As I wrote on February 5, no meaningful resistance to Donald Trump’s madcap White House presidency will occur until key Republicans begin to realize that he will take the GOP down with him unless they stop him. Sen. Lindsey Graham was a beacon of hope in that regard. But Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was the last one I would have expected to recognize and act upon the danger. Today however, by Washington Post reporting, it appears that an early stage in the process may have been reached.
Late Monday, a spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) threatened to subpoena the Trump administration to produce evidence of Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. The White House has declined to produce this evidence publicly, offering various excuses, including the Constitution’s separation of powers and — most recently on Monday — arguing that Trump wasn’t speaking literally when he made the claim.
The Justice Department missed Nunes’s deadline to provide evidence Monday, which drew Nunes’s subpoena threat.
“If the committee does not receive a response, the committee will ask for this information during the March 20 hearing and may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered,” Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said.
Then, on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) made his own threat. Last week, Graham — who is clearly skeptical of the wiretapping claim and chairs a subcommittee looking into it — asked the Justice Department and the FBI to provide copies of any warrants or court orders related to the alleged wiretapping. Having not received anything, Graham said Tuesday that he would announce his next steps Wednesday and may push for a special committee.
“They’re about to screw up big time if they keep running to the intel committee and not answer that letter,” Graham said, according to CBS’s Alan He. He added: “If they don’t honor this request and give us an answer, then I would say that we need a joint select committee because regular order is not working.”
It’s clear as day what’s going on here.
But that also puts Republicans such as Nunes and Graham in the position of having to account for these claims — and calling on Trump and his team to put up or shut up. By pushing the administration to produce evidence — or else — they are effectively putting the ball back in the executive branch’s court. The subtext: You can’t just make these claims and then ask us to deal with the fallout.
Nunes in particular has faced some very tough questions from reporters, and he must feel as though he’s being hung out to dry. Graham’s angle is slightly different, in that he clearly doesn’t think Trump’s claim is accurate and wants to prove it. “If there is no warrant, then we’ll have solved this problem: There was no wiretapping,” he said this week.
Whether this will actually give Trump any pause in the future when making such allegations is an open question. But these members want to make sure he and the people around him at least think twice before saddling them and their GOP colleagues with another evidence-free Trump claim.
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix.