A controversial White House aide has gone back to work on Capitol Hill for the chairman of the House intelligence committee, which is currently investigating connections between Donald Trump’s allies and Russia.
The Daily Beast has confirmed that Derek Harvey, the former Mideast chief for the National Security Council (NSC), is once again working for Devin Nunes, the California Republican. Both men are considered Iran hawks, pushing for a more aggressive stance with Tehran. It’s an outlook they share with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was fired after serving as Trump’s national security adviser for 23 days for his involvement in the growing Russian influence scandal.
Nunes partially recused himself from the Russia investigation after he worked with the White House to shift the inquiry’s focus on the “unmasking” of Americans’ names in intelligence reports.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster fired Harvey from the NSC in July, despite their mutual pedigree as close allies of retired Army general David Petraeus. Harvey’s firing was widely perceived as McMaster clearing the highly influential council of staff brought aboard by his predecessor, Flynn. In rapid succession this summer, McMaster also cleared out intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick and strategic-planning staffer Rich Higgins.
It was not immediately clear what Harvey’s brief will be for Nunes, nor if Harvey will return to the House intelligence committee staff. Though Harvey is not known to have any dealings with Russia, any role Harvey might play on the House intelligence committee’s Russia investigation is likely to come under intense scrutiny – both due to Harvey’s pedigree in the Trump White House, and due to the ongoing saga concern the extent of Nunes’ noninvolvement.
Days after the committee held a contentious public hearing on Russia perceived as politically damaging to Trump, Nunes held a bizarre press conference intimating that the intelligence agencies had improperly disseminated “unmasked” intelligence on Trump aides, to include Nunes ally Flynn, incidentally collected after those aides appeared on lawful surveillance of Russian officials. The New York Times later reported that, despite Nunes’ denials, that his sources for the accusation were White House officials – including Cohen-Watnick – leading to the opening of an inquiry from the House Ethics panel.
Under intense political pressure that Nunes was using the committee meant to investigate Russia ties to carry Trump’s water, he “temporarily” handed the reins of the investigation to GOP colleague Mike Conaway of Texas in early April. But the extent of Nunes’ divestment from the inquiry has subsequently come under question.
Nunes in May visited the CIA to review intelligence on Russia, rankling committee Democrats who questioned whether Nunes had in fact recused himself at all. The next month, he unilaterally subpoenaed intelligence agencies for information on the alleged improper unmasking. And last month, Nunes issued more subpoenas, this time to the Justice Department and FBI for information related to ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s salacious and unverified “dossier” of rumors that Russia has compromising information on Trump.
Nunes’ Democratic counterpart, Adam Schiff of California, told NPR last week that Schiff’s rear-guard subpoenas were an “effort to somehow lend credence” to Trump’s baseless claim that Barack Obama had Trump Tower placed under surveillance.
“We are keeping the investigation on track, but there is this external effort by the chairman which, I think, is causing unnecessary turbulence,” Schiff said.
As for Harvey, Foreign Policy reported that he and Cohen-Watnick had pushed for the U.S. military to confront Iranian influence in Syria aggressively, something the Daily Beast was told had little purchase with Trump himself. Trump subsequently acquiesced to a Russian-led diplomatic process in Syria that will keep mutual Russian and Iranian client Bashar Assad in power.
Harvey had also backed adding U.S. troops to the Afghanistan war before McMaster let Harvey go, a proposal then out of vogue at the White House but which Trump ultimately endorsed last month.
Upon his ouster, Harvey emailed friends to say that he would “take advantage of a new opportunity to continue serving...in an important capacity.”
As an Iran hawk, Harvey’s return to Capitol Hill comes at a time when the Trump administration is reportedly looking for ways to tear up the Iran nuclear deal Obama brokered, a move that has significant purchase amongst congressional Republicans – but which former State Department nonproliferation official and deal advocate Thomas Countryman said would be based on “alternative facts.”
Rumors of Harvey’s employment with Nunes were first circulated by Laura Rozen of al-Monitor. A representative for Nunes’ office did not respond to messages seeking clarification and comment.
It’s not Harvey’s first time working for Nunes. The retired Army colonel and former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst served as a staffer on the House intelligence committee as recently as last year.