Nunes doesn’t shy away from spotlight
Lawmaker took long road to Trump, Russia probes
Devin Nunes has always been a fighter.
Most voters in Tulare County, Calif., first noticed Nunes in 1998 when he launched a successful legal battle to run for U.S. Congress after officials moved to strike his name from the primary ballot. He lost that race but made a name for himself in local politics.
Two decades later, the Tulare native still has that pugnacious style as he finds himself in the center of a historic struggle between President Trump and the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.
In the past two weeks, national media outlets have flocked to Tulare County to find out what local constituents think of Nunes. The Times-Delta/ Tulare Advance-Register, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, reached out to the congressman, his colleagues and longtime local observers to find out about his rise in power.
In Nunes’ role as House Intelligence Committee chair, he says he has uncovered national security risks and what he calls “the biggest scandal in decades.”
In combing through documents related to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Nunes said he came across information he considered a national security risk. Nunes said he took the information to Trump and began taking fire almost immediately after an impromptu news conference outside the White House in March.
Critics, though, argue the White House used Nunes to disclose a distorted narrative more favorable to Trump.
And this month, Nunes released a controversial four-page memo accusing the FBI of relying on politically biased information to get a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) war-
“I am actively involved. I am a problem-solver. I get things done. People put a lot of trust in my judgment.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
rant on a Trump adviser in the early phases of the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
“The situation is clear. We had one side paying Russians for information. They were using our intel agencies,” he said. “I am getting attacked (by the media) while trying to get to the bottom of it.” The FBI and other law enforcement agencies criticized the Nunes memo as flawed and misleading and urged it not be released.
In addition, critics of Nunes have pointed to his close ties to the Trump administration in questioning his objectivity in the investigation.
Nunes was picked by Trump to be on the executive committee leading the president-elect’s transition team, a key period for the FBI’s investigation of contacts with Russia.
Local supporters and detractors are surprised to see their congressman in such a high-profile fight.
“I’ve always seen Devin as a hardworking, behind-the-scenes guy not interested in the limelight,” said Stephen Tootle, a history instructor at the College of the Sequoias who calls himself a conservative Republican. “He’s always been more interested in the hard work of legislation and representing his district.”
Recently retired history instructor Steve Natoli has a different take.
“He’s seriously over his head and an embarrassment,” the self-described progressive said. “The fact he finds himself in this historically important moment is simply flabbergasting.”
Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who sits on the Intelligence Committee with Nunes said his colleague has been dealt an unfair blow by Democrats and the media.
“I don’t care who you are: Even as a politician, it’s hard to get the hell beat out of you,” Gowdy said.
Nunes says he spent years “slowly learning” the issues.
“I am actively involved. I am a problem-solver. I get things done,” he said. “People put a lot of trust in my judgment. It’s an honor. It’s one of the only positions with constitutional powers that others do not have. It’s a privilege.”
Michelle Moore, a member of the Tulare County Tea Party and a Nunes supporter, said people attacking Nunes are shortsighted.
“I think there’s a much bigger picture we don’t see,” she said. “Aren’t they concerned about the truth?”
Tootle says that Nunes has been an important behind-the-scenes voice on debates such as tax reform, national security and water policies.
Nunes worked with Paul Ryan to draft a tax reform bill in 2005, which he calls the single most consequential legislation since the 1980s.
“Devin and I have worked together for years on the big issues like tax reform, and his contributions helped us get that bill done,” the House Speaker told the Times-Delta.
Rep. Devin Nunes in his Visalia office. PHOTOS BY RON HOLMAN/USA TODAY NETWORK
Nunes, at a Tulare Chamber of Commerce event, has been described as a “behind-the-scenes guy.”
The Revs. Suzy Ward, right, Natalie Chamberlain and protesters gathered at the office of Rep. Devin Nunes in September. Nunes’ supporters are surprised to see their congressman in the spotlight.