Political Notebook

In Devin Nunes’ home district, they say he was right to step away from Russia investigation

In this March 28, 2017 file photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Nunes says he’s temporarily stepping aside from Russia probe amid ethics accusations.
In this March 28, 2017 file photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Nunes says he’s temporarily stepping aside from Russia probe amid ethics accusations. AP

Rep. Devin Nunes’ decision to recuse himself in the probe by the House Intelligence Committee into possible Russian influence in American electoral politics was the right choice for him to make, his constituents are saying.

Nunes, R-Tulare, announced his decision Thursday morning. His congressional district stretches from Fresno and Clovis southward to Tulare and Kings counties.

“In my view, on any subject where an individual becomes a focus instead of the issue, you need to take the focus off the individual –you need to focus on the issue,” said Visalia Councilman Steve Nelsen. “If he’s doing this for that, I support him wholeheartedly.”

Nunes supports agriculture and water for crops, and these are vital local concerns, Nelsen said. But “now he’s caught up in the big international picture. I’m concerned he’s losing his focus on the Valley.”

At a news conference Wednesday, March 22, 2017, House Intelligence Chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, said President Trump's communications may have been "incidentally" picked up during the presidential transition. It was later learned Nunes didn't

Nunes blamed left-wing extremists for forcing his hand by instigating an Ethics Committee investigation of his actions.

Visalia businessman George Ouzounian said that by recusing himself, Nunes is admitting he made a mistake.

“He created the mess,” Ouzounian said. “When you have a mess, it’s better to clean it up.”

Nunes clearly had a right to see the classified information in question because he’s chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Ouzounian said.

But, “I don’t think he should have gone from the legislative branch to the executive branch as he did. He had an obligation to his committee first,” he said. “That’s the only mistake he made.”

Democrats have alleged that Nunes, who was on President Donald Trump’s transition team, is too close to the White House and cannot lead an impartial inquiry, and the House ethics committee is investigating whether he improperly disclosed classified information.

Ouzounian said he still supports Nunes and believes his local support remains strong.

Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel, whose district includes Nunes’ hometown of Tulare, said his recusal eliminates the appearance of a conflict of interest, whether or not a conflict truly exists.

“Appearance is 90 percent of reality,” he said. “He’s doing this out of an abundance of caution. He wants to deliver to the people an impartial investigation.”

He declined to speculate on what the Tulare area as a whole thinks of Nunes’ performance in the nation’s capital.

“From my perspective, we are fortunate to have a representative who has made to that high of a position,” Vander Poel said. “It’s a high level of responsibility. He’s doing it on behalf of the constituents and the American people.”

Stuart Hitchcock, 54, an upholstery repairer, said he was born and raised in Tulare and is Facebook friends with Nunes.

“I think it’s good that he’s staying out of it,” he said. “Keep your ducks in your yard. It’ll just cause more problems down the road for him, I’m sure.”

Terry Brazil of Tulare said she’s a big supporter of Nunes and speaks highly of him to her friends out of the area when they bring up the news.

“The guy is sincere, he’s dependable, he thinks things through,” she said.

McClatchy News Service contributed to the story. Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

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