While news seems to be breaking in every direction, there are two storylines in the continuing saga of allegations about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Obama-administration spying on Team Trump.
The first, as Victor Davis Hanson has outlined, involves the recusal — at least temporarily — of House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes. You have to admire the Democrats’ moxie: Having spent months exploiting unauthorized disclosures of classified information to undergird their dark (but thus far unsupported) claims of Trump-campaign collusion in Russia’s machinations, they now force a House Ethics Committee investigation against Nunes based on claims that he “may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
Nunes vehemently denies the allegation as “entirely false and politically motivated.” Still, had he not stepped aside until the ethics probe was completed, there would have been calls to remove him, which would have put Speaker Paul Ryan in the hot seat. That’s something neither Ryan nor Nunes would want.
More importantly, as Nunes admirably recognized, it would have been a major distraction from the political-spying aspect of the Intelligence Committee investigation. By stepping aside, Nunes will be able to defend himself without derailing the committee’s work. Meanwhile, he has bequeathed leadership of the probe to Representative Mike Conaway (R., Tex.), with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) and Tom Rooney (R., Fla.). Forge ahead, gents.
The other development involves yet another impulsive outburst from President Trump. During a news conference at which he appeared jointly with Jordan’s King Abdullah II (aside: why do they put Roman numerals after Arabic names?), Trump was asked whether he thought Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had committed a crime by unmasking the identities of Trump-team members — i.e., American citizens who were caught up in foreign intelligence collection. He replied, “Do I think? Yes, I think.” Our media-obsessed president further conveyed his sense that the alleged political spying “is one of the big stories of our time.”
Trump detractors pounced. The Washington Post, for example, ran its report under the headline “Susan Rice may have committed a crime, Trump says without providing evidence.” Trump’s latest remark is thus portrayed as a replay of his much-derided March 4 tweets — the ones accusing President Obama of having “my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.”
Both outbursts were ill considered, but they’re not all that similar. This time, Trump was answering a journalist’s loaded question, not railing on his own. Still, he should have passed — hard as that seems to be for him.