Chairman Nunes, answer the question

Chairman Nunes, answer the question
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In recent weeks House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesCongress set for clash over surveillance reforms Judge dismisses Nunes' lawsuit against Fusion GPS Trump's new intel chief makes immediate changes, ousts top official MORE has been asked a simple question by a member of the Intelligence Committee and by the media: Did members of his staff work with White House officials with regard to the so-called Nunes memo?

Nunes initially stonewalled and refused to answer the question. Recently, when pressed again on the question about his staff, Nunes gave a carefully limited response: “There was no involvement in drafting the memo with the White House.”

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The claim that the White House had no involvement in “drafting” the memo still leaves open — and unanswered — whether the White House was involved in any other way with the Nunes staff regarding the memo.

 

It is important for the American people to know the answer to this question for a couple of reasons.

The Nunes memo attacks Justice Department and FBI officials for their role in the investigation into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election.

Following the release of the memo, President TrumpDonald John TrumpAdvisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas Bloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments What coronavirus teaches us for preventing the next big bio threat MORE claimed that the memo “totally vindicates” him in the Russia probe. While it is widely agreed that the Nunes memo does no such thing, if the White House was involved with Nunes’s staff regarding the memo, it shows that the aim of Chairman Nunes was to protect the president, not to carry out his committee’s investigation. It also further discredits the Nunes memo and reveals what a complete charade it is.

Past actions by Chairman Nunes during the Russia investigation provide serious grounds for believing that there was some form of collaboration between Nunes’s staff and White House officials in the preparation of the Nunes memo. And if there was, it means that Rep. Nunes has seriously abused his position as chairman of the Intelligence Committee and needs to be removed from the committee.

Chairman Nunes and the Intelligence Committee were assigned responsibility to investigate Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election. However, Nunes, who was an official in the Trump transition team, has shown far greater interest in protecting Trump and attacking the Justice Department and FBI than he has in investigating Russia’s efforts to sabotage our elections.

In March 2017, President Trump made the false claim that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. Following Trump’s bogus claim, in an irresponsible effort intended to help Trump, Chairman Nunes informed reporters that Trump “or his closest associates may have been ‘incidentally’ swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.” 

Nunes said the information “was all legally collected,” but he claimed that certain individuals were improperly revealed and asked, “Why was it unmasked?” National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster later reported that Nunes’s claim of improper unmasking was without merit.

In the course of his “revelations,” Chairman Nunes refused to disclose the names of the individuals who had provided him with information he made public. Nunes reportedly said he needed to protect his sources “so others would feel safe going to the committee with sensitive information.” He labeled his sources as “whistleblowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.”

It was later reported that Nunes had received the information he disclosed from White House officials on the White House grounds. The sources of his information were in no way “whistleblowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.” They did not need Nunes to protect them.

Nunes made false statements and deceived the American people in trying to cover up the fact that he was working with White House officials in this attempted scam.

Nunes also went to the White House to personally brief President Trump on his “discoveries.” His publicly stated reason for meeting with Trump was, “The president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there, and I have a duty to tell him that.”

This statement was also false and misleading. In fact, Chairman Nunes went to the White House to inform the president about information that Chairman Nunes knew the president already had — since Nunes had received the information from the president’s own staff.

Nunes’s false statements and misleading behavior should have resulted in his immediate removal from the Intelligence Committee by Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? Trump lashes out at Fox News coverage: 'I won every one of my debates' MORE. Instead, Nunes has continued in his role as chairman, with Ryan’s blessing.

Given that Nunes surreptitiously worked with the White House in the past while attempting to appear independent, and given that Nunes may well be attempting the same ploy again, he must   answer the question of whether White House officials played any role with his staff regarding the Nunes memo.

There already are more than enough reasons to remove Chairman Nunes from the Intelligence Committee for deceiving the public and misusing his office. If, however, the White House was involved with the Nunes staff regarding the memo, or if Nunes continues to refuse to answer this question, Speaker Ryan has an obligation to the American people to immediately remove Nunes from the Intelligence Committee.

Fred Wertheimer is founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to strengthen our democracy and promotes government integrity. He has spent more than four decades working on democracy and governance issues, including campaign finance, ethics, lobbying and transparency reforms.