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No, Republican House Intelligence Chairman Didn’t Threaten to Investigate Reporters

A story came across my Twitter feed today that was quite shocking: the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes threatened to investigate reporters who had contacted the Russian embassy.

The suggestion appears to have kicked off with a tweet from Politico reporter Eric Geller.

Since then, the story has been picked up Talking Points Memo and Raw Story. Suffice it to say, there’s a reason this story has been out there for three hours– based on comments made on live television– and only the most fringe left-wing sites are touching it.

Here’s the full transcript. The background is that Nunes is talking about Congress’ request for information on intercepted calls from General Michael Flynn to the Russian embassy.

NUNES: It’s not always easy to get this, because when you’re talking about information that was gathered through FISA that some of it probably was picked up incidentally of Americans, especially as it relates to General Flynn, which we went over on Monday.

REPORTER: What are the reasons that the FBI can’t be as forthcoming as you might like?

NUNES: It’s just — it’s not a matter of them not being forthcoming, it’s a matter of them providing timely information when they can get it to us.

REPORTER: Why can’t they?

NUNES: I would assume that because it’s quite complicated as it relates to, if, for example, you were on the phone with the Russian ambassador and somehow your phone call got recorded, would you want them turning over that phone call and that transcript to the committee?

REPORTER: Wasn’t there a difference between a public person and a private person?

NUNES: Well, that’s the point here. General Flynn was a private American citizen.

Look, I’m sure some of you are in contact with the Russian embassy, so be careful what you ask for here. Because if we start getting transcripts of any of you or other Americans talking to the press, then we can — do you want us to conduct an investigation on you or other Americans because you were talking to the Russian embassy? I just think we need to be careful.

It seems painfully obvious to me that Nunes didn’t “threaten” anyone, he was giving a warning about potential infringement of civil liberties. If the FBI has the power to turn over General Flynn’s calls to Congress at the drop of a hat, he was arguing, they have the power to turn over any private citizens’ calls. Ask, oh, anyone who lived through the McCarthy years if they think that’s a good idea.

His asking reporters if they wanted the intelligence committee to conduct an investigation into them wasn’t a threat to wield power, but an illustration of why he shouldn’t have that power. That’s what kills me; if anything Nunes was arguing the opposite of what people are claiming he was. It was a hypothetical. Poorly phrased perhaps, but nothing more.

Full disclosure: Gellar and I had a discussion on Twitter, where he defended his interpretation and I mine. “All I’ll say is that you’re the first reporter I’ve seen read it that way,” he told me. That’s true enough… but if so, it ought to serve as an indictment of all those other reporters.

Watch above, via CNN.

[Image via screengrab]

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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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