It’s still not a sure thing that the House Intelligence Committee will conduct a credible bipartisan investigation of whether Russia interfered in last year’s presidential campaign with the intention of helping Donald Trump and whether any members of the Trump campaign colluded in that effort. But Thursday’s announcement by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), that he is stepping down from the investigation removes a compromising cloud from the inquiry. Nunes said he was withdrawing temporarily while the House Ethics Committee probed a complaint by outside groups — a complaint he called “false and politically motivated” — that he had improperly disclosed classified information. The complaint apparently refers to Nunes’ statements last month that U.S. surveillance operations aimed at foreign targets had incidentally collected communications involving members of President-elect Trump’s transition team, and that some of the U.S. citizens had been identified or “unmasked.” He also claimed that details about people associated with the incoming administration “with little apparent foreign intelligence value” were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.
To put it mildly, Nunes undermined his credibility as an impartial investigator with his freelancing. The New York Times reported that Nunes had obtained his information from the same place he delivered it — the White House, specifically from two officials. (Nunes has refused to identify his sources.)
Given his compromised credibility, Nunes should make his recusal permanent. But even without him in the picture, the narrative he was pressing — that the Obama administration improperly handled intelligence reports mentioning Trump associates — has become a rallying cry for conservatives and for the president himself.