Get the Think newsletter.
By Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has become President Donald Trump’s key asset in Congress.

Playing this role, Nunes has misled, deceived and lied to the American people in an all-out effort to defend the president, regardless of the facts and truth. Nunes has become Trump’s self-assigned chief defender. The chairman made that abundantly clear when he recently said that the job of House Republicans was to protect Trump from the Mueller investigation.

Nunes’s most recent mission for Trump was a lone-wolf fishing expedition to London, looking for information about Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who wrote the Russia dossier on Trump. British intelligence agencies, however, including MI5, MI6 and the Government Communications Headquarters, refused to meet with Nunes, concerned that he was just there looking to create trouble.

Nunes’s most recent mission for Trump was a lone-wolf fishing expedition to London, looking for information about Christopher Steele.

Nunes also targeted Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who was Steele’s contact — and, not surprisingly, Trump’s latest prime target.

Nunes, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had a far different assignment in January 2017: leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. This included investigating whether Trump and his campaign played any role in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential race.

But Nunes ignored his committee’s mandate. To deflect attention away from Trump, Nunes has instead spent months investigating and attacking the FBI and the Justice Department.

Less than two months into this crucial investigation, in March 2017, Nunes engaged in his first calculated deception of the American people. He claimed he had received classified information showing that Trump transition members had been improperly “unmasked” by President Barack Obama's administration. (National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster later determined the claims were without merit.)

Nunes made a public show of going to the White House to present the information to Trump. “The president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there,” Nunes stated, “and I have a duty to tell him.” Nunes also claimed he had received the classified information from “whistle blowers” whom “he needed to protect so others would feel safe going to the committee with sensitive information.”

This charade had everything to do with protecting the president and nothing to do with Nunes carrying out his job to investigate Russian interference.

Nunes’s claims, however, were false and a willful effort to deceive the public. He had actually received his information from White House officials. The whole episode was a scam.

This charade had everything to do with protecting the president and nothing to do with Nunes carrying out his job to investigate Russian interference.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., should have immediately removed Nunes as committee chairman, for he had clearly tried to thwart his panel’s official role. Instead, Ryan left Nunes in this critical position and he proceeded to do even greater damage to the truth.

On Feb. 2, 2018, the House Intelligence Committee released a controversial memorandum, known as the “Nunes memo.” It attacked the application that the Justice Department submitted to the FISA court to obtain surveillance warrants for Carter Page, a Tramp campaign foreign policy adviser. (Nunes later admitted he never read this FISA application.)

The memo contained misleading claims, half-truths and distorting omissions. It was another effort by Nunes to deceive the American people and undermine the Mueller investigation.

His memo claimed that the Steele dossier was an “essential part of the Oct. 16, 2016 Carter Page FISA application,” — implying that the dossier triggered the investigation. But this was not true: The activities of Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in the summer of 2016 helped trigger the Russia investigation.

In addition, the FISA application itself refutes Nunes’s claims about the Steele dossier. The application states, “The FBI’s concern about and knowledge of Page’s activities therefore long predate the FBI’s receipt of Steele’s information.”

According to a published report, the application says Page “has established relationships with Russian government officials, including Russian intelligence officers”; that the FBI believed “the Russian government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” Trump’s campaign; and that Page “has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.”

The FISA warrant to surveil Page was renewed three times by three different Republican-appointed judges. Each renewal required the Justice Department to submit additional new evidence on Page.

Yet Nunes still used this to manipulate and distort facts in order to protect Trump.

The Nunes memo also makes the misleading claim that the FISA application did not disclose that the Steele dossier was partially paid for by Trump campaign opponents. It does.

Nunes’s role as Trump’s asset in Congress has also involved irresponsible support for impeaching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. There are no grounds for this.

The purported reason is a dispute about whether the Justice Department will give House Republicans internal investigative documents of the sort almost never released during an active investigation. The impeachment process, however, was never intended to be used to settle differences between the executive branch and the Congress — no matter how strong the differences. The Founders meant impeachment to be used only in the rarest of circumstances.

In the Constitution’s 229-year history, the House has never impeached any sub-Cabinet official. In fact, a Cabinet member has been impeached only once — War Secretary William Belknap, for what was described as “a pattern of corruption blatant even by the standards of the scandal-tarnished Grant administration.”

In the name of protecting Trump at all costs, Nunes has deceived the American people, distorted and lied about the facts and disgraced his public office. He should have been removed as intelligence committee chairman a long time ago. Ryan needs to do so immediately.