-dope.
Despite all the haymakers, Nunes is an easy target for people who believe him to be Trump’s pawn – especially those people demanding that the president prove his Twitter claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. In their eyes, Nunes supplied cover for Trump.
And now Nunes, the puncher, has become a punch line for the nation’s comedians. Or, as Nunes might say, the nation’s liberal, Democratic Party supporting comedians.
Nunes did apologize behind closed doors to Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, for not sharing the information with committee members before briefing Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan.
I bet that’s the last apology he ever gives related to the Russia investigation – regardless of what the House Ethics Committee decides on the allegations against him.