If you’d heard of representative Devin Nunes before this week, you’re either from his California district or you pay closer than average attention to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which he leads. In that capacity, Nunes also heads up the House investigation into Russian’s interference in last year’s presidential election, as well as any ties between Russia and Trump or his colleagues.
But last week, Nunes grabbed far more headlines than usual. Wednesday, he held an extraordinary, impromptu news conference. President Trump and his associates, Nunes declared, had been caught up in surveillance by US intelligence agencies. Nunes then rushed to the White House to share the information in person. It was a remarkable breach of protocol—one that, like some sort of inverse Magic Eye poster, becomes more confusing the longer you look at it. Further complicating matters is the fact that Nunes was an adviser to Trump’s transition team.
The initial Nunes surveillance claims are plenty problematic on their own, and weve discussed them before. (The short version: The kind of incidental collection Nunes described has nothing to do with direct surveillance of Trump, his associates, or Trump Tower). It’s becoming increasingly clear, though, that the way Nunes came into this information, and the way he disseminated it, holds more intrigue than his original allegations.
Below, weve cobbled together a brief timeline of the Nunes claims from last week, based on publicly available information, various reports, and statements from both Nunes and his colleagues. And while it may not say anything conclusive about Nunes relationship with the White House—and whether that tarnishes his leadership role in the Russia investigation—it certainly raises plenty of questions about his objectivity and his ability to lead an independent investigation.
Tuesday evening: Devin Nunes takes a phone call while sharing a ride with a staffer, according to The Washington Post. After the call, he switches cars without telling his team where hes going. As a Nunes spokesperson confirmed following a later CNN report, the unscheduled trip is to the White House, where an unnamed source provides Nunes with information about incidental collection of Trump and his associates.
Wednesday afternoon: Nunes holds a press conference in the Capitol building outlining incidental collection of Trump and associates, as well as their unmasking, which means they were identified by name in intelligence reports. Nunes says the reports came from FISA surveillance, which means that foreign nationals who the intelligence community has eyes on either talked to or about the president-elect and his transition team at some point. Theres nothing either incriminating or surprising about this.
Next, Nunes visits the White House to brief Trump on the intelligence reports. Directly after, he holds another press conference, this time on the White House lawn.
Meanwhile, Trump says he feels somewhat vindicated after the Nunes briefing, despite no evidence that Trump Tower was wiretapped (which is what he had claimed).
Shortly thereafter, representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, releases a statement clarifying that Nunes did not share his information with his colleagues prior to holding public press conferences. Schiff added that Nunes had informed him that, contrary to previous statements, most of the names in the intercepted communications were in fact masked.
Wednesday evening: Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), in an MSNBC interview, calls for a select committee to investigate Russia, saying that no longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone.
Thursday morning: Nunes apologizes to his Intelligence Committee colleagues in a generic way, according to representative Jackie Speier (D-California), a fellow committee member. Nunes also tells the committee that theyll see the documents on Friday. (This does not happen.)
Thursday afternoon: A Nunes spokesperson clarifies that Nunes does not know for sure whether Trump or his associates were on the phone calls that were being surveilled or whether they were just mentioned in conversations between two or more foreign nationals.
Thursday night: Appearing on Hannity on Fox News, Nunes explains his rationale for briefing Trump on sensitive information: “I felt like I had a duty and obligation to tell him, because, as you know, hes taking a lot of heat in the news media,” Nunes said. “I think to some degree there are some things he should look at to see whether, in fact, he thinks the collection was proper or not.”
Friday morning: Nunes cancels a planned open Intelligence Committee hearing that was to feature former ODNI head James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates. Schiff calls it an attempt to choke off public info.
Separately, representative Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, confirms that Nunes has not showed them the intelligence reports as promised, adding that it looks like [Nunes is] running his own intelligence service at this point.
Monday morning: A Nunes spokesperson says Nunes met his source at the White House last week “in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source.” Thats apparently referring to a SCIF, a protected room used to share classified materials. But the need for a SCIF doesnt explain the use of the White House; the Capitol building houses several of them and sits just 15 minutes away by car.
The spokesperson further clarifies that, because of classification rules, the source could not simply put the documents in a backpack and walk them over to the House Intelligence Committee space. That also seems unlikely, given that someone with access to that level of confidential documents would in most cases also be cleared to take them from one location to another.
Monday night: Schiff officially calls on Nunes to recuse himself.
Tuesday morning: Appearing on the Today show, senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) colorfully derides Nunes as running an “Inspector Clouseau investigation,” referring to the bumbling detective in the Pink Panther series.
Later Tuesday morning, Nunes declines to recuse himself from the investigation. When pressed on Democrat concerns that he’s too close to Trump, Nunes responds that it “sounds like their problem.” House Speaker Paul Ryan also said he saw no reason for Nunes to step aside.
Wednesday morning: Nunes shifts blame to the Democrats, saying: “Were beginning to figure out whos actually serious about the investigation because it appears like the Democrats arent really serious about this investigation.” Democrats on the panel respond by noting that it was Nunes who canceled a previously scheduled open panel scheduled with no explanation and no apparent intent to reschedule.
Thursday afternoon: The New York Times reports that National Security Council senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick and White House national security lawyer Michael Ellis provided Nunes the intelligence documents, indicating a direct thread between the administration and the original news conference. At his daily press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer declines to comment, saying he chooses to focus more on the “substance” than the “process.”
This post will continue to be updated as the Nunes situation evolves.