Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Mr. Nunes Went to Washington

By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review

Devin Nunes is subpoenaing former Obama administration officials who may have played a role in inappropriate monitoring of the Trump transition team.

Representative Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), the now-controversial chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is a bit different from what Washington expects in its politicians.

He grew up in the agricultural cornucopia of the Central Valley of California — fruits, vegetables, beef, dairy products, and fibers — the concrete expression of a myriad of hard-working ethnic groups. Their diverse ancestors fled poverty and occasional horrors in Armenia, Basque Country, Greece, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, the Punjab, Southeast Asia, and the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.

Central to this mix of immigrants, farmers, and ranchers is a valley culture of pragmatism, bluntness, and tenacity.

Of all these groups, none are more unabashedly patriotic and outspoken than Portuguese-immigrant dairy farmers, most from the islands of the Azores.

I live in rural Fresno County at the juncture of three congressional districts. All three are currently represented by Portuguese-Americans from farming families and from both parties: Nunes (22nd district); my own representative, David Valadao (R., 21st district); and Representative Jim Costa (D., 16th district). All three keep getting re-elected for their accessibility, informality, and commitment to the traditional values of their districts.

Nunes became a controversial public figure nationally when he revealed that the surveillance of foreign governments by American intelligence agencies may have resulted in the inappropriate monitoring of members of the Trump transition team — and perhaps some private citizens, too — and the unmasking of their identities.

What followed this disclosure could have mirror-imaged the script of director Frank Capra’s classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

It all started when Nunes said he had received unsolicited information of wrongdoing from one or more whistleblowers. Unfortunately for Nunes, he approached complaints of improper surveillance in a Central Valley sort of way (but a most un-Washington manner).

Instead of the usual pattern of leaking the whistleblower’s information to friendly media (and, of course, denying that he was the source of the leaks), Nunes went ballistic — and, heaven forbid, public. Nunes first notified House speaker Paul Ryan of his intention to bring the information to both the president and the public.

Nunes then held a press conference to reveal the potentially inappropriate monitoring, then told the president himself that some of his associates may have been swept up in potentially improper surveillance and leaking conducted by bureaus that fall under the executive branch. Nunes also served subpoenas to the NSA, CIA, and FBI.

The result? Suddenly, Nunes himself became the object of Washington vituperation for not immediately informing House Democrats about the potentially inappropriate monitoring.

Nunes was targeted by progressive activists and investigated by the House Ethics Committee — which has thus far not released any findings of improper behavior — apparently because he went public and is now viewed as a partisan of Trump.

Nunes next announced that he was temporarily delegating his leadership of the House Intelligence Committee as it investigated charges of collusion between the Trump administration and Russia. In melodramatic fashion, Nunes was said to have “recused” himself from all committee leadership. But he really did not.

“Recusal” is a legal term that denotes disqualifying oneself due to conflict of interest. Instead, Nunes only took a temporary respite from leading a single investigatory thread of supposed Trump-Russian collusion. Was that a de facto dare for the committee to investigate what Nunes supposedly had blocked?

The House Intelligence Committee has not interviewed a single witness for more than two months. Is that laxity because the committee so far has been unable to find concrete evidence of Trump-Russia collusion? While some other members of the near-dormant House Intelligence Committee apparently have continued to leak information about the possible prospect of grand-jury investigations of Trump and of forthcoming information about collusion with Russia, none of these stories has been accompanied by supporting evidence.

Now, Nunes is back again, courting media outrage by pressing to subpoena three Obama administration officials — former national security adviser Susan Rice, U.N. ambassador Samantha Power, and former CIA director John Brennan — to explain whether they played a role in the improper monitoring of American citizens and the leaking of their names to the press.

But strangely, this time around, the media has been relatively subdued. Perhaps it’s because the Russian collusion story went nowhere when Nunes temporarily assigned his investigatory leadership to others.

Yet it seems that the explosive unmasking charges are at last being seriously investigated.

The mainstream media has caricatured Nunes’s bulldog bluntness in going public as naive and partisan, and they have predicted his demise as a committee chairman amid a climate of hysteria.

Instead, Nunes seems unconcerned and plows straight ahead — in the fashion of dairy farmers from the Central Valley of California.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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