Thursday, March 30, 2017

March 30, 2017--What's Up With Devin Nunes?

An otherwise nondescript congressman from the scorching Central Valley in California, Devin Nunes is now perhaps the best known of his 434 colleagues.

He of course is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a plum assignment for someone without any intelligence work on his resumé or much political savvy. Running the committee until now he played the game in the traditional bipartisan way operating out of the spotlight and rarely interviewed by the cable news channels. Your basic congressional hack.

Then something snapped.

He's on TV all the time, mostly racing through the House of Representatives fending off reporters hanging out in what appears to be Congress' underground boiler room, junior media types hungry for any snippet from him about his midnight sleuthing on "the White House grounds," his one-on-one meeting with President Trump, his unwillingness to share with committee members new information about the administration's alleged Russian Connection, or why without consulting other committee members he has suspended routine meetings and hearings. In effect shutting down the committee.

No one seems to have a handle on what's going on with him and why he either went James-Bond-style rogue or finds himself overwhelmed by the sudden scope and importance of his work.

In an effort to figure things out, I trotted out my trusty Ockham's Razor to see if that can bring insight to this mess of a situation.

Ockham would say there are at least three explanations for all the seemingly contradictory behavior--

(1) Nunes is way over his head and his underlying incompetence is being exposed. What he up to is not well thought out or strategic.
(2) As an early supporter of Donald Trump's he is striving to protect his leader from being harmed by whatever his committee might unearth.
(3) As a member of the Trump transition team, bedazzled by exposure to the glittery Trump life style and, wanting more of it, he is willing to sacrifice his reputation in order to become a member of the inner circle.
(4) All of the above.

I am inclined to say "all of the above." But with some new spin from what has already been reported and speculated about.

Invoking Ockham here's what I think is going on--

Nunes was born and raised in Tulare right in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, a town of about 60,000, nearly 60 percent of them Hispanic farm workers. His father owned a modest cattle ranch and young Devin early on thought he would become the third generation of Nuneses to own and run it. So he went to the local community college and studied agriculture.

For someone even half smart--and he is at least that--Tulare was a good place to get away from. Almost 200 miles distant from both LA and San Francisco, he opted to stay close to home and seek ways to escape. After some local politicking he managed to get elected to Congress in 2003 and has been reelected six times, most recently, unopposed.

He was spotted by Speaker John Boehner as an effective fundraiser and was rewarded by being named chair of the Intelligence Committee. When Paul Ryan took over from the deposed Boehner he reappointed him, in part, I suspect, thinking Nunes is Hispanic. And since there aren't a lot of Latinos among the Republican congressional delegation, there he still sits and presides. That is, when the committee meets.

Nunes is in fact of Portuguese dissent, but for the GOP, this is close enough.

Then there was the invitation to join the transition team and with that came his exposure to the Russian Connection explosion.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for someone like Nunes from Tulare to be welcomed into Trump's gilded world?

Walls literally of gold; a wife and daughter looking like Melania and Ivanka; the opportunity to talk with the legendary Midas about potential cabinet appointments; and, closer to the current situation, to assist son-in-law Jared in talking with dozens of foreign leaders calling into Trump Tower to congratulate the Big Guy and to begin to seek diplomatic deals.

These apparently were Nunes' transition assignments. Heady work for someone who had never before been in any spotlight or seen the lights of Broadway.

Soon thereafter he and we learned from FBI director James Comey that there is an on-going investigation about potentially improper relationships between Trump associates, Russian oligarchs and diplomats, and Russian intelligence officers.

He and we also learned that there may have been collusion between some Trump associates and Russians who were busy hacking into the Clinton campaign in a effort to tip the election to Trump.

But as chair of the Intelligence Committee, Nunes likely learned a lot more than this barest of outlines about the investigations that are underway. He likely knows the unmasked names of those Trump associates who were picked up incidentally during FBI surveillance; he may have seen that Trump himself is a target; and, most perilous from Nunes' perspective, he may have learned that his own name appears in some of these investigative intercepts.

He, after all, might have spoken with people from Eastern Europe and, who knows, if he was used by Trump people as a dupe, even to a Russian or two. Maybe even a spy.

To get him implicated this way would assure he wouldn't be eager as Intelligence Committee chair to look too closely into what was really going on with and among Trump and his people. A compromised Nunes could provide some insurance or cover for implicated Trump operatives.

In the aggregate, especially his own potential involvement in things he shouldn't have been exposed to could easily explain his erratic and panicky-seeming behavior.

Too conspiratorial minded? Perhaps.

But who would have thought the Russians were up to sabotaging Hillary Clinton's campaign and who would have imagined that Trump's campaign manager was on a key oligarch's payroll to the tune of $10 million a year?

At the moment, I like Ockham's answer.

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