Who is the man behind the memo?
Before President Trump was inaugurated a little more than a year ago, few Americans had heard of Devin Nunes.
But with his leading role in the Trump-Russia probe over the past year and with the imminent release of a four-page document he spearheaded that is said to allege politically motivated intelligence abuses “worse than Watergate,” the 44-year-old Republican congressman from California’s San Joaquin Valley is in the spotlight.
As WND reported Thursday, a senior administration official told reporters President Trump has read the memo and plans to hand it back to the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Nunes on Friday for release.
The Republican staff report is said to include text messages from FBI agent Peter Strzok – the agent who led the probe of Hillary Clinton’s server and was fired from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe for anti-Trump bias – that indicate the so-called “Steele dossier” was used to obtain FISA warrants to spy on Trump campaign officials.
While the eight-term congressman has earned praise from many of his colleagues for doggedly pursuing alleged corruption by members of the intelligence community and federal officials, he’s become a lightning rod for his colleagues across the aisle.
The biggest paper in his district hometown newspaper has joined with Democrats in calling him a “Trump stooge,” charging he’s trying to deflect attention from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to win the 2016 election.
The editorial board of the Fresno Bee asked: “What, pray tell, does Rep. Devin Nunes think he’s doing by waving around a secret memo attacking the FBI, the nation’s premier law enforcement agency? He certainly isn’t representing his Central Valley constituents or Californians, who care much more about health care, jobs and, yes, protecting Dreamers than about the latest conspiracy theory.”
The top Democrat on the House intel panel, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has called the Republican report “misleading and inaccurate,” and Wednesday night he claimed edits were made to the document since it was approved for release by the committee.
Republicans contend the Democrats were aware of the changes. They say some edits were requested by Democrats for clarity, the FBI asked for some for security reasons, and there were minor grammatical corrections.
Nevertheless, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter Thursday to Speaker Paul Ryan demanding he remove Nunes as chairman.
“Chairman Nunes’ deliberately dishonest actions make him unfit to serve as Chairman, and he must be immediately removed from this position,” Pelosi insisted.
In addition, the FBI has issued a statement expressing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
WND contacted Nunes for this story, but he is not doing media interviews at the moment.
In a statement, he reacted to the FBI’s complaint.
“Having stonewalled Congress’ demands for information for nearly a year, it’s no surprise to see the FBI and DOJ issue spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies,” he said.
Nunes was backed up by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who told reporters at the Republicans retreat Thursday in West Virginia that the memo is not an indictment of the FBI, the Department of Justice or the Mueller investigation.
He said it’s about “the Congress’ legitimate function of oversight to make sure the FISA process is being used correctly.”
Asked about the objections of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was appointed by Trump, to the release of the memo, Ryan emphasized the power the secret FISA court has over citizens’ civil liberties.
“If there are institutions or individuals who have abused that power, it is our job in Congress to shed light on that and bring transparency to the process,” he said, noting the “vast majority” of FBI employees are “doing a great job.”
“It’s very important that we guard citizens’ civil liberties,” he said.
Cleared by ethics panel
Since 2013, Nunes has represented the 22nd congressional district, which encompasses the San Joaquin Valley, most of western Tulare County and much of eastern Fresno County.
He has served as chairman of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence since 2015 and was a member of President Trump’s transition team.
Last year, his committee began investigating Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. In March, he held a press conference announcing he had evidence communications between members of Trump’s transition team had been “incidentally collected” by the intelligence community.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the committee, criticized Nunes for sharing the information with media and called on him to recuse himself from the investigation.
In April, Nunes temporarily stepped aside from the Trump-Russia investigation while the Office of Congressional Ethics investigated a charge that he improperly disclosed classified information to the public.
Nunes denied the allegation, calling it “entirely false and politically motivated,” and the ethics office later cleared him.
In May 2017, he angered Democrats again by issuing three subpoenas seeking documents about former Obama administration officials who requested the “unmasking,” or identification, of Trump aides incidentally caught up in surveillance recordings.
Prior to the Mueller investigation, Nunes contended there was no need for a select committee, because “at this point, there’s nothing there.”
So far, Mueller has presented no evidence of collusion.
Restoring the republic
In the introduction to his book “Restoring the Republic,” published by WND Books, Nunes cited Thomas Jefferson’s declaration that Americans “are a people capable of self-government, and worthy of it.”
He asked what Jefferson might think of the U.S. government today.
“The Democrats, and even some Republicans, are a lot like Jefferson’s bitter rivals, the Federalists, who supported a powerful central government, weaker states, and diminished individual freedom,” he wrote in 2010.
Nunes said the Democrats “have betrayed Jefferson’s legacy by making their party the home of the radical left, which pursues an authoritarian agenda that has little in common with Jeffersonian democracy.”
He concluded that “the real threat to our Republic” lies in “the convergence of big government, big business, and the radical left in Washington.”
WND CEO Joseph Farah recalled in a recent interview with the New York Times that he first learned about Nunes in 2010 from an old friend, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., who represented a neighboring district and, like Nunes, is a rancher of Portuguese ancestry.
Pombo, who had written a book for WND, told Farah that Nunes had completed a manuscript and wanted it out fast.
They arranged a deal, largely over the phone, and later met at his Capitol office, where they talked for hours.
“He’s very knowledgeable, well-spoken, warm, down to earth, non-officious,” Farah said. “Interestingly, my impression of him was not that he was a firebrand conservative. He seemed to have warm relations back then with the leadership, back when John Boehner was speaker.”
Who will mow the lawns?
In his book, Nunes recalled meeting at the U.S. Capitol on a fall day in 2008 with several high-ranking Treasury Department officials who were lobbying Congress to bail out Wall Street. Under the proposed Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, the government would buy up banks’ toxic assets and supposedly sell them for a profit.
The Treasury officials insisted that without such action, the banks would fail and the economy would collapse.
Nunes, noting he was a lonely voice in opposition to a bill he said nobody had read, was concerned about the practical impact on his district of the government buying up bad mortgages.
He told the officials: “If you can answer one question for me, I will support your bailout.”
An impatient Treasury official replied, “What’s the question, congressman?”
Nunes asked: “When the government buys up these bad loans and takes ownership of empty houses in my district, who will mow the lawns?”
He said the Treasury officials “looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language” but finally confessed, “We don’t know.”
Nunes suggested increasing Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation limits offering temporary loans to banks with a chance of surviving would be a better idea than the government owning banks.
More cows than people
He writes that he grew up in the countryside of the San Joaquin Valley, “where there are more cows than people” and “miles of fields that grow over 300 crops.”
A third-generation dairy farmer, he bought seven head of young cattle at the age of 14 and went into business for himself.
In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him to serve as California state director for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development section.
A fierce defender of farmers, he’s insisted “global warming is nonsense” and criticized the federal government for diverting water into a program for freshwater salmon and the delta smelt.
“There was plenty of water. This has nothing to do with drought.”
He frequently pushes back against media criticism of the agriculture industry, including the charge that farmers use 80 percent of California’s water.
“In reality, 50 percent of the water that is captured by the state’s dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and other infrastructure is diverted for environmental causes,” he said. “Farmers, in fact, use 40 percent of the water supply. Environmentalists have manufactured the 80 percent statistic by deliberately excluding environmental diversions from their calculations.”
As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes was an opponent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated with Iran under President Obama, which granted partial sanctions relief in exchange for supposed limits and monitoring of its nuclear activities.
He oversaw the committee’s investigation into the U.S. response to the 2012 Benghazi attack, which concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing by any Obama administration official. The panel did find that the State Department facility where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith were killed “was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack.”