Now it is Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and embattled chairman of House Intelligence Committee, who recused himself Thursday from his panel’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to meddle in last year’s election.
Shortly after that announcement, the House Ethics Committee announced that Nunes himself was under investigation because of public reports that he “may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
Complaints from watchdog groups to the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is separate from the ethics committee, followed Nunes’ disclosure of information from classified intelligence reports to reporters two weeks earlier.
Trump associates had been swept up in surveillance of foreign officials by American spy agencies during the transition, according to the classified reports Nunes cited. He further stirred up a partisan hailstorm by rushing to the White House to brief Trump and talk to reporters before he briefed other members of his own committee. Democrats were infuriated by a move that showed Nunes to be acting more like a Trump ally than the chairman of a bipartisan investigation.
Even more curious were The New York Times’ revelations that the classified information about incidental surveillance had come from White House officials who had been working on the surveillance probe — and trying to find evidence to support Trump’s outlandish wiretapping tweet.
MORE COMMENTARY: A big, ugly mess that’s going to get uglier.
After secretly viewing classified information at the White House, the Times reported, Nunes made a show of returning to the White House to brief the president and reporters.
The image of Nunes scurrying around town on his own inspired fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to quip, “The problem that he’s created is he’s gone off on a lark by himself, sort of an Inspector Clouseau investigation here.”
That sounds about right. Nunes became a distraction while offering Trump more reasons to make more unsupported accusations. The most notorious was to claim that President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime by seeking the identities of Trump associates who had been incidentally swept up in the surveillance of foreign officials.
Actually there was no evidence that Rice had done anything wrong, although she didn’t help her case much when she told PBS that she knew nothing about the Trump “unmasking” allegations. Later, on MSNBC, she acknowledged her requests for the unmasking but denied any political motives.
Careful, Ms. Rice, before you, too, get snared by the oddball ways of President Donald “The Tweeter” Trump and Washington’s scandal culture.
Rice has long been a target of the right, especially after she, speaking from talking points provided by intelligence services, famously and incorrectly blamed the Benghazi terrorist attack on a video. In Washington’s scandal culture, even if you didn’t do wrong, political partisans will make it sound like you did.
The big question with Rice is whether she requested the names of “masked” Trump associates in her professional capacity, which is expected, or with political motives, which would be illegal. That question may only be resolved by her testifying before Congress, which already has had a parade of Benghazi investigations without turning up the smoking gun that Republicans have been seeking.
I don’t expect an investigation of Rice to turn up anything, either, but I don’t oppose asking her to testify — as long as Congress asks President Trump to testify, too. He’d probably decline, of course, and once again let the troubles that he has stirred up fall on the shoulders of other people.