House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes on Wednesday tried to blame Democrats for the troubles plaguing the panel’s investigation into Russia’s apparent meddling in the election, as a prominent moderate Republican cast doubt on the future of the House probe.
Nunes has come under fierce criticism from Democrats, who have accused him of colluding with the White House to undermine the panel’s probe, which is also examining whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials.
But Nunes on Wednesday claimed it was Democrats who were not dedicated to the investigation.
“We’re beginning to figure out who’s actually serious about the investigation because it appears like the Democrats aren’t really serious about this investigation,” he said, as reported by NBC News.
A spokesman for Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, blasted the comments. In a statement, the spokesman noted that it was Nunes who called off a hearing scheduled for Tuesday of this week with former Obama administration officials, including former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Yates and potentially others were expected to deliver testimony that contradicted prior administration statements about Russia contacts.
“The Minority submitted a list of witnesses to the Majority yesterday. This list represents only the first of many witnesses we believe should be called to testify,” the spokesman said. “Additionally, the Minority proposed days ago that two hearings be scheduled for next week — both the closed hearing with [James] Comey and [Mike] Rogers requested by the Majority and the open hearing with Yates, Clapper and Brennan that had been previously agreed to by both parties and cancelled abruptly and unilaterally by the Chair. We have yet to receive a response.”
Adding to Nunes’ woes, moderate Republican Rep. Charlie Dent on Wednesday questioned whether the House Intelligence Committee’s probe could reasonably go forward. Dent called the current state of the House’s investigation “unfortunate.”
“My sense right now is the House is in a situation where the issue has become overly politicized,” Dent told CNN. “It doesn’t seem like there’s much cooperation on either side.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer reaffirmed the administration’s confidence in Nunes during Wednesday’s press briefing. “There is nothing that I see that is problematic in him conducting an investigation that we asked both the House and Senate intelligence committees (for),” he said.
Many Democrats, including Schiff, are calling for Nunes to step aside amid concerns of coordination between Nunes and the White House. After Nunes announced last week he had seen evidence that Trump associates were incidentally surveilled after the election, he revealed this week that he met with his source on White House grounds the day before.
Critics are raising concerns that Nunes is working with the White House to protect the president, which Nunes has denied. In particular, Schiff has criticized Nunes for canceling the public hearing that was scheduled to occur Tuesday and feature the former Obama officials.
“Sally Yates is willing to testify, WH says they want her to testify, public wants to hear from her, Brennan and Clapper…what’s the holdup?” Schiff tweeted on Wednesday.
The controversy around the House’s probe intensified on Tuesday when The Washington Post reported that the White House tried to discourage Yates from testifying — something Spicer later denied.
Tensions between Nunes and Schiff picked up after Schiff called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation Monday. But Nunes has repeatedly and emphatically said he will not step aside from the investigation.
Other members of the committee still have not seen the documents Nunes was referring to, which Trump said “somewhat” vindicated his unsubstantiated claim that he was wiretapped by President Barack Obama in Trump Tower before the election.
Nunes said the Democrats have not given him a witness list and said as far as he knew they had done “very little” to read the documents provided by the intelligence agencies.
“So, at the end of the day here, we’re going to get to the truth, we’re going to find out who’s actually doing a real investigation,” he said.
Democrats on the committee have fired back against Nunes’ complaints. Democrat Mike Quigley of Illinois told MSNBC he believes Nunes should step down and that Nunes appears to be stalling the investigation at the request of the White House.
“My point of view, it begins and ends at the White House,” he said. “I believe, unfortunately, the chairman is following their orders. That is just my belief, I can’t say I know for sure, but that is what makes the most sense to me.”
Also criticizing Nunes this week was California Democrat Jackie Speier, who said Tuesday she “didn’t trust” Nunes and thought he was “in over his head.”
Democrats have also been calling for an independent investigation for weeks, joined by a handful of Republicans, including Sen. John McCain and Rep. Darrell Issa.
Sen. Richard Burr and Mark Warner are leading the Senate’s investigation, which Dent said is more credible than the House’s.
At a joint news conference Wednesday, Burr told reporters that seven professional staffers have “been provided an unprecedented amount of documents” that the committee should be finished examining within weeks. He said the panel has requested 20 individuals for interviews, five of whom he said are already on the docket.
The senators, however, would only identify Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner as someone who will testify. They said his hearing won’t be scheduled until after the committee has gathered enough information to know what to ask him.
“This is one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here,” said Burr, who admitted to voting for Trump but maintained that his job in the Senate “overrides any personal beliefs that I have or loyalties that I might have.”
“This investigation’s scope will go wherever the intelligence leads it,” Burr added.
And, in just one example of the stark contrast between how the House and Senate panels are operating, Warner, Burr’s Democratic counterpart, backed him up.
“I have confidence in Richard Burr, that we, together, with the members of our committee, are gonna get to the bottom of this,” he told reporters. “If you get nothing else from today, take that statement to the bank.”
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