From the very beginning of the Trump administration, Devin Nunes, the California congressman and Donald Trump loyalist, has battled to deny, obstruct, and obfuscate the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference and, especially, the question of whether Trump and members of his campaign team colluded or coordinated with Russia. As early as this past February, Nunes, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), echoed the president by warning against a “witch hunt,” insisting that “there’s nothing there.” So over-the-top was Nunes in defending the president that in April he had to recuse himself, stepping aside from leading HPSCI’s investigation of Russiagate, with Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, comparing him to Inspector Clouseau.
But Nunes hasn’t gone away, and he hasn’t exactly distanced himself from the investigation either, even though Representative Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who is more measured and judicious than Nunes, is now leading the committee’s work on Russiagate. Nunes is back, and he’s once again doing his best to derail the HPSCI. “It feels like here and there we make a 10-yard gain and then we go five yards back. We’re inching forward and then you see this obstructive behavior by the chairman, and you get frustrated,” Representative Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who serves on the committee, told The Nation in an interview this week. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t destructive when the chairman does what he’s done.”
Nunes’s latest wrecking ball was released in late August, when he issued subpoenas to both the FBI and the Justice Department, demanding in a subsequent letter that the two agencies turn over “any and all documents relating to the agencies’ relationship with then former British Secret Intelligence Service officer Christopher Steele and/or the so-called ‘Trump Dossier.’” And, incredibly, Nunes—acting on his own authority, without asking for or receiving support from the HPSCI itself—threatened to seek a “resolution to hold the Attorney General and Director of the FBI in contempt of Congress” if they fail to cooperate.
Some background: Since the start of the multiple investigations into Russiagate, Republicans seeking to protect Trump have acted like a phalanx of octopi, squirting black ink into troubled waters. Because nearly all of them accept the fact that Russia meddled in the 2016 election by hacking into Democratic Party e-mail accounts and releasing the results to WikiLeaks and other outlets, they’ve raised other issues instead. They’ve railed against leaks to the media about Team Trump’s possible collusion with the Russians. They’ve accused top Obama administration officials of “unmasking” the names of Trump staffers caught up in conversations with Russia that were recorded and transcribed by US intelligence agencies. And they’ve ridiculed the Steele dossier, the 35-page document—published in January by BuzzFeed—that was a compilation of raw, unfiltered intelligence about collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.