Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders. He even admitted, during a private fundraiser, that he uses his position as head of the House Intelligence Committee to shield Trump from scrutiny as the ongoing Russia investigation continues to deliver damning evidence.
And to be sure, there’s plenty of damning evidence that Trump needs protection from: Two dozen people, including five in Trump’s inner circle, have been charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
That’s what makes Nunes’ silence this week so conspicuous.
On Tuesday, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. Just hours later, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes, including violating campaign finance law at the direction of Trump.
Some called it the worst day of Trump’s presidency. Others, many of whom have avoided talking about impeachment, said it may be time to start having that discussion. And The Washington Post concluded that after Tuesday, Republicans have no choice but to act.
“Tuesday’s events must bring that partisan abdication of public duty to an end,” the Post declared. “Congress must open investigations into Mr. Trump’s role in the crime Mr. Cohen has admitted to. It is far too soon to say where such inquiries would lead. But legislators cannot in good conscience ignore an alleged co-conspirator in the White House.”
Yet Nunes, the head of one of the most important investigative committees in Congress, has not said a word.
His Twitter feed has gone dark, with the most recent tweet posted on Aug. 18. He hasn’t made any public statements about the news, nor has he given any indication that the intel committee is even considering looking into any of these crimes committed by Trump’s top associates and potentially involving Trump himself.
As head of the House Intel Committee, Nunes has repeatedly and consistently used his position to shield Trump, rather than provide oversight, so it’s not exactly a surprise that he would do the same thing now. That’s particularly true when it comes to Manafort, who seems to present a unique threat to Trump — and who also seems to provoke a unique response from Nunes.
Last year, Nunes infamously bypassed his own committee to go to the White House to “brief” Trump on the status of the House intel investigation, starting a days-long series of events that eventually led to his (sort of) recusal from his role as the committee’s chair. As it was later revealed, the entire thing was a stunt designed to give cover to Trump for lying about being wiretapped.
But just as notable as the event itself was the timing: The initial “briefing” and subsequent press conference called by Nunes took place on the same day that the Associated Press broke a major story about Manafort’s work on behalf of pro-Putin politicians and oligarchs, particularly Oleg Deripaska.
According to the AP story from March 2017, Manafort secretly worked with Deripaska on a confidential plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government” by influencing politics, business deals, and news coverage in the U.S. The White House “attempted to brush the report aside,” the AP reported, “but it quickly raised fresh alarms in Congress about Russian links to Trump associates.”
The charges Manafort was convicted of this week, and the charges he will face next month when he goes to trial again, stem from the work he did for Deripaska and other Putin allies — the work that was revealed on the same day Nunes decided to compromise the entire House intelligence probe to shield Trump by providing a distraction.
The House Intelligence Committee never ended up interviewing Manafort. When Nunes prematurely shut down the probe and released a woefully incomplete report, the committee expressed its concerns over Manafort serving as Trump’s campaign manager — and then promptly declared that there was no wrongdoing and nothing to see here.
Clearly, there was plenty to see, but Nunes just didn’t want to look — and Tuesday’s convictions highlighted, once again, how purposefully incomplete the House intel investigation really was.
The report from Republicans on the House Intelligence committee says Mueller’s indictment of Paul Manafort “illustrates the necessity for U.S. presidential campaigns to better investigate individuals who serve in senior positions.” pic.twitter.com/bTVSlW9hfi
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) April 27, 2018
As for Cohen, Nunes may have good reason for staying quiet about him, too — though he hasn’t always been so tight-lipped when it comes to Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer.
It was reported earlier this year that someone had leaked details about witness testimony from the congressional investigation to Cohen. While Nunes has not been confirmed as the source, all fingers pointed to him, suggesting that he may have provided confidential information to Cohen in an effort to help Trump.
As The Daily Beast noted at the time, “Accusations of improper coordination with the White House have dogged House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), who was part of Trump’s presidential transition team, since the investigation’s inception.”
Clearly, Nunes doesn’t want to talk about Manafort or Cohen, and he doesn’t want to do his job as House intel chair to investigate any potential wrongdoing involving Trump. This explains why, unlike the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Nunes has not mentioned the fact that Cohen may have lied to Congress about the Trump Tower meeting, nor has he given any indication that he plans to bring Cohen back for questioning.
This fits into a pattern of providing cover for uncooperative witnesses by refusing to issue subpoenas for testimony and critical documents, and failing to call witnesses back in for questioning even when evidence shows that key witnesses lied. This was the case with Eric Prince, and it was also the case with Don Jr., who — like Cohen — also appears to have lied to Congress about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Now, once again, Nunes is silent in the face of evidence that contradicts the shoddy House intel report that has already been discredited repeatedly as new revelations have surfaced about everything from a second Trump Tower meeting, to a Trump associate who was in contact with a Russian military intelligence agent, to the Trump campaign’s potential knowledge of hacked emails prior to their release.
While Nunes may want to pretend nothing happened, it didn’t work before and it’s not going to work this time, either. Ironically, his silence is turning out to be the most reliable indicator of the damning evidence he doesn’t want anyone to find.
Listen to Nunes caught on tape confirming conspiracy to impede Russia investigation: