Democrats and allies in the media are ramping up a smear campaign against House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) ahead of the release of the memo detailing alleged misconduct by senior Justice Department and FBI officials.
MSNBC analyst John Heilemann asked two Democratic lawmakers in separate interviews on Tuesday whether Nunes was “compromised by the Russians” or a “Russian agent.”
“I want to ask you a question that under almost any other circumstances would be ridiculous and absurd, but under these circumstances I think is actually warranted,” Heilemann asked Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).
“Is it possible that the Republican chairman of the House intel committee has been compromised by the Russians? Is it possible that we actually have a Russian agent running the House intel committee on the Republican side?”
Murphy responded there was “no information to suggest that it is” the case. Heilemann continued with an unfounded smear, based on unnamed “people in the intelligence community.”
“[Nunes is] behaving like someone who’s been compromised, and there are people in the intelligence community, and others with great expertise in this area, who look at him and say, ‘That guy’s been compromised,'” he said.
Heilemann later asked Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, the same question. Swalwell did not take the bait either, simply saying it seemed like Nunes was just trying to help the president’s case.
The tactic was reminiscent of Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook first suggesting on-air in July 2016 that Trump was colluding with Russia.
The attacks against Nunes are expected to get even worse, as the memo nears release, which is expected to happen this week or next.
On Tuesday, “sources” told The Daily Beast that Nunes “refused to answer” when a colleague asked him during a closed committee meeting if he had coordinated with the White House on the memo.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), made the same allegation during a CNN interview that evening.
“And when one of our members, Mike Quigley, asked the chairman, yesterday, whether he or his staff had been in communication and contact and coordination with the White House in the preparation of this memo, he wouldn’t answer the questions. And that, I think, is also quite telling,” he said.
A transcript of the meeting released to the public later showed that Nunes did in fact answer the question.
Here's the full exchange between Quigley and Nunes that formed the basis for that Daily Beast report since there's some selective screenshotting going on. pic.twitter.com/pUJvHZvkN4
— Kyle Feldscher (@Kyle_Feldscher) January 31, 2018
Over the past year, Democrats and media outlets have incessantly repeated false claims about Nunes.
One claim is that Nunes had recused himself from his committee’s probe into Russian meddling and whether the Trump campaign colluded, but still continued to involve himself. In fact, Nunes never recused himself from the probe, just from leading it.
Another claim is that Nunes had to recuse himself because he was acting in a partisan manner. In fact, Nunes recused himself after progressive groups filed an ethics complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics that accused him of disclosing classified information.
Nunes was cleared of any ethical violations on December 7, 2017.
The smears against Nunes began after he revealed in March 2017 that the intelligence community had swept up members of the Trump transition team while collecting information about foreign targets, and that information was widely disseminated throughout the government, with their names unmasked.
Nunes’s announcement supported President Trump’s assertion that Trump Tower had been wiretapped.
The chairman told Fox News he felt it was his duty and obligation to let the president know what had happened.
“It’s clear that I would be concerned if I was the president, and that’s why I wanted him to know, and I felt like I had a duty and obligation to tell him because, as you know, he’s taking a lot of heat in the news media,” he said.
After that, Schiff began accusing Nunes of trying to distract from the Russia probe and help the president. He and other Democrats have also attacked the memo as part of that effort and have labeled it the “Nunes memo” in an effort to discredit it as his own work.
The memo is a four-page summary written by Republican staffers on the committee, based on what they and lawmakers learned through its Russia probe, and from DOJ and FBI documents. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a former federal prosecuter, played a key role in vetting it.
It reportedly exposes how senior DOJ and FBI used the unverified Trump dossier as part of their justification to obtain a surveillance warrant on Trump campaign member Carter Page. It reportedly exposes how those senior officials misled the secret court granting the warrant on what the dossier really was — anti-Trump opposition research funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
All Republicans on the House intelligence committee voted last week to release it to all members of the House, and during the meeting on Monday voted to release it to the public. The president has up to five days to object to its release.
Democrats have drafted their own memo refuting what the Republicans’ memo says. The committee unanimously voted on Monday to make that available to all members of the House, as with the previous memo, and could vote to release it to the public later.
The story has been corrected to reflect the Daily Beast story published on Tuesday not Wednesday, and that Nunes was cleared Dec. 7, 2017, not Dec. 7, 2016.