Political Notebook

Nunes: Intelligence agencies, Democrats blocked committee, delayed release of surveillance info

Demonstration over Rep. Devin Nunes appearance in Fresno

Rep. Devin Nunes is speaking to ag lenders in Fresno on Friday, March 31. Demonstrators are staging a "peaceful vigil" on Blackstone Avenue in front of the hall where Nunes will talk.
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Rep. Devin Nunes is speaking to ag lenders in Fresno on Friday, March 31. Demonstrators are staging a "peaceful vigil" on Blackstone Avenue in front of the hall where Nunes will talk.

2:03 p.m: Nunes entered the banquet hall through a rear door and left through a side door out of sight of media and protesters.

As word spread that he had departed, the crowd of demonstrators along Blackstone quickly diminished -- although a loudspeaker continued to blare the stirring strains of the Russian national anthem as a dig toward Nunes’ committee investigation.

1:59 p.m.: At its peak, the demonstration attracted several hundred protesters, many carrying signs asking Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Others castigated the congressman for his votes to repeal Obamacare. And at least one sign protested his vote to roll back a rule forbidding internet service providers from collecting and selling information on customers’ internet use.

1:45 p.m.: Hundreds of protesters gathered along Blackstone Avenue, many carrying American flags and picket signs with messages to Nunes such as “Recuse or Resign” – a reference to concerns that Nunes’ has compromised himself as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee because of his recent communications with President Trump and the White House. Passing vehicles honked, but it was unclear whether the drivers were in support or opposition to the protesters. One protester who wearing a dark suit and a Ronald Reagan mask held a sign that said “Just Say No To Russia.”

The hundreds of protesters who gathered on Blackstone Avenue included members of the local Democratic Party and the Raging Grannies – some wearing pink knit “pussy” hats that first surfaced during protests against cuts to Planned Parenthood – who sang a song protesting deep spending cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency proposed by President Trump.

Mike Evans, chairman of the county Democratic Party, said Nunes conducts few public meetings and no town halls in the district, so his appearance Friday was one of the few that he’s made. “We want to let him to know we’re concerned with the shenanigans he’s carrying out as chair of the House Intelligence Committee,” Evans said. “A lot of people are very concerned. Devin Nunes has embarrassed the district, he’s embarrassed himself, he’s embarrassed the country.

Suzanne Fortier of Fresno, a self-described fourth generation California farmer, said she came out to protest because she has “very serious” concerns about Nunes.

“He has not been on the right side of the issues as far as I’m concerned for some time,” said Fortier, who farms 40 acres of citrus. “But now with his antics on the Intelligence Committee, I’m very concerned.”

1:03 p.m.: Nunes said what he briefed the president on had to do directly with Trump and his transition team, which Nunes was a part of.

During his criticism of the national media, Nunes said that media organizations should understand the need to protect sources.

He also pointed to what he called “an orchestrated effort to tear down our committee” by national media. He opposes calls for an independent commission to investigate the election and transition because he “believes there’s no such thing as an independent commission.”

Nunes said he believes some of the controversy stems from “feelings being hot on the left because they believe this election was stolen from them.”

Nunes doesn’t mind the media attention, he said, nor does he seek it out. However, he believes the House Intelligence Committee is “a lot more in the limelight than we should be.”

When asked about reports of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s offer to cooperate with congressional investigators in exchange for immunity, Nunes said he could not confirm them. He said that Flynn’s lawyer contacted the House Committee’s lawyer once for a preliminary discussion, but he doesn’t know what was said.

During the KMJ broadcast, Nunes discussed Russia in some detail.

“There’s not been a bigger Russia hawk (in Washington, D.C.,) than me,” Nunes said. “Now I am being attacked as some kind of Putin protegé.”

According to Nunes, he told the Obama administration that Russia posed the biggest intelligence risk the country had seen since 9/11.

Nunes said that Russia was involved in the election, but not through collusion with Trump. Instead, he believes the Russian government is spreading propaganda in the U.S. and the world through RT, the English-language televation station whose website says it brings “the Russian view on global news.”

However, Nunes said that if his committee does find evidence of collusion or wrongdoing concerning Trump or his campaign, that “totally changes the game.” He would report his findings to the Department of Justice and close the committee’s investigation, he said.

Nunes noted that, contrary to popular belief, he was not an early support of Trump. He threw his support behind the president after Trump won the presidential primary because “I am a Republican and I wanted the Republicans to win the presidency, the House and the Senate.”

Nunes refused to go into detail about what he found and alerted the president about, but he called it “alarming.” He added that his findings could and maybe should change how the laws of surveilling Americans work.

12:09 p.m.: Nunes appeared on the “Ray Appleton Show” on KMJ 580 AM/105.9 FM to discuss the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into surveillance during the election and a recent flurry of media attention surrounding the Tulare Republican. (Bee reporter Rory Appleton is the son of Ray Appleton.)

“I’m happy to bring the national media to the San Joaquin Valley,” Nunes said, adding that “a lot of people don’t know there’s anything in California beyond San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

During the 15-minute interview, Nunes blamed intelligence agencies and Democrats for blocking his committee or not releasing information in a timely manner as it pertains to the surveillance of American citizens during the presidential transition.

During an interview with The Bee during a commercial break, Nunes said the House’s investigation into the election and transition has not been suspended. Investigators for the committee were gathering information from the intelligence agencies, which he refused to name directly, on Friday afternoon, he added.

Nunes said he and the committee’s ranking member, Democrat Adam Schiff, recently agreed to a list of witnesses who will be called to testify to the committee privately. He said public hearings will be held again but did not give a timetable for their reinstatement.

The congressman also blasted the national media for its coverage of the proceedings.

“Look, we know the major news outlets bend left, and this is the obvious example of that,” Nunes said. “They’re not interested in the facts.”

He went on to say that media outlets have inaccurately reported his perceived involvement with Trump and his reasons for going to the White House. He claims that the White House had the secure facilities necessary for him to conduct interviews and review documents directly related to the surveillance of Americans during the transition.

What he told Trump, Nunes said, had nothing to do with Russia.

“It had to be done,” Nunes said. “I was well aware of the appearance.”

That’s why, Nunes said, he held a news conference to brief the media soon after.

“There is no evidence at this point of (Russian) collusion with President Trump,” he said.

11:55 a.m.: U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes said Friday in a radio show broadcast in Fresno that he went to the White House initially to review intelligence reports because he knew there were secure facilities there.

Nunes, R-Tulare, provided more details on “The Ray Appleton Show” on KMJ Radio about why he made several trips to the White House in connection with intelligence reports on Russian spying. On his initial trip, Nunes said, the material he reviewed was not what he expected to see. Nunes said he returned to congressional offices, briefed some fellow congressmen and the House Speaker and told them that he needed to inform President Donald Trump on what he had uncovered.

Nunes said he believes there are more intelligence reports that have not yet surfaced.

He said he didn’t believe that his trips to the White House and briefing of the president have compromised his role as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Meanwhile, demonstrators began lining Blackstone Avenue more than 90 minutes before Nunes’ scheduled 1 p.m. talk.

By noon, more than 100 people – some from as far as Stockton – were in position with handmade picket signs.

Among the notable signs were: “Repeal and replace Devin Nunes” and “Republicans hate government because they’re so bad at it.”

The protest drew occasional honks from passing drivers.

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Water in the San Joaquin Valley is a remarkably complex issue, but it could be a nice change of pace from concerns over national intelligence for Rep. Devin Nunes as he addresses agricultural lenders Friday in Fresno.

Nunes, R-Tulare, is scheduled to speak to the Ag Lenders Society of California annual meeting at 1 p.m. Friday that is closed to the media. The Bee will be at the site throughout the afternoon to provide updates on developments.

Nunes is one of 13 co-sponsors of H.R. 23, a water bill offered in January by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford. The bill includes provisions to, among other things, scale back an ambitious San Joaquin River restoration program, speed completion of California dam feasibility studies such as the proposed Temperance Flat Dam on the upper San Joaquin River, and increase the certainty of water deliveries to Sacramento Valley irrigation districts.

But Nunes has been in some hot water recently. As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and leading an investigation of Russian interference with the U.S. election, Nunes has been prominent in national headlines – particularly after the disclosure that he briefed President Donald Trump earlier this month that surveillance of Russian officials captured contacts with Trump associates before he shared the information with his fellow committee members. Nunes, who was a member of the Trump transition team following the election, reportedly received the classified intelligence reports from two White House officials.

Several local grassroots organizations – Speak Up CD22 (named for Nunes’ 22nd Congressional District), Together We Will, Every Tuesday Vigil, Fresno Indivisible and Central Valley Indivisible – are expected to stage what they’re calling a “peaceful vigil” on Blackstone Avenue in front of TorNino’s Banquets where Nunes will be speaking. The activists plan to be there from noon to 2 p.m. to express their disappointment with Nunes, said Nancy Griesser, one of the organizers. “The congressman has not held town hall meetings in years, and that is particularly apparent now with the concerns raised by the (Trump) administration and his role in the new administration,” Griesser said this week.

Organizers of the meeting of the nonprofit ag lenders group said their event is educational, rather than political, and will focus on water.

“The focus is to get together with this business organization to continue educating the public that we’re chronically 2.5 million acre-feet short of water in the Valley,” Anthony Ratekin, Nunes’ chief of staff, said this week. “We want to let them have an idea of where the problems are and what we see as the proposed solution.”

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