Before Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) became chairman in 2015, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence had a reputation for bipartisanship. With the revelation, reported by CBS News on Thursday, that the committee’s Republican majority staff will soon be separated from the Democratic minority staffers on the committee by a wall — literally, a physical barrier separating public officials from each other — members of both parties are saying Nunes has destroyed any spirit of collaboration the committee once enjoyed.
Nunes took the reigns of the committee three years ago, promising to work “on a bipartisan basis” and to collaborate closely with the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, who also represents a district in California. “This committee has a strong record of bipartisanship,” he said at the time, “and based on my previous cooperation with Rep. Schiff on the committee and on other issues, I am confident this tradition will continue in the new Congress.” In an interview with Bloomberg View, Nunes praised his predecessor’s, Rep. Mike Rogers’ (R-MI) successful work across the aisle: “Under his leadership, the Intelligence Committee had excellent bipartisan cooperation, and that tradition needs to continue.” That did not happen.
Last year, Nunes reportedly made calls to media outlets, at the Trump administration’s behest, to steer them away from the (correct) story that the Trump campaign’s Russian ties were under investigation.
Then he became the subject of an ethics investigation after he traveled to the White House, examined classified information provided to him by Trump administration aides, and disclosed the information in a clumsy attempt to validate the president’s false claims that his phone was tapped by then-Preisdent Obama during the 2016 campaign. Though Nunes said he would recuse himself from the committee’s examination of the alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives until the ethics committee closed its investigation in December, he continued to do the administration’s bidding over that time. Former chairman Rogers slammed Nunes, telling CNN last April that he’d have handled things “completely differently.”
In the past few weeks, Nunes and the Republican majority on the committee successfully worked with Trump to release a misleading memo suggesting wrongdoing on the part of intelligence officials investigating the Trump-Russia scandal, on a party-line vote. At the same time, the majority delayed releasing Schiff’s rebuttal memo that purportedly debunked the claims.
Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) slammed Nunes in an op/ed last week for acting “like a partisan hack.” Fox News host Shepard Smith lambasted him in late January for a “partisan mass distraction.” And even Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), who currently services on House Intelligence, told CBS News, “The level of trust and the level of everything down there is — it’s poison. It’s absolute poison down there,” adding that bipartisanship “is gone. It’s gone from that committee.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) told CBS News, “The committee is still redeemable — but not with Devin Nunes as chair.” And the Democratic leadership has urged Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to remove Nunes. But Nunes remains at the helm of the committee responsible for oversight of the nation’s intelligence — and the wall his team is building seems a perfect metaphor for his tenure.