Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, appears to have moved from criticizing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election to strategizing about how to blunt its impact should it imperil President Donald Trump.
The most promising instrument in this effort, he suggested in unfiltered remarks last month, is retaining a GOP-controlled Congress.
Even if he had been speaking publicly, the eight-term Republican might not have chosen his words differently. He is an adamantly pro-Trump lawmaker who in February released a memorandum accusing the intelligence community of conspiring against the president. In May, he sought documents from the Justice Department – as part of his investigation into the law enforcement officials leading the Russia inquiry – that senior intelligence officials maintained could expose a top source and endanger lives.
But it was in private, at a closed-door fundraiser for a Republican colleague, that Nunes took the new step of tying the investigation to the midterm elections this fall. In comments captured in an audio recording aired Wednesday by “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Nunes laid out in stark terms the rationale for preserving the GOP majority in Congress.
“If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones, which is really the danger,” Nunes said at an event for Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, referring to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Sessions said last year that he would keep his distance from inquiries related to the 2016 election owing to his role in Trump’s campaign – a move that has frustrated the president, leading him to blame his own attorney general for the “Russian Witch Hunt Hoax.”
“I mean, we have to keep all these seats,” Nunes added. “We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”
He seemed to suggest that congressional Republicans formed the last line of defense against potential fallout from the probe into Russian election meddling. He called this a “classic Catch-22 situation,” appearing to confuse a “tough spot” – also his words – with a situation in which contradictory conditions make escape impossible.
Maddow said on her show that the tape was made by a progressive organization called Fuse Washington that paid for entrance into the fundraiser, held on July 30 in Spokane, Washington. A spokesman for Nunes didn’t return a request for comment sent late Wednesday by The Washington Post.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Isaac Stanley-Becker