House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes is a close acquaintance of Donald Trump’s. And the California Republican, who harbors borderline obsessive anti-Democrat views while representing a gerrymandered district in one of the bluest states in the country, has seen his political profile dramatically increase since joining the Trump transition team. His cozy relationship with Team Trump has led to serious questions concerning his trustworthiness while overseeing the House’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.For starters, Nunes was the first major House Republican to deny that the intelligence community had any intel linking the Trump campaign and Russian operatives in February, before the investigation was publicly announced. He has repeatedly stated he will not seek the release of Trump’s tax returns. And he has said he has no interest in investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia—even after it was revealed that Flynn had numerous undisclosed meetings with Russian officials during and after the Trump campaign, leading him to resign.
Nunes’s curiously pro-Trump behavior reached a fever pitch last week, when he claimed that the intel community had “incidentally”—and legally—“collected information” concerning Trump officials and Russia, which would have sort of (but not really) backed up President Trump’s unhinged (and still baseless) tweet-allegations that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower. Making matters worse, Nunes informed the White House of the alleged reveal before even briefing his fellow members of the House Intelligence Committee.
“Hanging over everything Trump does is the ongoing Russia investigation, and in the House, the investigation is led by the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, Devin Nunes, who has basically done everything he can to delay or interfere with his own investigation—raising the question of whether he is investigating Trump, or working for Trump,” said Seth Meyers.
Yes, on Thursday night, the Late Night host devoted his latest “Closer Look” segment to the still-developing Nunes-Trump scandal.
After his opening salvo, Meyers threw to a clip of Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), who told MSNBC on Thursday morning that Nunes “works for the president, he answers to the president.”
“No, you don’t!” exclaimed Meyers. “Congress does not work for the president! If Congress always did what the president told them to do, this guy [Obama] would not have left office looking like this”—before throwing to a photo of a haggard-looking Obama.
The Nunes-Trump-Russia saga got significantly stranger Thursday afternoon, when The New York Times reported that two White House officials, “Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national-security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’s committee,” appeared “to have sought to use intelligence to advance the political goals of the Trump administration” by leaking the aforementioned information to Nunes. Trump had previously fought to keep one of the two leakers, Cohen-Watnick, in the National Security Council against the wishes of current National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
“That means Nunes went to the White House to brief Trump from information he got from the White House,” said Meyers. “It’s like when you send yourself an email reminder and two minutes later go, ‘Oh, a new email!’”
Then, also on Thursday afternoon, Whie House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked during a press conference if Trump directed anyone in the White House or on his national-security team to back up his false Obama wiretapping claim, and his stammering answer didn’t exactly inspire the utmost confidence.
“Um… I don’t… I’m not aware of anything, directly… I’d have to look into that in terms of… Again, there’s two sides of this: one is the information side, and two is the policy and the activities and the legal piece of what happened. Those are big buckets, if you will,” said Spicer. Cue Meyers: “I mean, I’ll bet Sean Spicer fantasizes about having an easier job—like Bill Cosby’s publicist.”
With Trump’s approval rating hovering around a historically low 35 percent, his administration is going to need to come up with some better answers.