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Nunes, Schiff Constituents Remind Representatives About Local Issues


Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Devin Nunes have a couple of things in common. They lead the House Intelligence Committee, and they are both from the state of California. But the two lawmakers could not be further apart when it comes to the Russia investigation. So what do their constituents back home make of how Nunes and Schiff are handling the investigation? NPR's Tim Mak and Nathan Rott spent some time talking with those voters. We start with Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Let's face it - if you're listening to this story in certain parts of the country, California is akin to a curse word. The state is deep blue. It postures itself as anti-President Trump and challenges his administration on everything from immigration to car standards. That California is not this California.

MATT LEIDER: There's this side of the hills, and then there's the coast.

ROTT: Matt Leider (ph) lives on this side of the hill, in the San Joaquin, or Central Valley, home to Republican Devin Nunes and mile after mile of agriculture.

LEIDER: What you're sitting next to here is blood oranges.

ROTT: Leider is a citrus farmer. He's a Republican. And like most in the ag industry, he's a big supporter of Nunes, a third-generation dairy farmer himself.

LEIDER: Devin has always been a friend of the farmer.

ROTT: And here in the Central Valley, that is the most important thing to be. Russian interference in the election, politically charged memos, all the hubbub that Nunes is involved with back in D.C. as chair of the House Intelligence Committee...

LEIDER: It's not top 10 of what we're concerned with. So I mean, right now I'd say lack of rain is everybody in this county's biggest concern.


ROTT: On Main Street in nearby Visalia, you'll hear more of the same. Here's Danielle Colesberry (ph).

DANIELLE COLESBERRY: I bet I could go talk to, like, 50 people right now and nobody will even hardly know. I mean, they'll know about as much as me, which is something about emails and Russians and having to do with the election being rigged or whatever. But, I mean it is what it is.

ROTT: And what it is does not seem like a Tulare County problem, says Rosanna Martin (ph).

ROSANNA MARTIN: Who cares? I don't care. I really don't.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: That's why I think I don't care. (Laughter).

ROTT: You don't care if they actually - but, if the Russians interfered with the election, you still don't really care?

ROSANNA MARTIN: No. I don't think I do.

ROTT: You hear this a lot, that the Russian story is overblown or that it's all a setup to get Trump. That's Steve Marshall's (ph) view.

Do you think the FBI is partisan?

STEVE MARSHALL: Obviously. Look at the stuff with the FISA warrants.

ROTT: A reference to the warrants used to wiretap a former adviser to the Trump campaign who the FBI was investigating for possible ties to Russians, the subject of Devin Nunes's much talked-about memo.

MARSHALL: I think he's getting to the bottom of it.

ROTT: Opponents to Nunes, here and back in Washington, accuse him of being too close to the president and protecting him for political gain. Stephen Tootle, a history professor at the College of Sequoias here in Visalia, says that couldn't be farther from the truth. He's known Nunes for 10 years.

STEPHEN TOOTLE: Devin Nunes is nobody's lap-dog. I'll tell you that. (Laughter) Devin Nunes is nobody's lap-dog.

ROTT: What he is, Tootle says, is a politician looking to help his constituents here, and having the president by your side doesn't hurt. I'm Nathan Rott, in the Central Valley.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: And I'm Tim Mak. Far from Nunes's district is Babushka's, a Russian deli in West Hollywood.



MAK: Hi there. I wonder if the owner is around?

The deli owner is Konstantin Shvuin (ph), who immigrated from Russia 25 years ago with dreams to play jazz. This part of California is represented by Congressman Adam Schiff, the leading Democrat on the House's Trump-Russia probe. Shvuin, like many others here, has been following the Russia probe closely.

KONSTANTIN SHVUIN: It's very important for us to have this investigation done.

MAK: But the things that matter most to him are not the abstractions of an investigation in far-off Washington, but the street outside his deli. On Valentine's Day, his store was burglarized. The neighborhood is becoming less and less appealing.

SHVUIN: Being a small-business owner, I have so much local problems, you know?

MAK: In this district, people are aware of the drama playing out around investigations into Russia, but the dire headlines, including warnings that Russia is still trying to interfere with the U.S. elections, contrasts with the feeling on the ground. Here's Cara MacFarlane (ph), a 25-year-old television writer living in Glendale.

CARA MACFARLANE: I don't know if it affects me daily except for trusting my government, you know, to do a good job in taking care of something that matters.

MAK: She says she has a lot more conversations around gun violence and race than on Russia.

MACFARLANE: And it's a lot harder to talk about Adam Schiff, (laughter) you know, and, like, the Russia investigation because things move slowly. And those are details that people don't really care to research, whereas something like racism, it's, like, everyone can shout their opinions about that.

MAK: But Shvuin, back in his deli, wants people to know that the investigation is necessary for American sovereignty.

SHVUIN: And American people know the truth, what actually is going on.

MAK: And with that, he pauses and begins to play on a massive piano stationed right in the center of the deli.

SHVUIN: Because, because, because.

(Playing piano, tune of "America The Beautiful.")

MAK: Tim Mak, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.