Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)

Usually the “Incompetent Elected Official” category comes down to some variety of a conclusion that can be summed up by the sturdy phrase, “What an idiot.”  This one is worse than that.

Representative Devin Nunes is chairman of the House committee investigating Russian interference in the Presidential election. This involves intelligence, investigations and secrets that are necessarily a matter of discretion until a final report can be released. No investigation can proceed in a trustworthy manner if every new shred of information becomes public, or worse, is revealed to parties who have a stake in the investigation. This has been understood by members of Congress since, oh, the first Congressional inquiry. The Constitution’s framers assumed that Congress would conduct investigations, just as as the British House of Commons did. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, Convention delegate, a future Supreme Court Justice and the Declaration of Independence signer that “1776” unjustly smears as a weenie , wrote in 1774 that House of Commons members were considered

“grand inquisitors of the realm. The proudest ministers of the proudest monarchs have trembled at their censures; and have appeared at the bar of the house, to give an account of their conduct, and ask pardon for their faults.”

During the First Congress in 1790, Robert Morris, who was the superintendent of finances during the Continental Congress and a financier of the American Revolution, asked Congress to investigate his handling of the country’s finances to clear his name of claimed improprieties. If Nunes doesn’t know the history of the legislative function he is involved in, he should.

Nunes had received intelligence that related to the President’s disputed claim that “he” (meaning who and what, it is unclear) had been wiretapped (meaning surveiled, presumably) by  “Obama” (meaning someone who reports to Obama, I’m guessing), and chose to bypass his committee members, Democrats, protocol and common sense by relaying it directly to the White House. The new information,  Nunes said, showed that American intelligence agencies monitoring foreign officials may have “incidentally” picked up communications from Trump transition team members, and thus the President’s much maligned accusation was kind-of, sort-of, bolstered.

Predictably, the President followed this good news with a tweet. Ugh.

Democrats now say Nunes’ leak, for that is what it was, raised questions about his ability to conduct an impartial bipartisan investigation.

Ya think?

The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Representative Adam B. Schiff (also of California) said that his Republican colleague had to decide whether he was chairman of an independent investigation or “is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both.”

No, Nunes shouldn’t get to decide. Nunes should be removed from the Chairmanship  immediately by Paul Ryan, or resi—never mind, I lost my head for a moment and was thinking about trustworthy officials. Nunes apologized today to committee members and described his decision as a judgment call. “At the end of the day, sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the wrong one,” Rep. Nunes told reporters, “but you’ve got to stick by the decisions you make.”

Yes, and when the decisions you make stink and reveal you as a partisan, untrustworthy hack, sticking by them means that you pay the piper.

Nunes has to go.

Not out of the House, just out of the Intelligence Committee.

To a chair someplace in the back.

Facing the wall.

Congress can’t function like this; investigations can’t function like this; intelligence committees can’t function like this, and the government can’t function like this. The way the Democrats operate today, Nunes’ breach of ethics undoubtedly means that eventually a Democrat will leak some intelligence as tit-for-tat, and the government can’t function like that either. (Over in the Senate, Chuck Schumer says that the Democrats will filibuster Judge Gorsuch, whom everyone agrees is spectacularly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, because mean old Mitch McConnell was unfair to Merrick Garland, Obama’s equally qualified nominee. Neener-neener!

Or perhaps “Nuner-nuner!” is more appropriate.



23 thoughts on “Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)

  1. Many have called on Trump to provide to provide evidence to support his I’ll considered tweet. I have always wondered how he could produce proof of everything is classified.

    Congressman Schiff tweeted earlier something to the effect that they had evidence beyond circumstantial evidence that suggested possible collusion. The operative words were suggested and possible. I don’t think tit for tat is appropriate but my Facebook feed is citing this as clear proof the committee has the smoking gun to impeach Trump.
    You once claimed that this election will create a nation of assholes – which it has but it has also created a nation of Congressional buffoons on both sides.

  2. Jack, would you explain to me why Judge Gorsuch’s decent, supporting the company, in the “frozen trucker” case isn’t of signature significance? I can understand a courts martial conviction for abandoning a position one is ordered to hold at all costs, but risking life and limb for the protection of company property is beyond me.

    • Ann Althouse, who is (or was until she retired recently) a long-time law professor, did an excellent job explaining this case, which Senator Franken misrepresented. It’s a great example of how “compassionate” judging just botches the law. Sotomyor would see it Franken’s way, or like the majority:

      I can only take so much, but I did watch Franken. You can watch the clip and hear him go on and on about a man who got fired for driving a truck — despite its malfunctioning brakes — because he was freezing and the truck would warm him up. [NOTE: That’s not quite right, as explained under “ADDED,” below.] There was a statute that protected truck drivers from getting fired for refusing to drive a malfunctioning truck, but this was the opposite. His employer wanted him not to drive the malfunctioning truck, and he did it anyway, to save himself from freezing (or so we are told).

      The legal question was only whether the statute applied, not whether we feel sorry for the man or whether we would have fired him. Judge Gorsuch used the plain meaning of the statute. But judges might depart from the plain meaning of the text when it is necessary to avoid giving the language an absurd meaning, but it’s obvious that the statute had a non-absurd meaning (which was to protect drivers who decline to drive defective trucks). But Franken, blatantly twisting the meaning of “absurd” — and reminding us that he was once a comedian — said:

      “It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle. That’s absurd. Now, I had a career in identifying absurdity. And I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment.”

      If that’s what counts as “absurd,” then judges could take any statute and twist it to mean whatever it would need to mean to allow them to bestow victory on any party the judge feels empathy with. That’s a terrible idea for statutory interpretation. But Franken was into his own cuteness, chuckling at the wittiness of “I had a career in identifying absurdity.” But the absurdity is in thinking that the ways of comedy would transfer to legal analysis.

      And did Franken even hear himself? He said it was absurd to fire a man who chose his own life over the lives of others: “the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or caus[ing] other people to die possible by driving an unsafe vehicle.” What’s absurd about saying we don’t want you driving for us if you’d choose to warm yourself up by driving a truck with defective brakes? The truck driver risked freezing to death if he didn’t drive the truck, but driving the truck risked the death of himself and others. It’s not absurd to say, he was wrong to drive the truck.

      But even if you think it would be absurd not to drive the truck, the truck driver could only win if the statute that protected drivers who refused to drive defective trucks has only an absurd meaning if it’s not stretched to protect drivers who don’t refuse to drive defective trucks.

      Gorsuch put up with the nonsense and didn’t let all that taunting exasperate him. He knew that any show of irritation with Franken, any patronizing tone, might look like that lack of empathy Franken wanted to dramatize.

      In Franken’s heat about cold, Gorsuch kept his cool.

      ADDED: I’ve got something really wrong about the case. The brakes on the trailer had locked, but the tractor unit could drive. Somehow the heat in the tractor unit was also broken. The man decided to unhitch the trailer and drive the tractor unit. The tractor unit itself was not defective, and he wasn’t endangering others by driving that tractor unit in an effort to get somewhere to warm himself. But he disobeyed directions to stay with the trailer, and that’s what got him fired. But the problem remains: He wasn’t refusing to drive something that was defective. He was choosing to drive. We may agree that he made a good decision and think the company was cruel to fire him, but the legal question was whether he had a right to keep his job for doing something the company thought was a firing offense — abandoning the trailer.

      Here’s a detailed discussion of the legal question that brings out the issues much better than Franken did. I’m sorry I relied too much on Franken’s emotive presentation of the case. There may have been some room to stretch the statute to give the man credit for refusing to pull the trailer (as he proceeded to drive the unhitched tractor unit). In fact, as you can see at that link, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had interpreted the statute that way. This gets to the important subject of deferring to the agency’s interpretation (Chevron deference), which is what the majority did in the case. Gorsuch was dissenting.

      ALSO: While empathy has been central to the Democrats’ idea of judging and this case gave Franken material to push that theme dramatically, it’s the Chevron deference question that is most important from a legal perspective. Here’s lawprof Philip Hamburger in “Gorsuch’s Collision Course With the Administrative State.” Hamburger concludes:

      Chevron is a widely cited precedent, and precedents should never be casually overturned. But Chevron deprives Americans of their right to have judges who exercise their own independent judgment without systematic bias. Chevron is thus grossly unconstitutional — not least, a persistent denial of the due process of law.

      Judges have a duty to reject Chevron with candor and clarity. Judge Gorsuch has done this. Rather than be berated for it, he should be congratulated.

    • Orin, as I understand that case, at issue was could a firm fire an employee for being unwilling to drive an unsafe vehicle. The employee was discharged for leaving his trailer unattended. He did operate the power unit. Given that the only evidence I saw of a safety issue was that the brakes were frozen.
      One of the key safety items in a truck is an operable HVAC system. I saw no evidence that this system was not providing heat in the cab. If it was inoperable then it should have been found during the DOT required pretrip inspection.

      It would be signature significance had the Judge decided the case based on what he might do rather than what the law says.

        • Jack , I don’t take issue with what you said. He unhitched his power unit which was operable and left his trailer against orders. I was pointing out that the law would not apply given that he drove away and thus operating the vehicle. Hence, he was not fired for refusing to drive an unsafe vehicle. DOT has several classification regarding driver activity. Staying with a vehicle is not operating an unsafe vehicle.

          I apologize for my imprecision in the language but I understand why the law did not apply. My main point was in the last paragraph.

          • Most important of all is that it’s one case. and a dissent. William O. Douglas voted for locking up Japanese American citizens, but was still respected as a great civil libertarian. Pretending that a judge has to be perfect to sit on the Supreme Court really is absurd.

            • It’s just more of the shifting standards, like the lean-forward-in-the-chair hope in the media that this new health care bill will fail and saying it is already “stinging” and “embarrassing” that the vote on it was pushed back a day. If a vote was pushed back in 2009 the media would have said it was just so that the Democrats could improve on the bill or work out some last-minute bugs.

  3. I know this is not ethical, but I am thinking it despite knowing that, and I have not seen this aspect addressed anywhere. I will feel better to have said it, and state in advance that it is not a defense for what Numskull did…

    And don’t ask me for citations, because you would have to have lived under a ROCK the last 8 years (hell, the last 20 years) to not be able to think of your own citations.

    When Democrats do this sort of thing, no one blinks an eye. “Romney did not pay his taxes” (which was a lie in the first place, but such knowledge of a supposed investigation should not have been shared) or any of the leaks over the years traced back to progressives that went no where.

  4. What Schiff and others are forgetting is this:
    Nunes also has a responsibility to victims of misconduct by agencies his committee has oversight over.

    From what I have seen, during the transition, the preponderance of the evidence shows that in contravention of US laws, members of the Trump transition team, and possibly Donald Trump were eavesdropped on by the intelligence community. During that transition, Trump was still a private citizen.

    Furthermore, it is a matter of public record that President Obama ordered a change in how far intelligence could be gathered, at a minimum negligently increasing the likelihood of that information leaking.

    I do not think Nunes did anything wrong, per se.

    • Nunes also has a responsibility to victims of misconduct by agencies his committee has oversight over.

      No, he doesn’t. His duty is to his committee and the intelligence agencies. The duty to act on the findings, once they are properly processed and reported on, lies with others.

      You’re arguing for legislative vigilantism.

  5. I’ve watched this unfold with great interest and disagree with you, Jack. House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Devin Nunes, told the media last week that President Trump’s transition team was indeed being surveilled following the 2016 election. It seems to me that American intelligence gathering agencies have broken our laws.

    Trump played a brilliant game drawing out his opponents. He waited for the FBI, CIA and the NSA to play their cards stating they knew nothing about domestic spying on Trump (Plausible deniability?). Then Trump lays down his Trump cards (pun intended). A government whistle blower had previously told Nunes of the spying and produced hard evidence.

    The fake media only reported that Nunes didn’t first consult his own Intelligence Committee; before consulting with the president. Trump staff conversations were recorded, names were produced and this information was widely shared with other government intelligence agencies. We are left to ask who, why, and for what purpose was this leaked to media?

    Now, if we want to discuss unethical, American citizens are NOT to be spied on by their government, unless they are picked up through accidental intelligence gathering or they are considered criminals. Even then, their names are NOT to be used openly or shared with anyone.

    Those responsible for the flood of leaks must be found and punished.

    Question: By whose authority was this illegal spying ordered? The unwarranted surveillance by ANY intelligence agency would be a felony. What were the reasons for their surveillance? Who actually triggered the surveilling?

    Do not confuse this surveillance with the fake news of Russian involvement in the November elections. Russian involvement was already dispelled by the FBI and the NSA. This spying deals entirely with illegal domestic spying against the Trump transition team.

    • Devin Nunes, told the media last week that President Trump’s transition team was indeed being surveilled following the 2016 election. It seems to me that American intelligence gathering agencies have broken our laws.

      That may be true. he still can’t unilaterally announce it. The guy can’t be trusted with sensitive information. That’s the only issue here.

  6. Two questions I’m simply looking for an answer to, Jack:

    What are the ethics of Schiff saying, as a former prosecutor, there’s enough circumstantial evidence to convict Trump and his cohorts of colluding with Russia?

    What are the ethics of Congresspeople leaking information regarding an ongoing Congressional investigation?


    • What are the ethics of Schiff saying, as a former prosecutor, there’s enough circumstantial evidence to convict Trump and his cohorts of colluding with Russia?

      It’s political demagoguery, that’s all. If he were speaking AS a prosecutor, it would be unethical. As it is, it’s just dishonest and stupid.

      What are the ethics of Congresspeople leaking information regarding an ongoing Congressional investigation?

      Unethical. Always.

      What are the ethics of Congresspeople leaking information regarding an ongoing Congressional investigation?

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