Published by The Lawfare Institute
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The furor over the classified memo prepared by House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes has reached a fever pitch now that the memo has been released. The memo has become a matter of great partisan contention in recent weeks―as has the congressman behind it. But this is not the first time that Nunes's behavior has been called into question. Rather, this caps more than a year of unusual behavior from him—behavior that caused consternation from his colleagues in both parties, as well as the intelligence community.
We thought it would be useful to list that behavior all in one place. So we put together a timeline.
Nunes served relatively quietly on the Trump transition team, first drawing attention for comments and behavior that cast doubt on the impartiality of his committee’s Russia probe. In the spring of 2017, following the president accusation that Trump had been wiretapped by the previous administration, Nunes held a series of unusual press conferences in which he expressed concern over improper “unmasking” of Trump transition officials. After reporters discovered that Nunes had received from the White House the “unmasking” information on which he claimed to have briefed the president, Democrats and watchdogs organizations raised concerns over Nunes’s leadership that forced him to informally recuse himself from the House intelligence committee’s Russia investigation. Nunes recused himself from the HPSCI probe pending a House ethics investigation, which cleared him in December 2017.
Nunes returned to the public eye in mid-January 2018, when he announced that his staff had prepared a classified memo documenting alleged government abuses of surveillance authority. Pursuant to a procedure detailed in House rules, the memo was released to the public following signoff from the intelligence committee Republicans and the president. Committee Democrats, led by Ranking Member Adam Schiff, have repeatedly expressed their concerns over the memo’s veracity and described it as “highly distorted spin.” The FBI has also expressed concern “about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Below is a timeline of Nunes’s actions regarding the Russia investigation, as well as possible abuse by law enforcement and intelligence officials in that connection. The statements come from reports in major news organizations, press conferences and releases by Nunes himself.
Nov. 11, 2016: Nunes announces his appointment to the Trump transition team, advising on the appointments of cabinet members and other administration leadership.
Feb. 27, 2017: The Guardian reports on evidence that Michael Flynn had communicated with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. In response, Nunes gives a statement to reporters saying:
As of right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls … That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I don’t have that. And what I’ve been told by many folks is that there’s nothing there ... I want to be very careful that we can’t just go on a witch-hunt against Americans because they appear in news stories.
In response to Nunes’s statement, Schiff gives a counter-press conference criticizing Nunes for disclosing information: “When you begin an investigation, you don’t begin by stating what you believe to be the conclusion.”
March 4, 2017: Trump posts a series of tweets alleging surveillance of his communications by the previous administration:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017