California Republican Devin Nunes is resigning from Congress at the end of the month to serve as CEO of the Trump Media & Technology Group, where he will disseminate propaganda on behalf of the twice-impeached former president. But since this is primarily how Nunes conceived of his role in Congress, the new job amounts to more of a horizontal move than a meaningful change in careers.
Before Donald Trump came into his life, Nunes had appeared to establish an identity as one of his party’s less-insane members. (In 2013, he dismissed conservatives plotting to shut down the government to force President Obama to agree to abolish Obamacare as “lemmings with suicide vests.”) But he was one of the first Republicans in Congress to embrace Trump, and — out of either cynicism or genuine conviction — emerged as one of the president’s most devoted defenders.
Nunes energetically echoed Trump’s claims that the entire Russia scandal — much of which had unfolded in plain sight, with Trump hiring as campaign manager a man who had managed a Kremlin puppet candidacy in Ukraine, asking Russia to hack Hillary’s emails, repeating Putin’s lies about the hacks, and so on — as a Deep State conspiracy to frame an innocent man. This role thrust him into prominence in Trumpworld as part of the broader Trump cult, making him a leading personality on Fox News and other conservative organs.
Nunes served as Trump’s chief defender during his first impeachment, claiming it was “one of the mothers of all conspiracy theories” to imagine that “somehow the president of the United States would want a country he doesn’t even like … to start an investigation into Biden.” (Trump in fact demanded such an investigation repeatedly, including on the White House lawn.) In reward for his service, Trump awarded Nunes the Medal of Freedom on January 4, 2021, two days before instigating his supporters to launch a violent insurrection to overturn the election.
Nunes not only disseminated Trump’s lies but seemed inspired to emulate his hero’s methods — in particular, Trump’s passion for abusing the legal system as a tool to bully his critics. Nunes filed a flurry of lawsuits: against newspapers, magazines, Twitter, even a parody account pretending to be his cow. The point of his frequently ludicrous filings was not to win, but to make journalists afraid of the time and expense that they would bear for reporting on, or (in the case of the cow) poking fun at, Nunes.
That Nunes would leave Congress to work for Trump’s newest venture undercuts the theory that he is a cynic and lends weight to the notion that he is operating from pure conviction. Had he stayed in Congress past the 2022 elections, which are overwhelmingly likely to hand control of Congress to his party, he was poised to inherit the chairmanship of the Ways & Means Committee. That post would have not only given him enormous influence over policy, especially taxes, but is also an extraordinarily lucrative perch from which to launch a career as a lobbyist.
So Nunes walked away from a license to print money to work for a career crook who is known for screwing over his partners and blaming them for his crimes. The new Trump venture is already facing a potential SEC investigation.
This would not be the first time Nunes directly involved himself in a Trump scheme that exposed him to legal risk. Nunes reportedly met with both Viktor Shokin, the corrupt Ukrainian former prosecutor at the heart of Trump’s first impeachment scandal, and Lev Parnas, the since-convicted Rudy Giuliani associate.
But this is a more daring risk. Historically speaking, the odds that a job working in Trump’s orbit leads to a criminal conviction is even higher than the odds of that happening via a seat in Congress. It is almost as if Nunes can see the next Totally Unfair Hoax coming and wants to get in on the ground floor.