At a time when insane is the new normal, our ability to be outraged is dulled amid daily incoming. But Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee—led by their chairman, Trump lackey Devin Nunes—somehow hit a new low with Thursday’s revelation that they leaked to Fox News texts from Senate Intelligence Committee Co-Chairman Mark Warner and a Russian businessman in a desperate attempt to discredit the senator. Those texts were then retweeted by our president, in a brushback pitch for Warner’s insistence on investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election—and potential collusion with the Trump campaign—without fear or favor.
This bombshell story, first reported by The New York Times, is not your garden variety Trump-related drama. It’s worse. At a time when institutional checks and balances are needed more than ever, it underscored just how bad the blood is on Capitol Hill—not just between the two parties, but between the House and the Senate itself.
Devin Nunes—a California dairy farmer who degraded himself by becoming a congressman—deserves disproportionate blame for this pathetic mess. His committee has turned the pursuit of truth into a partisan mockery, choosing to do the White House’s bidding at the expense of honest inquiry and fact-based debate.
This is a stunning violation of whatever is left of congressional norms, but it also establishes the collusive relationship between hyperpartisans on the Hill and hyperpartisan media, particularly the opinion side of Fox News (there are some good reporters at Fox News, including Shepard Smith, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace, who don’t deserve to get dragged into this swamp). This sharing of private information was apparently designed not just to influence domestic debate and inflame internal divisions but also to supply talking points to the president, who dutifully retweeted the information as if it was impartial evidence.
In fact, as Republican senators, including Marco Rubio, immediately pointed out, the spoon-fed Fox News “scoop” was simply dishonest deflection and distraction. But that has become the calling card of the Trump administration and its apologists.
This cold congressional civil war is another departure from normal, let alone our best traditions. The Senate committee run by Warner and Burr has been, however fitfully, working toward fulfilling its bipartisan obligation to find the facts on Russia and put the national security of the United States ahead of partisan interests; they remember Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg’s belief that “partisan politics ought to end at the water’s edge.”
In contrast, Devin Nunes keeps getting caught playing a flailing game of footsie with the Trump White House, which led to his being sidelined by ethics investigations last year (Nunes was subsequently cleared). He still seems determined to muddy the national debate on President Trump’s behalf.
With this latest internecine insult, Nunes has lost whatever remaining shred of credibility he could claim qualified him to lead the House Intelligence Committee. And that’s why it’s now on Speaker Paul Ryan to assert his principled independence by replacing Nunes as chairman. In some ways, it’s a shame because Nunes had a decent reputation before assuming chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. But this position seems to have made him more of a hack instead of elevating his game.
The once and future dairy farmer should know when he’s shoveling manure. And Speaker Ryan should recognize that the integrity of the institution he leads requires that he admit the problem and correct it quickly before Trump’s contagion further compromises the co-equal branch of government.