Much of what we now know about the unethical and often illegal behavior of the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency and Department of Justice emerged due to the efforts of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Its chairman during its stunning disclosures has been Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who in turn has been constantly demonized for his efforts.
Yet without the committee’s digging, Americans would not have known that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for an unsubstantiated 2016 dossier on Donald Trump compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
Prior to the committee’s work, we did not know that the FBI and Justice Department used unverified information from the Steele dossier to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing for the surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Without the committee’s disclosures, Americans would not have had any idea that Bruce Ohr, who once ranked fourth in the Department of Justice hierarchy, coordinated opposition research on Trump with Steele, the FBI and Fusion GPS. Ohr took this unethical step because his wife was working for Fusion GPS, a fact that was withheld on federal disclosure forms.
The Nunes-led committee also uncovered the names of prominent FBI and DOJ officials–including James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates–who had approved FISA court warrant applications that were based on the largely discredited Steele dossier.
Most dramatically, we learned that members of the Obama administration had unmasked the names of U.S. citizens swept up in government surveillance. Many of those names were illegally leaked to the press. This disclosure forced former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to confess that they had requested most of the unmaskings. Rice had previously denied it.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence also confirmed that FBI agents had interviewed former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and did not think he had lied to them concerning his contact with a top Russian diplomat.
No one so far has refuted the committee’s findings. Yet Chairman Nunes has become the subject of unprecedented venom, largely because a spate of further embarrassing scandals at the FBI, DOJ and CIA have resulted from his committee’s findings.
Here in California’s Central Valley, progressive reporters and political activists snoop around the farms of Nunes’ relatives, eager to find any information that would be useful in discrediting his chairmanship. They have hunted down his wife, grandmother and uncle in hopes of finding dirt. Reporters have even studied his family’s genealogy going back four generations to accuse him of being too loyal to Portugal.
The local newspaper, The Fresno Bee, suffers from chronic Devin Derangement Syndrome. Almost daily, The Beeruns anonymously sourced stories with headlines implying that Nunes could be treasonous, corrupt or dishonest.
At the national level, the progressive political apparatus has targeted Nunes’ 2018 re-election race and contributed hundreds of thousands of out-of-district campaign dollars to his opponent, Andrew Janz, whom Nunes beat by 26 percentage points in a June primary. (They will square off again in a general election in November.)
The national media has disparaged Nunes, a farmer, as some sort of rustic bumpkin snookered by the Deep State’s Washington, D.C., professionals.
“The match between his backstory and his prominence seems wholly incongruous and helps underscore the perception that Nunes is cavalierly playing at a very high-stakes game while in way over his head,” wrote David Hawkings for Roll Call.
MSNBC analyst Elise Jordan described Nunes as “a former dairy farmer who House intel staffers refer to as ‘Secret Agent Man’ because he has no idea what’s going on.”
“There’s certainly nothing in his résumé that would have qualified him for the post,” wrote Peter Lance in the Huffington Post.
Oddly, California activists have gone to court (unsuccessfully) to sue Nunes for claiming that he is a farmer. Their strange argument is that as a congressman, he no longer actively farms–a silly occupational rationale that would apply to anyone who holds full-time office.
Apparently, the Resistance cannot decide whether to attack Nunes as a fake farmer or an all-too-real farmer.
More ironies abound. Prior to 2016, Nunes was praised by both conservatives and liberals for his warnings to the Obama administration about the dangers from Russian cyber-attacks and meddling in U.S. affairs. Conservatives had taken umbrage at him for opposing House members who wished to shut down the government.
The demonization of Nunes is a window into our times. We hunt for mythical Russian collusion while foreign collusion between Christopher Steele and his Russian sources is ignored. Progressives who claim an affinity for the middle classes demonize farmers as hicks. A supposedly noble press prints fakes news and traces down someone’s long-dead great-grandmother to suggest divided loyalties.
The real question is not why today’s jaded media go to such lengths to slander Nunes, but why they are so afraid of him.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
Editorial on 09/13/2018