Rep. Devin Nunes Is Why We Need an Independent Investigation of the Trump Administration

As you may recall my saying once or twice or three zillion times, Congressional investigations into the Trump administration's ties to Russia are insufficient. We need an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate, because otherwise the Republican majority on any investigating committee will control the process.

Proving the most troubling case in point, today Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who ran interference for Trump during his committee's hearing this week, held an impromptu press conference at which he asserted "that the intelligence community 'incidentally collected' information about members of [Mr.] Trump's transition team outside of its investigation into Russia's interference in the U.S. election." Further:
Nunes claimed that the information was "widely disseminated" among intelligence agencies and that the identities of Trump staffers were "unmasked."

Nunes said he was "alarmed" by these reports from the intelligence community, though he repeatedly noted that staffers' communications appeared to be collected "legally" in the course of "normal, foreign surveillance." He said they took place in November, December and January, following the election.

Nunes left many other details hazy, citing the classified nature of the reports he said were brought to his attention "by sources who thought we should know it" following Monday's open hearing on Russia's involvement in the 2016 election.

Most notably, he first affirmed and then hedged his answers to questions about whether Trump's personal communications were caught up in the incidental collection.

Asked by CNN's Manu Raju if the President was "also part of that incidental collection," Nunes said yes and nodded.

He was cagier when MSNBC's Kasie Hunt followed up, asking whether Trump's "personal communication" were part of the incidental collection.

"It's possible," Nunes said. "We won't know until we get the information on Friday."

The California Republican said that the White House had not been briefed on any of that information, to his knowledge. He said he planned to speak to Trump about it Wednesday afternoon, arguing "they need to see it."
And then, in an extraordinary move, he briefed the White House about his claims, in a desperate bid to give Trump cover on his totally unjustified and unsubstantiable claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

Which, naturally resulted in Trump saying he felt somewhat vindicated: "I somewhat do [feel vindicated]. I must tell you, I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, but I somewhat do."

Meanwhile, Trump is already fundraising off of Nunes' wildly inappropriate mischaracterization.

Nunes then held a second press conference, during which he doubled-down on this extraordinary bullshit:
Reporters asked him if it was "appropriate" for him to discuss details of classified surveillance reports with Trump and the press, particularly without first consulting his committee's ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), about the content of these reports.

Nunes defended his conduct, claiming the intelligence reports he has seen have "nothing to do with the Russian investigation" and that he had a "duty" to tell the President about "possible surveillance activities."

The California lawmaker left the door wide open when asked if the surveillance he was referring to was politically motivated.

"What I have read bothers me and I think it should bother the President himself and his team because I think some of it seems to be inappropriate," he said.

He also said the President "is concerned, and he should be."

Asked if he could "rule out" that former President Barack Obama or officials in his administration were involved, he replied, "No, I cannot."
This is genuinely unprecedented behavior. The Chair of a Congressional committee tasked with investigating the White House publicly did an end-run around his committee members, debriefed the president they're investigating, and then made a public statement about the president's right to know and right to be concerned.

What. The. Fuck.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democratic member on the committee, released a statement excoriating Nunes:
This afternoon, Chairman Devin Nunes announced he had some form of intercepts revealing that lawfully gathered intelligence on foreign officials included information on U.S. Persons, potentially including those associated with President Trump or the President himself. If accurate, this information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been. Indeed, it appears that committee members only learned about this when the Chairman discussed the matter this afternoon with the press. The Chairman also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation. I have expressed my grave concerns with the Chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.

As to the substance of what the Chairman has alleged, if the information was lawfully gathered intelligence on foreign officials, that would mean that U.S. Persons would not have been the subject of surveillance. In my conversation late this afternoon, the Chairman informed me that most of the names in the intercepted communications were in fact masked, but that he could still figure out the probable identity of the parties. Again, this does not indicate that there was any flaw in the procedures followed by the intelligence agencies. Moreover, the unmasking of a U.S. Person's name is fully appropriate when is it necessary to understand the context of collected foreign intelligence information.

Because the committee has still not been provided the intercepts in the possession of the Chairman, it is impossible to evaluate the Chairman's claims. It certainly does not suggest—in any way—that the President was wiretapped by his predecessor.
Nunes, who was a member of Trump's executive transition committee, should have recused himself from this investigation in the first place. His very involvement is inappropriate, for the exact reasons that such recusals are standard procedure: Because often people who have a conflict of interest cannot remain partial.

Nunes isn't even pretending to be impartial.

He is Exhibit A in why we need a special investigation, and Reason #1 why we'll never get it.

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