By our yardstick, Rep. Devin Nunes had a terrible week fulfilling his duties as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
In fact, the performance of the Tulare Republican was so inept and bewildering that a fellow Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, told MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday that a bipartisan special select committee should investigate Russia’s meddling into the 2016 presidential campaign.
“It’s a bizarre situation, and what I think, the reason why I’m calling for this select committee or a special committee, is, I think that this back-and-forth and what the American people have found out so far that no longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone,” McCain said.
We have some things to add to McCain’s request. One, the bipartisan special select committee must have ample authority and resources. Two, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the investigation after his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. were revealed, a special prosecutor is needed.
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We are not alone in thinking this way. According to a Quinnipiac University national poll released Friday, two out of three Americans want an independent commission to investigate the possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Given the emotional reaction of Democrats to Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the election, Nunes had to know that he would be under intense scrutiny as chair of the investigation and that both his and the Intelligence committee’s credibility would be at stake.
Nothing he did last week served the nation’s best interests.
First, with millions of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, wanting the committee to provide clarity on Russia’s involvement in the election and whether members of Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russians to weaken Clinton’s prospects, Nunes tried to steer the committee’s focus to identifying leakers of information embarrassing to President Trump.
It is an old trick in Washington, D.C., and one that rarely, if ever, works. Just ask Richard Nixon.
Then, Nunes – a Trump transition team member – betrayed the Constitution and its separation of powers by running like an errand boy to the White House to share with Trump classified information that he had received.
Before going to the White House, however, Nunes held a news conference at which he announced that the communications of Trump transition officials – possibly including President Trump himself – may have been “monitored” after the election as part of an “incidental collection.”
Nunes also said the intercepted communications did not appear to be related to the ongoing FBI investigation into Trump associates’ contacts with Russia or any criminal warrants.
These events Wednesday ambushed other committee members. Nunes had not shared the information with them before spilling his guts to the president and to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
That’s a shame. The Intelligence committee has a long tradition of being truly bipartisan. This is because the committee’s work is essential to keeping Americans safe. The committee is supposed to be about something much bigger than politics. And Intelligence committee chairs, be they Republican or Democrat, long have honored that charge.
Trump, of course, was pleased by what Nunes did, and said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by the revelations, which provided partial cover for his unsubstantiated Twitter claim that President Obama had “wiretapped” his New York skyscraper during the election.
As subservient as Nunes was to Trump on Wednesday, he did not give the president exactly what he wanted. As FBI Director James Comey had done Monday during the Intelligence committee’s public hearing, Nunes said hat Trump’s claim about Obama wiretapping him was false. Perhaps Nunes thought he could have it both ways by letting Trump use him, but then telling the press that the new reports offered no such evidence.
Nunes’ defenders say that he did nothing wrong and that President Trump deserved to have the information. But Nunes himself exposed the emptiness of that argument by privately apologizing to his Democratic colleagues on the committee.
Americans can distinguish between a hard-nosed fact-finder and a surrogate who shares information with a White House under FBI investigation.
Bring on the bipartisan special select committee – as was done with Benghazi – and a special prosecutor.