The famous tapes that brought the Watergate scandal to its eventual resolution demonstrated president Richard Nixon obstructed justice. He told the F.B.I. to back off the Watergate investigation. It was the cover-up that brought the Nixon administration down. This fact helps us understand the significance of the bizarre behavior recently exhibited by Representative Devin Nunes.
The Washington Post reports today that the White House sought to prevent former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying before congress in the House investigation of the ties between Russian and the Trump campaign. Representative Nunes unilaterally decided to cancel the hearing after a mysterious meeting with an unnamed source at the White House. The Post reports,
The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.
According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege….
Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Ken Wainstein, a lawyer for Brennan, declined to comment.
On Friday, when Yates’s lawyer sent a letter to the White House indicating that she still wanted to testify, the hearing was canceled.
The White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, responds to The Washington Post article in this video. The question raised by John Roberts gets right to the point: did the White House just use Nunes as a way to avoid using the presidential privilege? If Spicer had an explanation for Nunes’s visit to the White House, who signed him in, who briefed him, or why Nunes decided to cancel the briefing after the visit, it would have been appropriate to provide this information in answer to Roberts’ question. His failure to provide any answer to these obvious questions together with the level of obnoxiousness he displayed in his reply provide evidence journalist should look into the issue carefully.
Nunes has been unable to provide a coherent explanation for his cancelation of the public hearing, his visit to the White House on March 21st, or his leak of what appears to be classified information. Republicans like Trey Gowdy described leaks of classified information as an important problem in the first pubic briefing held by the House Intelligence committee. According to House rules, the Committee on Ethics may need to investigate Nunes’s behavior. This could be triggered by the request of one house member.
Because of the reporting of The Washington Post, The Daily Beast and CNN, we have a much better understanding of the behavior of the White House and Nunes over the past week. Because John Roberts of Fox News asked the question, the press secretary was forced to say the White House wants Yates to testify. No one believes this and we have evidence this is not the case; but because he said it, we can now use what he said to demand Yates testifies before the House and the Senate intelligence committees, on national T. V. with a potentially international audience. This rather transparent effort to prevent Yates from testifying publicly will only serve in the end to draw more attention to her testimony.