It’s a bad day for Republican Representative Devin Nunes, as not only did he have to step aside from leading the House Intel investigation into his own behavior and President Trump’s campaign in regards to Russia, but it was just confirmed that he is under investigation as well for possible unauthorized disclosures of classified information.
The House Committee on Ethics sent a letter Thursday, confirming that Nunes is under investigation.
Here’s the statement of the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Ethics Regarding Representative Devin Nunes:
Apr 6, 2017
Pursuant to Committee Rule 7(g), the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Ethics (Committee) determined to release the following statement:
The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct. The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), is investigating and gathering more information regarding these allegations.
The Committee has determined to investigate these allegations in order to fulfill its institutional obligation, under House Rule X, clause 11(g)(4), to investigate certain allegations of unauthorized disclosures of classified information, and to determine if there has been any violation of the Code of Official Conduct under House Rule XXIII, clause 13. The Committee notes that the mere fact that it is investigating these allegations, and publicly disclosing its review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.
In order to comply with Committee Rule 7 regarding confidentiality, out of fairness to all respondents, and to assure the integrity of its work, the Committee will refrain from making further public statements on this matter pending completion of its initial review.
The Daily Beast‘s Tim Mak explained why this might happen on March 28th, writing, “To add to this pressure, it appears that the chairman may have opened himself up to an ethics investigation by apparently disclosing the existence of a foreign surveillance warrant during a press conference last Tuesday.”
Mak wrote that this rule compels a mandatory investigation into unauthorized disclosures, “’The Committee on Ethics shall investigate any unauthorized disclosure of intelligence or intelligence-related information,’ reads the rule. The key to this rule is the phrase, ‘shall investigate’—a command, rather than a mere suggestion.”
Nunes has told several different stories about the alleged “information” he revealed, which he inaccurately claimed proved President Trump’s baseless accusation against former President Barack Obama. Nunes has said that the information was not related to Russia, but was perhaps incidental collection collected legally under a FISA warrant.
On March 22, Nunes said, “Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration—details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting. I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. To be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”
A FISA warrant is only issued if the people being surveilled are either foreign powers/agents and or may be involved in the commission of a crime. Nunes was first trying to make it seem that Trump et al got swept up in incidental collection, but that didn’t fit the claim President Trump made about Obama wiretapping him.
So then Nunes went so far as to say there were “multiple FISA warrants for Trump.” So that sorta suggested that Trump was being investigated for interacting with foreign spies/hostile foreign powers. This is not the way to cover for your boss. This is the way to paint a big, red, Russian arrow leading to your boss.
Nunes has also suggested the information he revealed was not classified, it was maybe not even incidental collection, but rather people talking about Trump that was collected. So that would not be a FISA warrant, but then that would also not be Obama spying on Trump as Trump claimed. (There is no evidence to suggest that ever happened, and there have been adamant denials that it did. But also logic. If Obama spied on Trump, would he have sat on the info and let Trump win the election? What would be the point of spying if he weren’t going to reveal the info.)
Agencies are not supposed to confirm or deny existence or the non-existence of a FISA warrant, so disclosure of one FISA warrant would be a real problem.
So… murky waters are murky.
The real problem for Nunes isn’t this investigation, but the investigation he just recused himself from. Because Nunes was involved in the Trump transition team, and never should have been leading an investigation that could implicate him. And there is a lot of Russian smoke surrounding the Trump transition team and Trump campaign.
Perhaps a prosecutor could build a case of obstruction right now against Nunes, but even that is small potatoes compared to what could be in the future. The Trump Russia investigations are investigating possible collusion with Russia. It is already known that Russia interfered, in what many see as an act of war against the U.S., in the 2016 election. The big, looming question is did the Trump campaign collude with Russia to this end. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that they did.
But the smoking gun would be proof that the Trump team offered something in exchange for Russia’s interference on Trump’s behalf.
It’s possible that Nunes saw something collected under a FISA warrant that implicated the Trump team, and possibly even himself. This would explain his bizarre, frenzied run to the White House with information that they would have already had — unless it involved them. That is only conjecture, but it would mean that Nunes did disclose unauthorized classified information.
No matter how this shakes out, Nunes being investigated for his Hail Mary attempt to save Trump from himself is not a good thing for Trump.