The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was on his way to an event in Washington late Tuesday when the evening’s plans abruptly changed. After taking a brief phone call, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) swapped cars and slipped away from his staff, congressional officials said. He appears to have used that unaccounted-for stretch of time to review classified intelligence files brought to his attention by sources he has said he will not name. The next morning, Nunes stepped up to a set of microphones in the Capitol complex to declare that he had learned that U.S. spy agencies had “incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.” Within hours President Trump was declaring that he had been vindicated for his tweets alleging that Trump Tower had been wiretapped by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Public attention on the revelation that the FBI was investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow had shifted to questions about whether Trump officials were victims of spying abuse. And by week’s end, a congressional probe capable of threatening Trump was consumed in partisan fighting and scheduling turmoil.
That sequence was largely engineered by a conservative lawmaker from California’s Central Valley who has emerged as one of Trump’s most tenacious allies on Capitol Hill.
Nunes, 43, has said he is committed to leading an impartial inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and search for any evidence of coordination with Trump or his associates. But Nunes, who served as an adviser on Trump’s transition team, has also at times used his position as chair of the intelligence committee in ways that seem aligned with the interests of the White House.