Already at the center of national controversy, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is drawing even greater criticism on the local front as the GOP-controlled House Intel Committee voted this week to release a controversial memo penned by Nunes.
Critics–including those running to unseat him, local political advocates, and a prominent county official–claim Nunes is acting recklessly, showing undue partisanship, and threatening the nation’s security by claiming the FBI and the Department of Justice acted inappropriately in the ongoing investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.
“It’s a move that derails Congress, the press and all of us as citizens from focusing on all that does need the country’s attention and solutions,” said Valerie Ehrlich, a spokeswoman for South Valley Civics.
Ever Hotter Water
Controversy surrounding Nunes began when the congressman was forced to remove himself from his role as head of the Intel Committee after it was revealed he may have inappropriately shared classified data with the Trump White House.
Nunes later lied to the press about his involvement in the exchange, leading to an ethics investigation that concluded in late 2017.
While claiming to have distanced himself from the work of the Intel Committee while the investigation of his behavior was ongoing, Nunes continued to be involved behind the scenes, running a parallel, but seemingly partisan investigation.
Nunes apparently sent staff members to England to contact Chris Steele, a former British intelligence agent who penned a dossier alleging Trump is vulnerable to blackmail by Russian agents.
Nunes also issued subpoenas demanding documents from the FBI and the DOJ, leading him to accuse the agencies of partisan corruption, and threatening to hold officials from those agencies in contempt of Congress.
Poisoning the Well
Political leaders from the opposite side of the aisle, as well as pundits from many major national news outlets say the so-called “Nunes memo” is an attempt to discredit investigators from those agencies and derail the investigation into collusion between Russian agents and the Trump campaign.
“It’s a brainwashing memo,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Castro Valley) told MSNBC, following the vote to release the four-page document. “Its only purpose is to poison the well of the members who would have to hold the president accountable if he were to fire (Special Council Robert) Mueller by tainting their perception of the FBI.”
Andrew Janz, a violent crimes prosecutor in Fresno County and Visalia native who is seeking the seat Nunes now holds, goes a step further, calling Nunes’ actions a threat to the safety of all Americans.
“Devin Nunes is a national security risk,” Janz said. “He has no business having a security clearance, let alone the job of leading the House Intelligence Committee.”
Janz is calling on Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) to remove Nunes from his role as Intel Committee chair. He pulled no punches.
“If Devin Nunes wants to continue attacking law enforcement and cover up the Russia investigation by crafting a fake narrative to protect the president, I suggest that he join the other 30 Republicans who have already announced retirements so he can take a job with Fox News as a Trump defender,” Janz said.
Meanwhile, the grassroots movement to push Nunes out of office shows no signs of slowing.
This week marked the first anniversary of weekly protests outside Nunes’ Clovis office.
Naming Nunes “an embarrassment to the voters of the 22nd Congressional District,” the Every Tuesday Vigil takes place at noon at Clovis Avenue and Third Street.
In Visalia, South Valley Civics continues to hold Nunes Watch Rallies outside Nunes’ Visalia office at Church and Main streets on the final Tuesday of each month.
“Nunes not only does not communicate in any meaningful way with his constituents,” Ehrlich said, “but he engages in reckless, dangerous activities that stand to undercut the laws, procedures and protections of this nation.”
The next Nunes Watch Rally will be 11:20am on Tuesday, February 20.
Local Power Shift
Members of the GOP, including Nunes, have long depended on unwavering support from Tulare County’s power base, including most officials, appointed and elected, but there are signs a shift is underway.
“He (Nunes) has shown a shockingly ‘un-independence’ in investigating the possibility of Russian interference in the US presidential election,” said one prominent Tulare County official who asked for anonymity to avoid fallout. “The Congress should be independent, and he’s acted in an extreme partisan manner.”
This attitude is reflected in recent poll numbers, which show Nunes leading any Democratic opponent by just 5 points. That compares to the more than 26 points Nunes won by in 2016.
That shift may reflect the increasingly widespread notion among his detractors that Nunes does not represent the best interest of his constituents or possess the independence expected of a congressman.