House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes is openly at war with the system of checks and balances that the founders of the American experiment outlined in the US Constitution. That system establishes a separation of powers and changes the Congress with oversight of the executive branch. The US House of Representatives has the most well-defined oversight and accountability responsibility, as it is the chamber afforded the power to initiate impeachment proceedings against lawless presidents, vice presidents and cabinet members.
Unfortunately, Nunes has abandoned his oversight duties and made himself a political pawn of the Trump White House. There is no question that, after his secret visits to the White House grounds, closed-door meetings with the president and clumsy attempts to make excuses for Trump’s unfounded claim that President Obama ordering politically motivated wiretapping of Trump Tower, Nunes must recuse himself from his role as the chair of the committee investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.
But the California Republican refuses to abide by his oath to uphold the Constitution.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who because of his leadership role has an even higher duty to uphold the separation of powers than Nunes, should be calling for the committee chair to recuse himself. Indeed, if Ryan took his duties as speaker seriously, he would remove the compromised chair from the Intelligence Committee. But Ryan, the Republican political careerist from Wisconsin who bid for the vice presidency in 2012, has made it clear that party loyalty in general, and loyalty to Trump in particular, takes priority over his constitutional responsibilities.
Most House Republicans appear to be falling in line with Ryan.
In fact, only one Republican has, at this point, done what is not just right but required.
Congressman Walter Jones, the maverick Republican from North Carolina who is very conservative but also very committed to the rule of law, says Nunes “absolutely” must recuse himself from the Intelligence Committee investigation.
“How can you be chairman of a major committee and do all these things behind the scenes and keep your credibility?” asks Jones. “You can’t keep your credibility.”
The North Carolina Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor of a proposal by Congressmen Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, and Eric Swalwell, D-California, which seeks to establish an independent commission to probe controversies relating to the election.
Jones argues that the choice by Nunes to act as a Trump surrogate rather than a responsible member of a key congressional committee makes the case for the commission. “If anything has shown that we need a commission, this has done it by the way he has acted. That’s the only way you can bring integrity to the process,” says Jones. “The integrity of the committee looking into this has been tainted.”
Ryan has been cajoling House Republicans to put partisanship above principle—and in so doing to disregard the Constitution. The Wisconsin Republican, who began making excuses for Trump in the fall of 2015, embraces the crude spin from Nunes, which suggests that objections the chair’s Trump project are nothing more than expressions of “politics” by critics of the president, such as California Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
But Jones told Capitol Hill reporters that: “What Nunes has done is make it more political—not less political but more political.”
Rejecting the Trump-Ryan-Nunes charade, Jones says, “I don’t care what Mr. Ryan says… When you have a committee chairman that bypasses the committee and goes to the White House, when you have a president that has a cloud over their head, that’s not smart.”
The North Carolina congressman is right, that is not smart.
Nor is it respectful of the Constitution.
In a House where many members of Paul Ryan’s Republican Caucus claim to be “constitutional conservatives,” there is as of now only one actual constitutional conservative.
His name is Walter Jones, and when he swears an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” he takes it seriously.