Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is obstructing the ongoing federal investigation into possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election, says the front-runner in the race to unseat the embattled local Republican representative.
Nunes, says Andrew Janz, long-time prosecutor for the Fresno District Attorney’s office and a Democratic challenger for the 22nd District seat, has also been paid to muddy the waters.
As chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is currently looking into the possibility members of Trump’s campaign worked with agents of the Russian government to illegally influence the outcome of the US presidential election in Trump’s favor, Nunes has final say on who will be subpoenaed to appear before that investigative body.
Recently, Nunes has refused to grant subpoena requests by Democratic members of the Intel Committee, despite his promise to remove himself from his role in the investigation after the House Ethics Committee began its own investigation of Nunes for his possible mishandling of classified materials last spring. Nunes was cleared of wrongdoing last month.
Nunes’ refusal to act, says Janz, amounts to an obstruction of the investigation.
“Nunes has been sitting on a number of subpoenas, and it looks like the Democrats are going to have to file a minority report,” Janz said. “That conduct sounds, from a prosecutor’s perspective, like obstruction of justice. Many legal experts agree on that too.”
The Intel Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, said Nunes is setting a “troubling double-standard” with his conduct. He points to accusations by Fusion GPS, the firm responsible for the so-called Steele Dossier, that Nunes leaked or allowed to be leaked information about that company’s banking records. Nunes has since refused to sign subpoenas demanding Trump’s banking records that could reveal his and his companies’ Russian associations.
Nunes and the Steele Dossier
It has now come to light that Nunes accepted donations at the maximum federally-allowed level from the man who originally commissioned the anti-Trump report that surfaced just before the 2016 election.
In April and again in June of 2015, Nunes received donations from Paul Singer, founder and CEO of the Elliott Management Group and publisher of the Washington Free Beacon, of $5,400 total.
Singer was the original funding source for Fusion GPS as it compiled its long list of disturbing accusations against Trump.
The same Democrats who accuse Nunes of bias say he is also running his own side investigation in a thinly veiled attempt to tarnish the reputations of the Department of Justice and the FBI. Most recently, Fusion GPS has become a target for Nunes, as he attempts to link it to the ongoing federal investigation. Janz says as a seasoned prosecutor he knows what Nunes is doing.
“What Nunes is trying to do is create misinformation, and (he’s) using the Dossier as a basis to investigate the FBI,” says Janz. “What he’s basically trying to do in a nutshell is allege the Steele Dossier is the basis for Robert Mueller’s investigation in the Trump administration’s collusion with Russia.”
Nunes ‘Paid Off’
The situation is more suspicious in the context of Republicans first funding research that led to the Steele Dossier, and even more so in light of donations from the man who initiated it directly to Nunes, who is now overseeing the investigatory committee.
“But we know the from multiple sources it (the Steele Dossier) was not the basis (of the investigation into Trump and Russia), and they [federal investigators] were using it to confirm information they already had,” Janz said. “People forget that Republican operatives were the original funders of the Fusion dossier. They did it because they didn’t want Trump to be their nominee.”
Because of Nunes’ ties to the origins of the Steele Dossier, Janz said he is ethically bound to completely remove himself from any official look into possible collusion between Trump and Russian agents, as well as any conspiracy to conceal it after the fact.
“He must now recuse himself from this investigation because he was paid off by the person who originally paid for this dossier,” Janz said.
Nunes’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
Heat from Both Sides
Nunes’ behavior is now drawing criticism from members of both major parties, as he appears to be gearing up for an attack on federal investigators.
“At this point, it seems the DoJ and the FBI need to be investigating themselves,” Nunes wrote last week in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, describing what he appears to believe is widespread recalcitrance, corruption, and perhaps a conspiracy. “Unfortunately, Doj/FBI’s intransigence with respect to the August 24 subpoenas is part of a broader pattern of behavior that can no longer be tolerated.”
His sentiments have unsettled members of his own party.
“I’m interested in getting access to the information and not the drama, said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) when Nunes said he intended to issue contempt of Congress citations to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Rosenstein.
Nunes’ stance amounts to an attack on his own party’s policies and appointees, which he once supported, says Janz.
“Everybody needs to be reminded the Department of Justice is completely controlled by Republican appointees,” Janz said. “We have [Special Counsel] Robert Mueller, who is a distinguished prosecutor, who was praised by everyone, including my opponent.”
Even Donald Trump, in an interview last week with the New York Times, said he expects Mueller is “going to be fair.”
Disrespect for Law Enforcement
Janz says Nunes’ behavior is in line with the lack of respect for law-enforcement agencies by the GOP since Trump took office.
He finds it hard to believe the DoJ and FBI are working against Republicans, as the same agencies were investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while they were looking into Trump’s possible Russian connections.
“A week before the election they [the FBI] released information they were investigating her [Clinton],” Janz said. “That was going on at the same time [as the Trump-Russia investigation], so any idea the DoJ is working for the left or whatever is nonsense.”
He is also dissatisfied with the Trump administration’s response to the FBI’s foiling of a terrorist plot to explode a car bomb in San Francisco last month.
“This guy was going to drive a car full of explosives through Pier 39. Complete radio silence on the issue,” Janz said. “As a law-enforcement official I find that very disrespectful to our officers on the front line. Very shameful. We didn’t get a peep out of Trump about it.”
Meanwhile, Nunes has introduced legislation that would expand the ability of the NSA to gather information. FISA Section 702 was set to expire at the end of December, but Nunes has introduced a bill that will not only allow the agency to continue its policies of widespread intelligence gathering, but to expand them as well.
Section 702 allows the NSA to collect all Americans’ communications and the records in bulk.
The information collected is then made available to other investigatory agencies without a warrant in a so-called “backdoor search.”
Nunes’ bill would also allow collection of information from people who discuss a topic of interest to the NSA, regardless of their connection to the events, people or incidents. “About” collections, as the practice is known, can include the records of people who have only read about a topic in the news.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have called the bill “a dangerous expansion of the government’s ability to spy on US citizens.”
GOP Presence Shrinking
Nunes’ actions and his lack of them, as he continues to make himself unavailable to his constituents, are putting Republicans across the state in jeopardy of losing their jobs.
According to the Cook Political Report, all 14 Republican congressmen from California are at risk of losing their 2018 midterm reelection campaigns, or at least of losing much of their traditional support base.
Topping Cook’s list of “Republicans in Pro-Dem/Anti-Trump Trending Districts” are David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Nunes.
Cook’s describes the election for the District 22 seat “highly competitive” in 2018.
They also note the wider move away from the GOP in California predates the Trump administration, saying voters in the Golden State have “been trending away from the GOP for a while now.”
That trending away is being made manifest for Nunes in the form of an online petition calling for him to end his “secret and Republican-only” investigation of the DoJ and FBI. The petition, hosted on the MoveOn.org website, has already gathered more than 1,600 signatures.
Meanwhile, Janz reports money is flowing in faster to his campaign coffers, with a sharp rise in financial support in the last quarter.