Paul Callan: Democrats and others want intelligence committee chair to resign for odd late-night visit to White House
Callan: Nunes should do so; US has right to expect more circumspect behavior from head of committee in charge of America's secrets
Editor’s Note: Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former New York City homicide prosecutor and currently is of counsel at the New York law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. Follow him on Twitter @paulcallan. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Opponents of President Donald Trump are eager to slap a set of handcuffs on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes for his alleged “late night” visit to a secure intelligence facility (known in the intelligence community as a “skiff”) within the White House complex, followed shortly thereafter by a meeting with the President.
In the full technicolor version of this fantasy, the cuffs would next be fastened on Trump, ending the progressives’ enduring Trumpian nightmare.
It’s clear that a lot more information is required before anyone can fairly judge the propriety and legality of Nunes’ actions. What we do know is that shortly after this visit to view classified information, Nunes perhaps surprised even the President by requesting a meeting. He failed to tell the House Intelligence Committee about this meeting with the President, an action for which he recently apologized.
Nunes tried to explain all of this to Wolf Blitzer earlier today, fielding specific questions about the White House visit. The chairman hedged on some questions and flatly declined to answer other inquiries, invoking the need to protect “sources and methods” and still “classified” information.
As chairman of the intelligence committee, enjoying among the highest of security clearances, the chairman would clearly be committing a crime if he publicly disclosed classified information. Answers that appear to be specious and deceptive may fit that description or in fact just be an intelligence chairman trying to protect classified information as well as “sources and methods.” This can only be legally evaluated when more is known about the contents of the mysterious documents that are now causing such a controversy on Capitol Hill.
Many Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee as well as others in Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are calling for Nunes’ resignation, or recusal from any further role in the House committee’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russians and the issues relating to the President’s Twitter-announced claim that President Obama ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower.
Nunes should seriously consider stepping aside, as his own actions have now become the center of an ever-widening and distracting controversy.
Though at this point there is no evidence that the chairman acted illegally, the country has the right to expect far more circumspect behavior from the chairman of the House committee in charge of America’s secrets. It’s a little late for him to be learning that secrecy is paramount in the business of investigating the intelligence community.
The missteps of Nunes and the inappropriate tweets of the President appear to be drawing both men into the dark fantasies of Trump opponents across the country. One lesson they both should have learned by now is that the denizens of America’s spy apparatus are nicknamed “spooks” for good reason.