On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican from the San Joaquin Valley, took a trip to the White House that made as big a splash as California's recent torrential rains. Even though he is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that is investigating links between Russia and members of President Trump's campaign team, Nunes chose to share intelligence reports with the president before he shared them with members of his committee.
Democrats went ballistic saying Nunes had acted improperly, raising serious questions about his ability to lead an independent, bipartisan investigation. Observers with deep ties to the intelligence community said it was unprecedented for someone in the key position Nunes holds to so brashly share sensitive information with a person who is the object of an inquiry.
Another Californian, U.S. Rep. Adam B. Schiff from Burbank, is the ranking Democrat on the House committee. Speaking to reporters in his usual calm, ex-prosecutor's voice, Schiff said, "The chairman will either need to decide if he's leading an investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both."
In comments outside the West Wing after he met with Trump, Nunes said he had told the president that communications from members of his transition team had been inadvertently intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies. Fox News jumped on this as evidence confirming Trump's recent tweet that accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower. Despite Fox's quick leap to shill for Trump, Nunes' statement actually undercut Trump's charge by making clear that, not only was the surveillance inadvertent, it was also legal.
Unsurprisingly, Fox, the reliable mouthpiece for the GOP, is reflecting the pervasive denial that is making a lot of Republicans look like quaking little boys whistling past a spooky graveyard. They seem quite desperate to pretend there is nothing scary about the FBI's probe into contacts between Trump surrogates and Russian intelligence operatives at a time when the Russians were hacking their way into the American presidential election to do damage to Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Earlier this week when FBI Director James B. Comey appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, GOP members arrived at the hearing with an orchestrated series of questions focusing not on the Russian attack on American democracy but on leaks from within government agencies that helped expose connections between Trump's people and the Russians. They looked more than a little silly chasing this line of inquiry after Comey dropped a bombshell by acknowledging that his agency is conducting an "active investigation" into the Trump-Russia links.
Trump apologists are also making themselves look ridiculous by continuing to insist that Paul Manafort, who headed the Trump campaign for a period that included the Republican National Convention, was somehow a marginal figure in Trump's run for the White House. He was far from peripheral and, according to convention delegates on the platform committee, it was he who engineered the removal of a plank in the platform that called for sending arms to Ukraine in support of that country's fight against Russian military aggression. Wednesday, the story about Manafort's cozy relationship with Russia blew up again with the revelation that Manafort at one time had a multi-million dollar contract with a Russian oligarch who is part of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle — a deal in which, according to an Associated Press report, Manafort promised to provide services that would "greatly benefit the Putin government."
The more Republicans try to protect their president by downplaying the very curious and apparently very frequent contacts between Russians and Trump campaigners, the more it looks as if they are willingly aiding a coverup. They would do well to stop collaborating and start following the lead of their 2008 presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain is now calling for a select committee to take over the investigation. He sees that as a necessary step toward uncovering the impartial truth.
It will be difficult for other Republicans to argue against McCain now that Nunes has so badly compromised his committee's work by trotting off to share secrets with Trump.