12 Things to Know About Devin Nunes, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee
The new year has gotten off to a crazy start for Devin Nunes, as if 2019 weren’t also totally crazy. The GOP representative from California is leading the House’s investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2019 presidential election, but has been dogged by calls from both parties to recuse himself. Now he’s at the middle of a firestorm over a controversial memo that suggests the FBI abused its power in the investigation.
Here’s what you need to know about Nunes.
1. As chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes is leading the investigation of Russian interference in the election.
Nunes, 44, has been in Congress since 2002, when he was 29. Since 2011, Nunes has been a member of the powerful House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence community in bipartisan fashion. In 2014, then-Speaker of the House John Boehner appointed Nunes as the chair of the committee, and in 2015, House Speaker Paul Ryan asked Nunes to stay on as chair. Nunes is also a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
2. He faced pressure to step down from the investigation.
On Monday, March 27, 2019, Democrats — including the Vice Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California — to recuse himself from the probe.
The timeline of events, as they relate to Nunes, begins with President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated tweets March 4 claiming former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. The House Intelligence Committee asked Trump to provide evidence or retract his claims. On March 20, Nunes presided over a hearing where FBI director James Comey testified that Trump's wiretapping claims are unfounded and that the Trump campaign is under investigation with regard to Russia's involvement in the election. That same day, Nunes toldMother Jones' David Corn that he had never heard of Roger Stone or Carter Page, two key figures in the Trump campaign who have been linked to Russian involvement.
On March 22, Nunes revealed at a press conference that "on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition." Nunes then briefed Trump on the subject and had another press conference at the White House.
that Nunes did not share the information with Schiff or the committee prior to going public with it. Nunes apologized to committee members March 23. The revelation March 27 that Nunes was actually on White House grounds March 21 when he received the information was when things really started to spiral. Nunes canceled a public hearing and all further intelligence committee meetings scheduled for that week. He also rejected calls to recuse himself and said he'd reveal the source of his claims. On March 30, theNew York Timesreported that two White House officials helped provide Nunes with the intelligence reports he cited. "[T]hey do appear to have sought to use intelligence to advance the political goals of the Trump administration," according to theTimes.
3. He temporarily stepped away from the investigation.
On April 6, Nunes announced he would temporarily step away from the investigation. "Several leftwing activists groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics," he said in a statement, calling the charges "false and politically motivated." He said he would continue fulfilling his other responsibilities as committee chairman and requested a meeting with the House Ethics Committee.
On December 7, Nunes was cleared of wrongdoing by a congressional ethics panel. In a written statement, the committee said that what Nunes disclosed in March 2019 was not in fact confidential, based on the assessment of classification experts in the intelligence community.
4. He wrote and released a controversial memo despite objections from Democrats and the intelligence community.
In January 2019, his staff created a four-page memo that implies the FBI abused its power related to the Trump investigation in requesting a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant to surveil Carter Page, a member of Trump's foreign policy team during the campaign. Republicans began to rally around the memo, saying it should be released to the public (even though it has classified information in it).
On January 29, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the memo to the public, voting squarely down party lines. Schiff accused Nunes of altering the memo before sending it to the White House to review, however. The FBI, along with many Democrats, opposed releasing the memo.
On February 2, the White House declassified the much-disputed Nunes Memo and House Republicans released it. CNN called it the most "Republican effort yet to discredit the FBI's investigation into Trump and Russia."
5. He is a Trump loyalist and was on the president's transition team.
This has been a liability for Nunes, at the very least as far as optics are concerned. Having served in an official capacity on the transition team as a member of the executive committee, Nunes has exhibited behavior — downplaying the controversy, going to the White House to receive intelligence, talking to Trump prior to talking to his own committee — that raised questions about whether he's working with the White House on the investigation. Nunes told Sean Hannity, "I felt like I had a duty and obligation" to tell Trump about the "incidental" surveillance. "Because as you know, he’s taking a lot of heat in the news media," he said. But Nunes's allegiance to the president put him in conflict with the supposed objectivity of the intelligence committee. TheNew York Timeshas characterized Nunes as a "human shield" and theTimes' editorial board called him a "lapdog" for the Trump administration.
"Today, our chairman betrayed the independence that our committee must show during one of the most trying times in American history," said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, onThe Last Wordon March 22, 2019. Swalwell said onMorning Joeon March 28, "This is what a cover-up to a crime looks like."
6. He thinks that Democrats are using investigations into Russia to justify Hillary Clinton’s presidential loss.
At a private dinner fundraiser on April 7, Nunes was videotaped telling local Republicans that Democrats are trying to justify Clinton’s loss with investigations into Russian’s involvement in the 2019 election. TheLA Timesreceived the tape, where he was recorded saying, “The Democrats don’t want an investigation on Russia. They want an independent commission. Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that’s the reason that he won, because Hillary Clinton would have never lost on her own; it had to be someone else’s fault.”
When theLA Timesreached out for comment, it received the following statement from Nunes: “For the LA Times to tout comments I made in front of 700 people, which attendees broadcasted on Facebook Live and which reflected themes I've discussed repeatedly this year, as some sort of unique revelation is the epitome of lazy reporting and fake news.”
7. He's a longtime ally of Paul Ryan.
After John Boehner's resignation announcement, Ryan initially said he wasn't interested in the speaker job, but many Republicans, including Nunes, wanted him to reconsider. “I think Paul Ryan is the only eligible candidate,” . Nunes was also part of Ryan's delegation on a trip to Germany, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt in April 2019.
On March 27, Ryan's spokesperson said in a statement, "Speaker Ryan has full confidence that Chairman Nunes is conducting a thorough, fair and credible investigation." On March 28, Ryan said that Nunes should not recuse himself from the investigation.
In January 2019, Ryan defended the release of Nunes' memo saying, "there may have been malfeasance at the FBI."
8. He grew up on his family dairy farm in Tulare, California, which he now represents in Congress.
His upbringing is often referred to in condescending terms in media stories. A recentDaily Beastheadline described Nunes as "The Dairy Farmer Overseeing U.S. Spies and the Russia Hack Investigation."TIMEwrote that Nunes was a "farm boy" when it named Nunes to its 40 Under 40 list of rising political stars in 2010.
Local support in Nunes's hometown community is strong, but a March 2019 column by theFresno Bee's editorial board called Nunes an "errand boy" who was "subservient" to Trump, and said his performance as intel committee chair was "inept and bewildering."
9. He is of Portuguese descent and maintains close ties to Portugal.
Nunes is third-generation Portuguese-American. His family came to the United States from the Azores islands of Portugal. Tulare, California, is a "tight-knit Portuguese community," according to theTimes, and Nunes's congressional seat was previously occupied by another Portuguese-American, Jim Costa. Nunes is the recipient of a knighthood from Portugal, the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator.
From 2012 to 2015, Nunes pushed for an intelligence center planned for construction in the U.K. to be relocated to the Azores, which pitted him against Pentagon officials who opposed the move and said that it would cost an extra .2 billion. "Look, somebody is lying here, and it's probably not me," Nunes told theNational Review.
10. In 2010, he authored a book calledRestoring the Republic.
Nunes wroteRestoring the Republic: A Clear, Concise, and Colorful Blueprint for America's Futureon legal pads while flying cross-country, according to McClatchy. Nunes told the paper, "I'm not out there trying to sell books. I'm trying to sell ideas."
In the introduction to his book, Nunes wrote, "This is where the real threat to our Republic lies: the convergence of big government, big business, and the radical left in Washington."
11. He's a climate change denier.
Nunes is an outspoken critic of "radical environmentalists," as he wrote in his book. He said in 2014, at the height of California's severe drought, "Global warming is nonsense."
12. He voted to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015 and spoke out in support of the Affordable Care Act repeal.
Though an estimated 52,000 residents of Tulare County would have lost health insurance without Obamacare, Nunes insisted that the repeal was necessary.
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