Nunes doesn’t shy away from spot­light

Law­maker took long road to Trump, Rus­sia probes

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Eric Woomer, James Ward and Luis Her­nan­dez

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.”

RON HOL­MAN/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

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.

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