Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, questioned on Wednesday whether the panel’s Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, is acting as a “surrogate of the White House.”
Earlier on Wednesday, in what was apparently a surprise to his fellow committee members, Nunes held a news conference and then briefed President Donald Trump on what he said was evidence that members of Trump’s transition team, possibly including Trump himself, were under U.S. government surveillance following November’s presidential election. He told reporters that the monitoring appears to have been carried out legally.
At his own news conference later that afternoon, Schiff sharply criticized Nunes, given that his committee is in the middle of an active investigation that includes the question of whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia’s suspected attempts to meddle in last year’s election.
“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both,” Schiff told reporters.
Nunes, a Trump ally on Capitol Hill, also advised the president’s campaign and transition team on national security issues.
“And unfortunately,” Schiff added, “I think the actions of today throw great doubt into the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.”
Schiff then called for what many Democrats have been demanding for weeks: an outside commission to investigate the suspected Russian election interference.
Nunes had told reporters earlier Wednesday that the monitoring seems to have been legal “incidental collection,” which sometimes happens when an American is communicating with a foreign national under U.S. surveillance. But Nunes raised concerns that the identities of Trump transition officials whose communications were monitored this way may have been inappropriately “unmasked,” or named in intelligence reports.
Schiff emphasized to reporters that Nunes had brought forth no evidence to suggest that there was ever a wiretap of Trump Tower, as the president has repeatedly alleged without evidence. Several top officials, including FBI Director James Comey, have publicly refuted the explosive allegation, but Trump has not retracted it, and he suggested Wednesday that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ statements.
Though he was very critical of Nunes at the press conference, Schiff would not say whether Nunes revealed classified information by announcing his findings to reporters before and after his meeting with Trump. Instead, he focused on chastising the chairman for hurting the committee’s legitimacy.
“I’m not prepared to say that what the chairman said was classified or unclassified,” Schiff said. “I would say that the most profound concern here I have is that these actions simply raise enormous doubt about whether the committee can do its work. And I think that more than anything else I’ve seen, this makes the most profound case for the formation of an independent commission.”
Additionally, Schiff wondered aloud whether Nunes’ actions were “part of a broader campaign by the White House aimed to deflect from the director’s testimony earlier this week.”
The FBI chief testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday at a hearing that was widely viewed as very politically damaging to Trump. Comey publicly confirmed for the first time that the FBI is actively investigating the Trump campaign’s links to Russia and whether there was any coordination between the two parties on the cyberattacks that disrupted the presidential election. Trump’s campaign has denied any such wrongdoing.
Powered by WPeMatico