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Editorial: Devin Nunes doesn’t even belong in the vicinity of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Rep. Devin Nunes listens March 20, 2017, during a hearing on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) listens on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 20, 2017, during the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
(Associated Press)

It’s more than a little ironic that President Trump has decided to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to, of all people, a California congressman who has spent the last few years attacking some of the United States’ most fundamental freedoms — namely, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

But, then again, nothing should surprise us in these last few days of the Trump administration, when the outgoing one-term president has used awards, pardons and other presidential prerogatives to reward his allies and score political points.

Still, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is hardly a worthy recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award given to men and women who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. It is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

What was Nunes’ especially meritorious contribution? He made himself one of Trump’s most ardent and outlandish defenders in Congress. Parroting the president’s conspiracy theories, Nunes used his position on the Intelligence Committee to try to undermine its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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The White House announcement Monday only continued to spout the president’s deep-state fever dreams. Nunes “uncovered the greatest scandal in American history,” and his “courageous actions helped thwart a plot to take down a sitting United States president,” the administration declared.

No wonder Trump became so fond of Nunes. The congressman was a low-key farmer-friendly legislator until Trump came along. Nunes embraced the Trump playbook by attacking people and organizations who deigned to criticize him, and he’s since filed more than half a dozen frivolous lawsuits to thwart critics.

He sued Twitter for enabling users to mock and berate him, including a parody account purporting to be from his cow. He sued McClatchy, which owns the Fresno Bee, for publishing stories during the 2018 campaign about a controversial yacht party associated with a winery he had invested in. He sued writer Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines over an article that revealed that the Nunes family farm had moved to Iowa. He sued CNN and the Washington Post for stories they’d published about him. He sued three of his constituents for trying in vain to remove Nunes’ chosen identifier (“farmer”) from the 2018 ballot.

Thankfully, the lawsuits have been largely dismissed or dropped. Rather than trying to address real injuries, Nunes has used the courts to try to silence legitimate reporting and his detractors, who have a right to criticize their elected leaders. Some might even say that these are important freedoms that are central to the United States’ national interests.

Past recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom have included Martin Luther King Jr., polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Nobel Prize-winning writer Elie Wiesel and Rosa Parks, along with scores of athletes, entertainers and political figures.

Certainly, Trump isn’t the first president to hand out presidential medals to his political allies. President Obama gave one to his vice president, Joe Biden. But among the men and women that presidents have chosen to honor, Nunes is in a class of his own. And not in a good way.


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