Dear Speaker Ryan:
Replacement of Rep. Devin Nunes as House Intelligence Committee Chairman
I am writing to you to request that as Speaker, you initiate the removal of Rep. Devin Nunes as House Intelligence Committee Chairman and his replacement, for the duration of this Congress or your leadership (whichever is longer), by Rep. Trey Gowdy.
I recognize this is a highly unusual request, but it is a necessary one, and the step requested is essential to ensure that ongoing oversight efforts are sufficiently credible and thorough. This is so in view of a) Rep. Nunes’ poor handling of the entire investigation into possible political bias and/or interference at the DOJ including potentially via the improper issuance of a FISA warrant allowing surveillance of Carter Page (an admitted adviser to the Kremlin) as well as b) Nunes’ continual use of his position for personal political gain.
While the most Nunes-friendly of news outlets have characterized the Nunes memo of earlier this year as proven to be more accurate than not—yet still not entirely accurate— the overwhelming criticism of the Nunes memo in the wake of the release of still heavily-redacted documents cannot have escaped your attention.
Much of this criticism is, sadly, very much justified.
In light of what the recently-released DOJ documentation says, it is clear that information set out in the much-gossiped-about Steele dossier plays a not-insignificant role in the application. However, the heavy redactions in the documentation do not support Nunes’ assertions with regard to the specific degree of prominence, which appear overplayed to say the least. Rep. Nunes may not be setting out to deceive the public for personal political gain; it may just be that he does not understand the subject matter well enough and is not bothering to rectify that situation. But whatever the case, based on what we currently know, Nunes appears to be over-stating the degree to which the Steele dossier was the basis for a warrant being sought and issued, and he is not representing the Committee, nor the GOP, well in the process.
Nunes appears not to have paid attention to the fact that, as the Washington Post noted following the release of the documents, “As time passes, more information is added to the warrant applications. The middle section — whatever it contained — kept getting larger, meaning that the section dealing with Steele’s report made up less of the overall application” (Washington Post: With the release of new documents, Devin Nunes’s memo on Carter Page has gotten even less credible,” Philip Bump, July 22, 2018).
This is perhaps unsurprising, given this most important criticism of Nunes: When he has been provided opportunities to review documentation made available to him by DOJ, he has repeatedly passed on the opportunity to do so, apparently out of concern that he himself is insufficiently qualified to review and assess the information.
Rather, Nunes has tasked Rep. Gowdy, a former prosecutor infinitely more suited to chairing the House Intelligence Committee as Nunes’ own behavior and actions prove, with taking on the critical task of DOJ document review.
On February 2, 2018, Nunes admitted in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier that he did not review surveillance warrant applications because Gowdy was more qualified to do so, given his background as a federal prosecutor (The Hill: Nunes: I did not read material summarized in the memo, by Avery Anapol, February 2, 2018).
Furthermore, when DOJ made additional documentation available to Nunes and Gowdy in April, Nunes reportedly opted not to read it. Gowdy read the documentation, as did approximately twelve other Members of Congress (CNN: Exclusive: Nunes demands Justice Department records. Then he doesn’t read them, by Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and Laura Jarrett, May 5, 2018).
In fact, the primary function that Nunes’ chairing of the House Intelligence Committee and purported oversight of the DOJ currently seems to serve is providing him with a line on his resume that he heavily leverages for fundraising purposes. You can ask any Virginia Republican; we’ve all received the mail.
In said mail soliciting donations, Nunes continually references his role in holding the DOJ accountable. This has been enormously financially beneficial to him. (I assume you are also aware of allegations, including by this group, that he is using political committee money for personal benefit).
Meanwhile, Gowdy is in fact already leading such oversight as a matter of substance and fact, while Nunes spends his time doing TV hits about said oversight, functioning more as the Committee’s Communications Director than its Chairman. This is a comically absurd situation that is embarrassing for Republicans who are tired of having oversight efforts mocked and scoffed at because Nunes is more interested in his own political celebrity than in doing the job right.
The situation is made all the more absurd and embarrassing given that while he serves as Chairman purporting to hold DOJ accountable for surveillance he suggests should not have been undertaken, Rep. Nunes has not to our knowledge changed his position on warrantless wiretapping or Section 702 matters.
As you know, Rep. Nunes has voted to allow surveillance of the type conducted with respect to Mr. Page without a FISA warrant, or any other warrant whatsoever, needing to be obtained by the surveilling authorities.
He has trashed fellow Republican Members of Congress, namely Rep. Justin Amash, for their pro-civil liberties stances with regard to surveillance that, had those stances been reflected in law, would have prevented the surveillance of which Nunes now complains.
Furthermore, Rep. Nunes ushered through the recent legislation effectively allowing unlimited surveillance of electronic communications such as email.
Set aside that Rep. Nunes is not in fact performing the critical functions of House Intelligence Committee Chairman and is self-admittedly unqualified to perform them, the longer he serves as Chairman, the more hypocritical the GOP looks on surveillance policy and the more unserious GOP oversight efforts with regard to DOJ appear.
Nunes is, quite simply, not the man for the job, whereas Gowdy, quite simply, is. We know this from Nunes’ own behavior and statements.
It is worth noting that Gowdy has not gone soft on the DOJ or elements of it with regard to the matter of surveillance of Mr. Page.
On Fox News Sunday last weekend, Gowdy remarked that “we will never know…whether or not the FBI had enough without the dossier, the unvetted, DNC-funded dossier, because they included it and everyone who reads this FISA application sees the amount of reliance they placed on this product funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC” (Washington Examiner: Trey Gowdy: ‘We’ll never know’ if the FBI had enough to spy on Carter Page without the Trump dossier, Daniel Chaitin, July 22, 2018).
Gowdy has the experience, skill set, knowledge, and expertise to lead the House Intelligence Committee forward. Moreover, it appears that he is currently doing the job in all but name. While obviously conservative and eager to perform oversight functions as thoroughly as he did with regard to the Benghazi matter, Gowdy is far more trusted than Nunes by members of the GOP caucus, as well as Democrats. I am sure you know this from speaking to Republican members. I am sure you are aware of polling data showing a lack of confidence in American institutions, including Congress. One way to help re-instill such confidence would be to put Rep. Gowdy at the helm of the Intelligence Committee and remove Rep. Nunes.
I hope you will give serious consideration to the request set out in this letter. I recognize your remaining time as Speaker is short, but you can take steps to leave the party in a considerably better state by removing Rep. Nunes as House Intelligence Committee Chairman and appointing Rep. Gowdy in his place.
It will help the GOP heading into November, and will better enable Americans to ascertain what did, and did not, occur at DOJ that may have been untoward during our last presidential election.