Twice now, MSNBC contributor John Heilemann has asked sitting congressmen whether representative Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) has been “compromised” by Russia. “Is it possible that we actually have a Russian agent running the House Intel Committee on the Republican side?” Heilemann asked senator Chris Murphy last night.
There are a lot of fair criticisms you could level against Nunes’s recent actions. You might point out that Nunes has not seen the intelligence the memo summarizes. You might argue that the memo controversy is thus a cynical P.R. stunt. You might conclude that its release is a transparent ploy to paint the FBI in a bad light and undermine the special counsel’s investigation. But you can say all of this without making the absurd, irresponsible suggestion that Nunes is a Russian agent.
This is part of a larger pattern with the Russia investigation: Partisans have eagerly chosen to push outlandish conspiracy theories, which crowds out more-sober criticisms. The investigation has uncovered disturbing information. Hiring Paul Manafort as campaign manager and appointing Mike Flynn as National Security Adviser were serious errors in judgment on Trump’s part, and Trump’s son was enthusiastic when he heard that the Kremlin wanted to help his father win. But Trump’s opponents have decided to fantasize about a grand narrative of criminal conspiracy between Trump and Putin that is not supported by the available evidence. As Jason Willick has argued, these critics’ “bloodthirstiness has undermined their ability to adequately prosecute the actual fruits of this investigation.”
Just so with Heilemann and the memo controversy. It would be bad enough if Devin Nunes cared more about demonstrating his obeisance to the president than discovering actual wrongdoing. But he is not a Russian agent, and to say that he might be is to add to the noise.