With the surprise decision by House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, to retire from office this year, Rep. Devin Nunes of California is the first Republican House member to officially say he wants the panel's chairmanship.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Nunes spelled out his vision for the chairmanship, which will be selected by House Speaker John Boehner, and left little doubt that he strongly supports the intelligence community.
The intelligence slot is considered increasingly critical because of events in Syria and Ukraine, along with the revelations of the National Security Agency's renegade contractor Edward Snowden.
As to whether he thinks Snowden is a whistle-blower or a traitor, Nunes replied without hesitation: "Obviously, a traitor."
"What Snowden did cost us lives and billions of dollars," Nunes said. "How do you trust a terrorist? When the 9/11 terrorists came into the U.S., we were unable to track them. Now [intelligence agencies] do everything they can do to track them.
"Despite what some members of Congress say, they were and are well aware of the capabilities of our intelligence gathering, even if [intelligence agencies] do not brief them on specific compartments of this process," Nunes said. "And while we have some problems with our intelligence gathering and are certainly trying to fix them, no one wants to go back to the pre-9/11 situation."
Nunes added, "If you don't think China, Russia, Iran, and other bad actors are reading our emails, you're very foolish."
Regarding President Barack Obama's approach to Syria, Nunes said: "He waited too long to make a decision. He never pulled the trigger, and that lack of willingness to do something was a dangerous precedent to set."
Nunes said a "lack of willingness" on Obama's part in dealing with foreign crises fueled Russian President Vladimir Putin's move into Crimea.
"He's a very strategic thinker, planning his next move based on who's in the White House," he said. "This leaves us very vulnerable."
Nunes' distrust of strongmen such as Putin and Syria's Bashar Assad and an accompanying passion for democracy come in part from his Portuguese heritage, he said. He can vividly recall his grandmother's speaking with joy about how the United States moved aggressively to thwart the Communists who were trying to seize power in Portugal in 1974.
The congressman grew up hearing how Frank Carlucci, the U.S. ambassador to Portugal at the time, was a hero to his family for his aggressive maneuvering. In 2005, during his second term as a congressman, Nunes was delighted to finally meet Carlucci — who later served as President Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense — and hear firsthand how the former ambassador kept the land of Nunes' ancestors out of Communist hands.
"Call me passionately anti-dictatorship," said Nunes, noting that Portuguese-Americans among his constituents had family members who were killed in Angola by Cuban mercenaries trying to help topple Portugal's final colony.
Two more senior Republican House members, Reps. Peter King of New York and Jeff Miller of Florida, have also signaled an interest in the chairmanship.
But King is also seriously considering a bid for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, and Miller is already chairman of the important Veterans Affairs Committee. Nunes, 40, already a member of the Intelligence Committee, has no such other options ahead of him.
Emphasizing that the primary goal of the next Intelligence Committee is to provide oversight on the intelligence community, Nunes said, "That requires someone who has the trust of the speaker as well as the confidence of the full Republican conference. I'm both of those. My colleagues know I'm a straight shooter."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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