Devin Nunes is no Howard Baker and never will be.
California Republican Nunes is chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee looking into the Russian e-mail hacking/influence peddling controversy surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Tennessee Republican Baker was vice chairman of the Select Committee charged with getting to the bottom of the 1972 break-in of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and office complex by a group of White House-funded “plumbers.”
Nunes’ partisan approach to investigating the Russian case makes it necessary for Congress to create a bipartisan panel — much like the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities that probed the 1972 Watergate scandal that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency — to determine the Bully President’s or his campaign associates’ involvement, if any, in the Russian e-mail hacking/influence program.
All it would take is for Republican senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, or John McCain of Arizona, to do what then-Sen. Ted Kennedy did in 1973: offer a resolution to establish a select committee to investigate the 2016 presidential campaign activities, and then have the Senate approve creation of the investigatory body.
Also, Nunes’ recent actions and the GOP’s attempts to brush off any questions about Russian e-mail hacking should encourage U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take a page from the Watergate era and appoint a special prosecutor — think first Archibald Cox, who was fired during the Saturday Night Massacre, then Leon Jaworski as Cox’s replacement — to work with the FBI and the National Security Agency to determine if there’s a criminal case to be brought against members of the Trump administration or his campaign team.
Since Republicans control the legislative and executive branches of government, getting lawmakers to approve a select committee, or getting Sessions — a Trump appointee and acolyte — to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct investigations will be challenging. So let’s back up a minute and look at why implementing Watergate-era investigative techniques are necessary now.
The Nunes, Baker comparison is an essential point in any discussion about the need for a select committee or special prosecutor.
Nunes is trying to focus his committee’s investigation on leaks of classified information to news media outlets instead of figuring out who might have colluded with Russian hackers to influence the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Nunes did this last week during the panel’s first public hearing even after FBI Director James Comey announced that his agency was investigating possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Contrast Nunes’ nonsensical approach at uncovering facts behind the Russian hacking effort to Baker’s actions during the Watergate scandal back in 1973-74. Back then, Baker raised two pointed questions during select committee hearings.
“What did he know; when did he know it?” Baker asked during public hearings on the involvement of Nixon in the 1972 break-in by a group of so-called “plumbers” hired by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP). The purpose of the break-in, as reported by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, was to bug the phone of Larry O’Brien, Democratic National Committee chairman at the time, and to collect political and financial intelligence on the Democrats. It didn’t work. “Tricky Dick” was forced to resign to avoid an impeachment trial.
As for Nunes, he is not only steering his committee’s investigation away from the core issues raised by FBI Director Comey, but is blurring the balance of power lines between the legislative and executive branches of government, created by our Founding Fathers and detailed in our governing document, the U.S. Constitution.
When he got his hands on classified transcripts of phone conversations last week that supposedly included names of influential Americans, instead of sharing this development with his committee, he ran to the White House and informed the Bully President. In his mind, the transcripts were of serious concern to our democracy and supported Trump’s claims from a few weeks ago that former President Obama had “tapped” his phones at Trump Tower.
So far as anyone can tell, the transcripts had nothing to do with the Bully President’s lies about his phones being tapped, or his being the focus of survelliance ordered by his predecessor. The problem here is that no one has seen the documents except Nunes and Trump.
Since only Nunes and the Bully President know what the transcripts contain, there is no way to be certain Nunes didn’t hand over evidence against the president or his associates who are under FBI investigation in the Russian e-mail hacking/election influence probe.
As if that wasn’t enough to out Nunes as a Trump apologist and call into question his ability to manage a bipartisan investigation of the Russian e-mail hacking issue, on Friday he canceled this week’s previously scheduled public hearing at which former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former deputy Attorney General Sally Yates were scheduled to testify. He announced the cancellation at a media briefing outside the White House, not in his congressional office or somewhere on Capitol Hill.
Instead, he intends to hold a closed-door meeting with Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, who testified with the FBI director at last week’s public hearing. Been there, done that. The chance that either of those gentlemen will trust Nunes with additional, sensitive information from their ongoing investigation is slim to none.
So, the Bully President has a fox in the hen house, so to speak, and few influential folks want to deal with the fox in this case.
With all the news media reports concerning the Bully President’s and his associates’ relationships to Russian power brokers, the smoke is getting thick and needs to be penetrated by a bipartisan special committee in Congress and by a special prosecutor appointed by the Department of Justice (no, Sessions should not be involved in that appointment given his possible involvement in the Russian scandal).
It’s time to “Watergate up” and get serious about determining who worked with the Russians to influence our presidential election process — in a blatant attempt to undermine our democracy — and determine when and if any collusion began.