Trump Putin mural
Credit: Zio Fabio/Flickr

I never agree with David French of the National Review, but his call for Rep. Devin Nunes to step down as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is spot-on. He isn’t trying to convince me, however. He’s trying to convince Republican voters and lawmakers. As a result, I don’t know if he’ll be convincing with his appeals to common sense, but he might get somewhere with his effort to put the shoe on the other foot:

Are you unconvinced? Let’s indulge in the simplest exercise in political integrity. If the roles were reversed, what would you argue? If Adam Schiff was the chairman, Hillary Clinton was president, and Schiff was secretly meeting at the White House for solo briefings then presenting that same “evidence” to the press as if he’d discovered it, you’d want him to step down. And you’d be right.

This argument still has to overcome the “it’s-okay-if-you’re-a-Republican” (IOKIYR) disposition of so many conservatives. There’s a definite tolerance for win-at-all-costs ethical calculations on the right that is simply not as powerful on the left. There’s also an unwillingness to facilitate anything that might lead to a premature end to the Trumpian experiment, although that feeling is not strong in Congress compared to the far-removed counties that gave Trump his Electoral College victory.

Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina has broken with his party more and more often since his infamous “Freedom Fries” days, so I don’t know that his opinion necessarily carries any weight within the Republican caucus, but he tried to lead them to reason yesterday.

“How can you be chairman of a major committee and do all these things behind the scenes and keep your credibility? You can’t keep your credibility,” Jones said just off the House floor.

“If anything has shown that we need a commission, this has done it by the way he has acted. That’s the only way you can bring integrity to the process. The integrity of the committee looking into this has been tainted.”

The flip side of this is coming today from a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Trey “Benghazi” Gowdy, who says he doesn’t care if the information Nunes claimed to have had came from “the White House or Waffle House.”

“I just love it when Senator Schumer gives Republicans advice on what we ought to do,” Gowdy said. “Devin is doing exactly what the chairman ought to do. When you have a source that has information, you handle that information safely, securely, which is exactly what he did. I wish Senator Schumer and some of the other Democrats would be more interested in authenticity and the reliability of the underlying data and not the means by which it was acquired.”

He also said it shouldn’t matter where the information came from, as long as it’s true.

“Whether it was the White House or Waffle House, what difference does it make if the information is reliable and authentic? It just so happens that Devin had to do it this way. So, we’re not going to take advice from Chuck Schumer on who our chairpeople ought to be.”

Of course, the real issue is that Nunes cancelled hearings and witness testimony because it would have contradicted statements that have been made by the White House (and possibly in Waffle Houses, nationwide).

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates all had agreed to testify publicly before the committee on what they knew about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Nunes canceled the public hearing, and then held a news conference to announce President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had “volunteered” to be interviewed by the committee.

I haven’t been able to figure out what either Nunes or the White House thought they could accomplish, because controlling the House investigation doesn’t stop the Senate investigation, and the way they went about this just stripped away any good faith argument against a special investigator. Other than being a fairly solid stalling tactic, which could enable Trump to get some of his agenda passed (in theory), the strategy involved here doesn’t make any sense. It may put off the day of reckoning, but that’s hardly a good thing if vindication awaits. Shouldn’t they want to get this all behind them as quickly as possible?

So, I have to assume this is driven by more than a short-sighted desire to avoid embarrassment or being publicly caught in a lie. And, yet, maybe it’s just a level of stupidity to which I can’t relate because my brain doesn’t operate this way. It seems to me that a coverup should actually cover things up rather than add momentum and moral credibility to those who are demanding answers. But what the White House and Nunes have done is not going to prevent the testimony they sought to quash. In fact, White House press secretary Sean Spicer backed down yesterday and said that the administration has no problem with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifying. Eventually John Brennan and James Clapper will have their say, too.

When they do appear, whether before the Senate or a special prosecutor or in a court room, the nation will be all the more riveted on their testimony because the White House went to such bizarre extremes to try to suppress it.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at