Devin Nunes is, pardon the insult, a useful idiot in the political realm. He’s been in Congress fourteen years and still doesn’t understand how politics works. He seems to only be the head of the highly politicized House Intelligence Committee because both parties think they can walk all over him as needed. And as the stakes got higher on Trump-Russia this week, someone appears to have decided that Nunes was more useful as a sacrificial lamb.
That’s why Nunes was just baited into committing career suicide. Someone fed him some fairly generic information through unofficial channels which, depending on whether you believe it’s true or not, was either classified intel or falsified evidence. Either way, Nunes committed obstruction of justice when he took the evidence to Donald Trump, the target of a relevant ongoing FBI investigation. And if it was real intel, then he leaked classified information by announcing it to the media afterward.
In real time, we watched the political career of Devin Nunes go up in flames. Suddenly he’s such toast that even Republican Senator John McCain is calling for the investigation to be taken away from Nunes’ committee, while Republican pundit Joe Scarborough is calling for the party to take Nunes’ chair position away entirely. And that’s nothing compared to what Democrats are saying about him. But someone fed him this info, and it was someone with an agenda. Someone was baiting Nunes into destroying himself so that yesterday’s sequence of events would play out in the manner it did. The question is who.
This was probably a good day for the Democrats by default, but even the most cynical view doesn’t point to any motivation for the Democrats to have set Nunes up like this. Monday’s hearings proved that they were already having their way with him, because even though he clearly wanted to protect Trump, he had no idea how to prevent the Democrats from using the hearings to decimate him. Even if Nunes now recuses himself, the Republicans would still hold a 12-9 majority on the committee. And the Democrats have no way of predicting which of the Republicans the GOP might choose as the new chair, so if they did take out Nunes, they could end up with a more competent opponent. Ranking member Adam Schiff wouldn’t resort to this kind of two-bit villainy to begin with, and even if he did inexplicably go rogue, this would be too messy and unpredictable of a strategy to be worth pursuing for someone as savvy as him.
There’s also the bizarre revelation that politically savvy Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan essentially egged Nunes on when it came to delivering the intel to Trump. That tells us Ryan probably played a role in the Trump-Russia conspiracy that we don’t yet know about. But Ryan couldn’t have predicted that Nunes would come running to him asking for advice.
That leaves the question of whether Donald Trump (or one of the devious thinkers pulling his strings such as Steve Bannon) decided that Nunes was worth sacrificing just to create a much needed distraction. Trump’s White House tipped its hand on Monday that it was suddenly worried about the campaign’s close association with Paul Manafort, and on Wednesday morning we learned why: the longtime rumors about Manafort taking millions of dollars from the Kremlin were finally proven true.
So on some level yesterday’s prevailing headline ended up being “Devin Nunes is an idiot and he just threw his career away” instead of “Paul Manafort is a Russian traitor and Donald Trump may have been conspiring with him.” But is Trump’s team really desperate enough to sacrifice one of its most pawns in Congress just for a single-day partial distraction that may have only served to make the Trump-Russia scandal worse in the long run?
It’s difficult to parse just who baited Devin Nunes. But logically speaking, someone had to have. Despite not knowing how to walk and chew gum at the same time, Nunes had managed to go fourteen years without tripping over himself and falling down a political well. Yet today he inexplicably doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire because he thought he was doing the smart or loyal thing. Longtime useful idiots don’t suddenly become fatally ambitious unless they’ve been baited into doing so. It’s just a matter of who was willing to sacrifice him. Contribute to Palmer Report
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Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report