How do you gauge the corrosive effect on our democracy of leaders like President Donald Trump and Rep. Devin Nunes? For Andrew Janz, a prosecutor in Fresno, California, it’s in the courtroom, during jury selection. Janz recalls a prospective juror recently declaring that he didn’t trust prosecutors — “I think that they’re part of the Deep State,” Janz recalls man saying. “When you have everyday Americans questioning folks appointed to serve justice,” says Janz, “that undermines the entire system.”
Some 2018 Democratic candidates are trying to start a revolution; Janz is standing up for the rule of law. The straight-arrow prosecutor is taking on Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee infamous for running interference for Trump against the Russia investigation. Janz calls Nunes “a national security danger” and his law-and-order message has resonated nationwide. Janz has raised more than $7 million in largely small-dollar donations to confront the seven-term incumbent in California’s 22nd congressional district, drawing the race into single digits, according to recent polls, despite Nunes’ own $10 million haul.
Why does the race matter? Nunes was the only congressman on Trump’s presidential transition team, and he acts as though his loyalties still lie with the administration, rather than with his constituents. In 2017, Nunes was caught taking a late-night Uber ride to the White House to share intelligence with Trump. The ensuing uproar led Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — only not really. Nunes later orchestrated the much-hyped release of “The Memo” — a tendentious collection of declassified intelligence that purported to prove the Russia probe was tainted by partisanship (but actually debunked that theory in its footnotes).
Nunes’ true colors were revealed in audio leaked this past summer in which he told GOP donors that his ability to protect Trump from the Russia inquiry hinged on the November election. “If Sessions won’t un-recuse,” Nunes said, referring to the attorney general, “and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones. Which is really the danger,” Nunes warned. “If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”
Apart from his scandalous behavior on the national scene, Nunes has local worries. An Esquire expose revealed that Nunes’ family dairy farm — which gave him Central Valley ag cred — is no longer in California, but Iowa. Nunes has also been caught living high on the campaign hog, reportedly spending PAC funds on limo rides, Las Vegas soires and — most scandalous in California — Celtics tickets, worth $15,000.
Janz is trim. Intense. The 34-year-old pulls no punches: “We need to work to get Trump out of office. He’s the biggest threat to our country right now,” Janz tells supporters at a Fresno house party attended by Rolling Stone. “Let’s send a signal to the rest of the country that the person who stands closest to Trump, Devin Nunes, doesn’t represent American values — and certainly doesn’t represent our values. It’s time for him to go.”
Prior to the campaign event, Janz had stopped by SipsNClips, a barbershop/bar in a north-Fresno shopping center. Janz already had cop-short hair when he arrived — and then got a trim. Afterward, he sat down for a beer with Rolling Stone to discuss the contours of his campaign:
How did you get into this race?
My dad always taught that when you’re in a position to make a difference, you have the obligation to stand up and right a wrong. When I saw my member of Congress engaging in unethical behavior in Washington — secret runs to the White House; misuse of campaign donations; he was under an ethics investigation for the better part of a year — I said, Enough is enough.
You’ve got an infamous opponent. Obviously you’re able to raise a lot of money nationally. But how are the national storylines playing locally?
A lot of people don’t pay attention to the everyday developments the Russia story. The people in the district are more interested in tangible results for the region. The problem with Nunes is that he has abandoned the district. He is an absent member of Congress.
Nunes is the chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the House of Representatives. He raises more money than anyone else. He has a lot of political capital. But what does he use that political capital for? He doesn’t use it to bring back infrastructure projects that we desperately need — water infrastructure, transportation infrastructure. He’s using his political capital to advance his own agenda. He’s backing Trump. He’s ignoring the farmers who are yelling at him every day about how bad these tariffs are for the economy. And he’s taking private jets to Vegas and buying Celtics tickets. People here don’t get that.
What’s your pitch to voters?
I’m a first-time politician. I’m not a political insider. I never thought about running for office until last year. People are ready ready for a change. This guy’s been in office for 15 years. He hasn’t done anything for the Central Valley. He was asked by a local paper what his number-one accomplishment was, and the best that he could muster up was to say that he brought attention to the fact that California has a water issue. We didn’t need him to tell us that we have a water problem here in California; we need him to get stuff done and he hasn’t done it.
This is personal for you?
I was raised in the district. My parents are immigrants. My dad came from northern Canada when he was really young. My mom’s from Thailand. My parents met when my dad was stationed in the Peace Corps in the Seventies, early Eighties. My parents are both working class folks. My dad passed away five years ago, my mom lives with me and my brother depending on the time of the year. I was a regular kid: Went to school in the Walley — Cal State Stanislaus. Went to law school in L.A., then came back to the Valley as soon as possible.
Have are you and Nunes going to debate?
I honestly think he doesn’t want to debate a prosecutor. I cross-examine criminals for a living. For him to get onto the debate stage with me would be very dangerous. I have said that he can bring a criminal defense attorney with him if it makes him more comfortable.
How does Trump play here?
I know so many Republicans who say, “I don’t agree we’re with where Trump is taking the party” — paying off porn stars, bringing on people into his administration that misused taxpayer dollars people like Tom Price, people like Ben Carson, Pruitt. Blowing up the deficit. The tariffs are a perfect example of this. We wouldn’t need a $12 billion dollar bailout for farmers if he just let the free market work. Traditional Republicans believe in open markets, free trade, ethics and morals and values. I can win over a lot of those folks.
For people who don’t know the region, what’s the driver of the economy here?
Almonds are the number-one cash crop in Fresno County. Raisins are number two. In Tulare county — the other part of the district [where Nunes hails from] — it’s absolutely dairy. We grow over 270 kinds of crops, provide half the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. And there’s no question that these tariffs are going to to really hurt us. Most of that $12 billion is going to Midwestern farms. That’s not going to help us here in the Central Valley.
What’s your relationship like with the Democratic party, the DCCC?
I haven’t taken a dime from them and I don’t plan to. I’m running my own campaign; I am not owned by the national Democratic party. I’ve been critical of both parties — and I think that’s in line where a lot of Americans are today.
Do you get the Nancy Pelosi attacks?
It frustrates me that nobody ever asks Devin Nunes if he’s going to support Kevin McCarthy for speaker, but I’m always asked if I’m going to support Nancy Pelosi. I think we need change in both political parties — especially at the top. That applies to the Democrats as well as Republicans. She doesn’t live here. She doesn’t have any sway over this campaign and neither does the national party. I can really be myself. And, to be honest with you, we’re raising more money than the candidates who are being reported by the D-triple-C.
If Democrats win the House, Nunes is marginalized, regardless of whether he’s still in Congress. Should people really be putting money in your race if there are other races that might be more strategic?
Folks who like to pick and choose races and say, “This race is winnable”; “This race is not winnable” — I don’t think they’ve taken a very serious look at our race. I don’t think they’re seeing that what is happening here on the ground, the level of energy and excitement. I don’t think that they’re seeing how pissed off conservative voters are at Nunes.
Obviously this is a David-versus-Goliath type of race. But Nunes is really a national security danger. Devin Nunes is Trump’s biggest cheerleader in congress. He’s protecting him. He’s ignoring the findings of federal law enforcement agencies that are run by career Republicans — to side with a person whose campaign is under an active investigation for colluding with a foreign power. He’s undermining the efforts of our national intelligence agencies. He’s undermining our criminal justice system.
You couple that with the fact that Devin Nunes takes more money than anybody else in the United States Congress, from corporations, from special interest groups, from people who write $5,000 checks…. Nunes represents everything that’s wrong in Washington — on so many different levels.
Fresno is kind of an orphan in California, not claimed by NorCal or SoCal. Where do your sports allegiances lie?
Lakers. Devin: My team — we’re going to crush the Celtics this year.