One of the bizarre consequences of the Congressional investigation into the connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia is the media attention given to a banal Republican congressman, Devin Nunes. As the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes has singlehandedly blocked the House investigation into the Trump-Russia affair.
One of the bizarre consequences of the Congressional investigation into the connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia is the media attention given to a banal Republican congressman, Devin Nunes. As the chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Nunes has singlehandedly blocked the House investigation into the Trump-Russia affair. He's doing this because of political ambition.
43-year-old Nunes grew up on a dairy farm in Tulare, California, and earned a Master's degree in Agriculture. In 2001, Nunes entered politics when President Bush appointed him California State Director for the USDA's Rural Development section. In 2003, Nunes became Congressman for what is now California Congressional District 22, which includes Tulare. By 2010, Nunes was recognized as a rising Republican star; Time Magazine named him one of their "40 civic leaders under 40," characterizing Nunes as an ambitious "farm boy." Nunes admitted, "I like Agriculture," adding that if left politics, "I would be making wine and cheese." (Nunes' family owns a huge Tulare farm and Nunes lives nearby.)
Given his rural background, it's remarkable how quickly Devin Nunes has risen up the Republican food chain. Many attribute this to his book, "Restoring the Republic," published in 2010 by WND Books. In the 165 page polemic, Nunes staked out a far-right perspective, notably on environmental policy, describing Environmental lobbyists as "followers of neo-Marxist, socialist, Maoist or Communist ideals" and characterizing global-warming claims as "hysteria" spread by a "Doomsday cult."
In 2010, when Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, Nunes became a member of the prestigious House Committees on Intelligence and Ways and Means. In January of 2015, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asked Nunes to become chair of the Intelligence Committee. (Nunes and Ryan are close friends.)
Many attribute Nunes rapid ascent to his connection to Joseph Farah, founder of the right-wing website WND (World Net Daily). The Southern Poverty Law Center characterized WND as "devoted to manipulative fear-mongering and outright fabrications designed to further the paranoid, gay-hating, conspiratorial and apocalyptic visions of Farah and his hand-picked contributors from the fringes of the far-right and fundamentalist worlds." WND was a primary promoter of the "birther" cause: "Concerns whether President Obama is a 'natural-born' U.S. citizen, originally stirred up by WND columnist Jerome Corsi.... [who] was also the architect of the 'Swift boating' of John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign." (The WND bookstore features titles such as, "Stop the Islamization of America.")
Before the Republican convention, Nunes became an "informal" Trump adviser on national-security issues. After the presidential election, Nunes became a member of the Trump transition executive committee, where he worked closely with NSA-designee Michael Flynn. (Recently, The Washington Post quoted Nunes recalling that during the transition he was fielding calls from foreign leaders and ambassadors who were trying to reach Flynn.)
In May of 2016, Donald Trump held a fundraiser in Fresno, next to Nunes' congressional district; in August Trump appeared at another fundraiser in Tulare, Nunes' home town, and raised $1.3 million. At the Fresno event, Trump claimed, "There is no [California] drought," continuing, "We're going to solve your water problem... It is so ridiculous where they're taking the water and shoving it out to sea to save a certain kind of three-inch fish." Trump's comments were verbatim quotes from Nunes. In fact, Trump seems to be echoing Nunes' thoughts on environmental policy, in general.
Since the presidential election, Nunes has been an important member of Trump's team. On February 13, 2017, Congressman Nunes defended Trump's National Security Adviser Mike Flynn: "It just seems like there's a lot of nothing there... There is no question that Flynn has been a change agent " which is why I believe Trump likes him." A few hours later, Flynn resigned. Nunes responded by calling another press conference to promise that he would lead an investigation into had who leaked Flynn's phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.
There are three reasons why Nunes defends Trump:
1. It's what he was trained to do: Like his friend Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes has spend his adult life in politics. Instead of working in the family farming business, with his brothers Gerald and Anthony Junior, Devin became a professional Republican. Early on, Nunes was groomed by Joseph Farah and other right-wing zealots.
2. He followed the money: Nunes has been an unusually effective Republican fundraiser. Open Secrets reports that in 2015-16, Nunes raised $2.4M and spent only $1.3M; at the end of 2016, his campaign committee had $3,177,900 on hand. (Nunes' fundraiser for Trump raised $1.3 million from 250 farmers.)
As a member of the House of Representatives, Devin Nunes makes $174,000 per year. Nunes' tax returns have not been made public but he claims to have a net worth of $51,000 including a $50,000 share in a winery and an undisclosed amount at WND books. (Nunes did not declare his Tulare residence or his interest in the family farming business.)
3. He wants to run for Senate in 2018. In California, it's an open secret that Devin Nunes plans to run for Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat in the midterm election.
Improbably, Devin Nunes, a small-town farm boy has become a national political player. But in doing so, he has tied his career to that of Donald Trump. Therefore, whatever scandal hits Trump will certainly impact Nunes. Like most Congressional Republicans, Nunes doesn't care about what's in the national interest, he's only interested in furthering his career.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.