Another day, another scandal. Temperamental tweets from Trump are becoming the norm, yet Trump’s recent claims that Obama wiretapped him prior to winning the election still came as somewhat of a surprise.
There were previous reports that, while monitoring Russians, the intelligence community may have intercepted communications from members of the Trump team, but Trump’s tweet claimed Obama specifically ordered the wiretapping. That’s a pretty hefty claim to make and he did so without any substantiating evidence. Then along came Devin Nunes, who recently held a press conference making statements that appear to somewhat validate Trump’s claims. The Congressman has been under heavy scrutiny ever since and people are questioning his ethics.
Let’s Take a Step Back to Get Some Context
Earlier this year, the House Intelligence Committee was tasked with investigating whether there was Russian interference into the 2016 elections as well as collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign. The House Intelligence Committee is led by chairman Devin Nunes, which, until recently, wasn’t necessarily a household name.
A week ago, Nunes held a press conference and, to keep it simple, he announced that an unnamed source had given him information that appeared to validate, at least somewhat, Trump’s wiretapping allegations. Here’s what Nunes said:
“First, I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in the intelligence community reporting. Third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. Fourth and finally, I want to be clear. None of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”
Because Nunes says that the information wasn’t related to the surveillance on Russia and that it also wasn’t related to the Trump-Russia investigation, Nunes’ statements suggest that some of the members of the Trump transition team were in fact under surveillance.
Why All the Fuss?
Here’s a brief rundown of how it went down:
- On March 21st Nunes made an unscheduled trip to the White House where an unnamed source provided Nunes with information about incidental collection of Trump and his associates. That information, according to Nunes’ press conference, contained unmasked names.
- On March 22nd Nunes held the press conference with the statement above. Nunes claims the information came from FISA surveillance. Nunes then went directly to the White House to brief Trump on the intelligence reports. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement that Nunes did not share this information with other members of the Committee before going to brief Trump.
The press conference itself wasn’t necessarily the issue; the issue is where the documents came from and why did Nunes go to Trump with the information before his own Committee members? Regardless of whether the information was unrelated to the Trump-Russia investigation, Nunes still should have presented the information to the Committee first. Even after Nunes apologized for going to Trump first, the water has gotten even murkier on whether Nunes had any real evidence to support the statements as he has yet to release the documents to the Committee.
Actions Affect the Committee’s Investigation
Who did Nunes meet at the White House? Why did Nunes need to meet his source at the White House? Why didn’t Nunes take the information straight to the Committee? These are the unanswered questions floating around that make what Nunes did suspicious. The running theme coming from the Democrats is that, because Nunes was a member of Trump’s transition team, Nunes is improperly providing political cover for Trump’s claims that Obama wiretapped his phone.
Nunes’ actions do affect the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation because it tarnishes the office’s credibility. Being chairman of the House Intelligence Committee holds certain responsibilities and, as a member of that Committee, Nunes’ loyalty should have been to the Committee, especially since Trump is currently being investigated. Instead, Nunes claimed he felt he “had a duty and obligation” to tell Trump because “he’s [Trump] taking a lot of heat in the news media”.
If Nunes is covering for Trump, he’s not being an impartial member of the Committee. Not only does it tarnish the creditability of the House Intelligence Committee, but it also jeopardizes the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation. There’s also a good argument Nunes’ actions violate protocols for handling classified information, which is why he’s received numerous ethics complaints.
Despite statements that all the fuss is “entirely false and politically motivated”, Nunes has since stepped aside from the Trump-Russia investigation.