Why Hasn’t Devin Nunes Assimilated Yet?

Unpacking the Republican congressman’s family tree to examine his curious, divided loyalties between Portugal and the U.S.

Megan Smolenyak
8 min readApr 26, 2018


Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

There’s a lot to digest in Jason Zengerle’s New York Times Magazine feature, “How Devin Nunes Turned the House Intelligence Committee Inside Out,” but, as a genealogist, one aspect jumped out at me more than it probably would for most. A healthy chunk of Zengerle’s exploration is devoted to the California congressman’s ties to Portugal and his curious efforts to establish American intelligence operations at Lajes Field on the Azorean island of Terceira, despite the notion being deemed impractical by many in the upper echelons of the U.S. government. Zengerle cites the frustration of those caught in the middle of Nunes’s agenda, like Jim Townsend, who served under President Obama as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for Europe and NATO:

“Nunes created so much rancor over the issue that some American officials came to question his motives, and even his patriotism. “I was having a hard-enough time being beaten up by the Azoreans and the Portuguese, but it was even harder seeing a congressman being in cahoots with them,” Townsend says. “It was like, ‘Whose team are you on?’ ” A former Pentagon official suspects that during the Lajes negotiations, Nunes was making the Portuguese privy to things they should not have known. “We would have a conversation about some proprietary matters with Nunes,” this official says, “and then the next day, somehow, Portugal knew some of that.”

It’s no secret that Nunes is of Portuguese — more specifically, Azorean — descent, so why should this grab my attention — aside from the fact that it would be peculiar behavior for any congressional representative and that the President of Portugal namechecked Nunes in a chat with Trump even before his inauguration?

Well, because his ties to Portugal are not as direct as many think.

How Far Back?

Perhaps due to his communications director incorrectly claiming that all four of Nunes’s grandparents were Portuguese immigrants, many accept this as fact so you’ll find this tidbit sprinkled in…



Megan Smolenyak

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! You may not know me, but chances are you’ve seen my work. (www.MeganSmolenyak.com)