The most talked-about man in Washington this week might have gone unrecognized outside the beltway before a dramatic press conference at which he claimed to have seen evidence President Trump was spied on.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is now solidly in the public eye as he leads the charge on two major investigations. One is the investigation into Russia’s apparent interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the other is President Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower.
Nunes hasn’t exactly been silent about the investigations, but it was a meeting he had with Trump Wednesday – and a memorable news conference right before – that put him front and center.
“I have a lot more friends, that’s definitely for sure. Every time I’m on the (House) floor, I have members coming up to me.”
– Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
At the dramatic news conference, Nunes announced he had obtained on Tuesday intelligence that indicated President Trump’s personal communications had been swept up in what he described as “incidental” surveillance.
“There seems to me to be some level of surveillance activity, perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right,” Nunes said Wednesday. He added that he wasn’t sure “the American people would be comfortable with what I read.”
Nunes disclosed he had not shared any of the documents he discussed with the president with a single one of his committee colleagues. His democratic counterpart, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that by Friday afternoon, he still hadn’t been shown the information.
“It’s not just that he hasn’t shared them with Democrats on the committee,” Schiff said on Friday, “he hasn’t shared them with the Republicans on the committee. All of us are essentially in the dark.”
Complicating the matter, Schiff said, was the fact that “it is associates of the president who are potentially the subject of investigation… So to take evidence that may or may not be related to the investigation to the White House was wholly inappropriate and, of course, cast grave doubts into the ability to run a credible investigation.”
Nunes may be crusading against the surveillance of Americans, but in the past he has criticized those who would limit the scope of National Security Agency programs. Speaking with CQ Roll Call back in 2014, Nunes suggested “the attack on NSA has just been sad to watch… We’ve got other foreign governments spying on everyone.”
At the time, House Intel was drafting a bill to revamp surveillance policies and end the NSA practice of collecting and storing data on Americans’ phone, email and Internet use.
Nunes represents California’s 22nd congressional district, and has served in the House of Representatives since 2003. He worked on his family’s farm as a child and raised cattle as a teenager, before buying some farmland of his own along with his brother. At the age of 23, he became one of the youngest Californians to be elected to public office, serving as a trustee for a local community college.
When former House Intel Committee Chairman Mike Rogers’ announced his surprise retirement back in 2014, Nunes’ name quickly bubbled up as a possible replacement. Nunes was quoted at the time as saying he had always planned on pursuing the chairmanship, offering both his work on the committee itself and as chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, of which he remains a member, as proof of his credentials.
When then-Speaker John Boehner announced Nunes would assume the chairmanship in November of 2014, he suggested Nunes had been “instrumental in ensuring that our intelligence professionals have the resources they need to keep America safe.”
The appointment of Nunes, a harsh critic of the Obama administration on issues like Benghazi, created concerns that the frequently secretive committee could be plunged into a cycle of public partisanship. The ongoing & increasingly public feud this past week between Nunes and Schiff suggests that some of those concerns may have been justified.
Nunes wound up becoming a member of the president’s transition team, and was reportedly instrumental in the selection of Gen. James Mattis for the role of Defense Secretary, with McClatchy DC describing Nunes as “a combination of headhunter, Capitol Hill liaison and shaper of policy.”
“I have a lot more friends, that’s definitely for sure,” Nunes told McClatchy back in December. “Every time I’m on the (House) floor, I have members coming up to me.”