Two years ago this month, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) was in the midst of a political firestorm.
As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes was uncovering the shocking news that the Obama Justice Department had launched an investigation into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. On March 4, 2017, President Trump infamously tweeted he had discovered that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found.”
FBI Director James Comey was scheduled to testify before Nunes’s committee later that month. Comey would confirm publicly for the first time that his agency had indeed opened up a counterintelligence probe in July 2016 into four Trump campaign associates—including campaign manager Paul Manafort—after he intentionally withheld that bombshell from top lawmakers for eight months.
The scandalous operation that the Obama Justice Department thought would be concealed forever after Hillary Clinton won the presidency, instead was at risk of being exposed by Nunes. The totality of the scheme—which also involved the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, Obama’s key advisors, a secret court, and FBI informants among other culprits—slowly was coming into view, jeopardizing the careers of top law enforcement officials as well as throwing into doubt the entire basis for the nascent Trump-Russia collusion plotline.
So, Trump foes, Left and Right, turned their fire on Nunes, accusing him of running afoul of House rules for allegedly revealing classified information when he announced that U.S. citizens had been “unmasked” by Obama officials during questionable surveillance activities. (That allegation later was confirmed by Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice.) Nunes shared the information, appropriately and justifiably, with the president.
The problem wasn’t that Nunes was doing something unethical or illegal: The threat was that Nunes was thwarting the effort by Comey and his accomplices to obscure what exactly went down in 2016. Comey, after all, repeatedly had refused to inform the president that his campaign was under investigation, even during private dinner conversations in early 2017.
So the Left and NeverTrump Right pounced. MoveOn.org orchestrated a campaign to oust Nunes in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics. Numerous editorial boards and commentators from across the political spectrum denounced Nunes, demanding that he recuse himself.
“Just at the time when the nation desperately needs adults to step forward who can give the public confidence that they understand the stakes of the Russia investigation . . . Nunes unnecessarily poured gasoline on an already-raging fire,” wrote National Review’s David French on March 28, 2017. “The American body politic is awash in conspiracy theories, mistrust, and wild claims of espionage and criminality. It needs leaders. It needs integrity.”
French not only suggested Nunes should recuse but insisted that he should step down as chairman of the committee.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Nunes’ Democratic committee colleagues, including ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also called for Nunes to recuse himself. The Washington Post editorial board cited Nunes’ “clownish grandstanding” as one reason he was incapable of leading any investigation. Hundreds of protestors, likely organized by MoveOn.org, confronted Nunes at his district office.
The bipartisan cacophony worked. Shortly thereafter, the Republican-led House Ethics committee shamefully signed on to an inquiry into Nunes’ conduct, prompting the California congressman to step away reluctantly from the Russia-collusion part of his committee’s work until the probe was completed. The astounding fact the the Obama FBI weaponized its powers against a rival presidential candidate was safely buried.
Eight months later, Nunes was cleared of any wrongdoing, but not before critical time was lost. Thankfully, Nunes was undeterred; he released an explosive February 2018 memo—against vehement objections from Schiff, House Democrats, and the Justice Department—that detailed how Democrat-funded political opposition research was presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as legitimate evidence to get a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign volunteer.
It should come as no surprise that now—two years later—the same rules of propriety, ethics, and legality do not apply to Schiff, the committee’s new Democratic chairman. Many Nunes critics maintain hypocritical silence on Schiff’s more blatant and consequential misconduct, including recent reports that he and his staff met with Michael Cohen on four separate occasions for at least 10 hours prior to Cohen’s public testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee on February 27.
Schiff’s unusual engagement with Cohen—former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz said he had “never heard or seen anything like that” during his time in Congress—where Democrats and Trump’s former lawyer consulted without Republicans present should be grounds for recusal, if not a similar ethics probe.
“Remember what happened two years ago, the sanction two years ago was that Devin Nunes stepped down as chairman for a while,” Rep. James Jordan (R-Ohio) said in a Fox News interview Saturday about the Cohen-Schiff collaboration. “Now it seems a little hypocritical that. . . they demanded Devin do it and now they’re not even talking about that [for Schiff].”
That isn’t the only time Schiff has played footsie with a subject of congressional inquiry. Last summer, Schiff was pictured with Fusion GPS chief Glenn Simpson a few months before Simpson invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as a witness for the House Judiciary Committee.
There also are credible allegations that Schiff or staff at his direction have leaked classified, nonpublic information to reporters over the past two years, including closed-door testimony by the president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., in late 2017.
Schiff’s attempts to block the release of the Nunes memo should be considered obstruction of justice, since it was a blatant political maneuver intended to hide public corruption at the government’s highest level. Schiff has yet to amend the multiple errors in his January 2017 memo that falsely claimed there was no abuse of the FISA process and incorrectly describes the crucial timeline of the dossier’s handling at the Justice Department. His memo amounts to misleading Congress, since it is addressed to the entire House of Representatives.
But Schiff’s most insidious behavior has been his insistence, without evidence, for more than two years that the Trump campaign and possibly the president himself “colluded with the Kremlin” to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. There is no way to measure how much poison Adam Schiff has injected into our political discourse, but it’s not negligible.
Yet, with the exception of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and a few other Republicans, there are no mounting calls inside the Beltway for Schiff’s recusal. (On Monday, Judicial Watch filed a formal complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics over Schiff’s “irregular communications” with both Cohen and Simpson.)
There are no editorials or columns at the Washington Post or New York Times demanding that Schiff step away from his role. There are no questions being raised by journalists about his potential malfeasance. David French hasn’t authored a column about Schiff’s bad behavior or even tweeted as much—this after writing several columns critical of Nunes over the past two years. (In fact, National Review hasn’t posted one negative piece about Schiff in weeks.)
In a nearly seven-minute interview on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, host Chuck Todd did not raise any of these controversies with Schiff; the chairman continues to escape any media scrutiny for his actions.
The double-standard that so infuriates and animates Trump’s base is again in play, with guilty parties populating the range of political opinion, but the objective is the same: To salvage whatever is left of the disintegrating Trump-Russia collusion hoax by one of its biggest propagandists and to keep in power one of Donald Trump’s most shameless enemies.
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