If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve probably seen the name Devin Nunes popping up a lot. He’s a six-term congressman from California and has been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee since January of 2015. But what’s going on, and why are so many people asking him to step down? It’s a little complicated, so here’s what you need to know:
In January of this year, Nunes and ranking member Adam Schiff announced that they would be heading up an investigation to accusations of Russia’s meddling in the US election, including possible communications between the Trump campaign team and Russia. Eyebrows were raised because Nunes had served as an advisor to President Trump’s campaign, but the investigation falls under the House Intelligence Committee, so officials were content to let it slide.
Everything was going swimmingly until March 22, when Nunes took the extraordinary step of holding a surprise press conference, saying an unnamed person (or people) had given him information that led him to believe the Obama administration had incidentally collected communications involved Trump and/or Trump associates. Nunes then admitted that everything appeared to be legal and it didn’t actually seem like Trump was the target of the collection, but he said it was nevertheless “inappropriate.”
“Inappropriate” got thrown around a lot that day, as questions were immediately raised as to why Nunes didn’t share this information with Schiff and the rest of the House Intelligence Committee, instead opting to share the news with the press and President Trump himself—a potential subject of his investigation—first. Nunes apologized for the breach in protocol the following day. He also admitted that his claims aren’t actually relevant to Trump’s wiretapping accusations. This was enough for Senator John McCain to call for an independent investigation to Trump’s claims, saying that Congress could no longer be trusted to carry out an objective investigation. By the next day, a spokesperson for Nunes had admitted that he didn’t know “for sure” whether or not Trump and/or his associates were even on the intercepted calls.
But the real story appears to be when and how Nunes came by the information. It now appears that Nunes received the alleged documents at the White House itself, the day before he held his press conference. That raises a lot of questions about who his source or sources are, and how trustworthy they might be. Those questions aren’t exactly hushed by the fact that, despite promises to the contrary, Nunes is saying that he will not be showing those documents to members of the House Intelligence Committee or anyone else. As Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, told reporters, “it looks like [Nunes is] running his own intelligence service at this point.”
On Monday, a Nunes spokesperson said that Nunes had traveled to the White House “in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source.” That’s evidently a reference to a a SCIF, a protected room used for sharing classified documents. The problem is, the Capitol building itself as several SCIFs, so there would have been no reason to use one at the White House. The spokesperson also said that “because of classification rules, the source could not simply put the documents in a backpack and walk them over to the House Intelligence Committee space.” But that excuse doesn’t hold up either, since most people with access to classified documents would be cleared to take them from one building to another. All this struck Schiff as fishy enough that he finally called on Nunes to resign.
So that’s about where things sit now.