No one really expected President Donald Trump, who benefited from Russia’s 2016 election interference, to counter that hostile regime’s active measures: Russia wanted him to win, and when they hacked, he invited them to hack more.
But America should have been able to rely on a united Congress to ensure that our next elections aren’t just as vulnerable if not moreso. Instead, due to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ persistent and pernicious obstruction, America has been spectacularly let down.
Just last week, hours before the Republican-led House recessed for six weeks, Nunes broke out his shovel yet again to bury even deeper the evidence of Russian interference, once again demonstrating there’s no distance he won’t go to protect this president.
Nunes and committee Republicans had promised that the American people would see our interview transcripts after the investigation was completed. When they abruptly ended the investigation without calling dozens of relevant witnesses, they voted to conceal the transcripts.
Suddenly, last month, Nunes agreed to release them. Perhaps he was worried about the burgeoning campaign of his Democratic opponent — a local prosecutor named Andrew Janz, whose argument to the voters includes powerful evidence of Nunes’ efforts to poison the Russia investigation.
But predictably, at a hearing last week on releasing the transcripts, Nunes still wouldn’t allow real transparency.
Committee Democrats asked to immediately send the transcripts to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who hasn’t been allowed to see them under Nunes’ rules. There’s good reason to believe many witnesses committed perjury or offered information relevant to the special counsel’s work. But Nunes opposed it, and it was voted down.
Committee Democrats then moved to have the transcripts released to the public immediately — after a 10-day intelligence community review — to avoid any selective release or other political manipulation. Again, Nunes opposed this.
This is his modus operandi. Though incomplete due to Republican obstruction, our investigation did reveal worrisome contacts between the Russians and candidate Trump, his family, his businesses, and his campaign. Yet every time we sought to learn more, we were blocked.
We sought to test witnesses’ accounts by subpoenaing third-party records such as cell phone, bank and travel records. Republicans refused to allow it.
To arrange the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Donald Trump Jr. called his Russian contact, then called a blocked number, and then called his Russian contact back. We had evidence from other witnesses that Donald Trump used a blocked number. Republicans refused to pursue whether it was the same number.
The Republicans ran a “take them at their word” investigation when most of the Trump team clearly didn’t deserve that benefit of the doubt. So at last week’s hearing, I moved to subpoena many of the records that could fill a lot of the gaps. Nunes nixed it.
Reviewing his plans, we saw a glaring omission: the transcript of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s interview. I took part in that lengthy interview and I was disturbed by his contacts with Russia before and during the 2015-16 campaign. So Democrats at our hearing moved to release Rohrabacher’s transcript, plus several others; Nunes killed our effort. He’s burying that transcript to protect his friend — also in a tight re-election battle against Harley Rouda in Orange County — just as he has protected President Trump.
The Nunes fix was in from the very start. Soon after 2016’s election, as we began to see the breadth of Russia’s interference, I had approached him with an idea: “Let’s have an independent commission look at what the Russians did,” just as we had after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“We can handle this on the committee,” Nunes insisted. I was doubtful, but I never expected that by “handle,” he meant “bury.”
We’re not helpless. A new Congress consisting of people who put fair elections and the rule of law above party can restore our democracy.
That’s why I support Andrew Janz: not because he’s “anyone but Nunes,” but because as a prosecutor, he knows that upholding the law is most important.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not giving up on Republicans. Many have told me privately that they knew Nunes and Trump were dead wrong, but they wouldn’t speak out for fear of incurring the president’s Twitter wrath. “When he tweets, he wins,” one told me.
In November, let’s show the president, and congressional enablers like Nunes, that we will not be bullied. And when Democrats hold the majority, it will be our responsibility to unite with any Republicans willing to defend this great nation.
Originally published: The Fresno Bee, 10/5/18