Devin Nunes: House Intelligence Committee Trump/Russia investigation controversy

Devin Nunes is the head of the House Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives. Recently, he has taken actions which have caused a controversy and has created growing concerns on the impartiality of his committee.  Nunes served as part of President Donald Trump’s transition team and was one of the first members of Congress to resist the call to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

During the week of March 20, the House Intelligence Committee held hearings on the allegations of collusion with Russia and the allegations that Trump Tower was wiretapped. According to James Comey, Director of the FBI, on March 20 there was no evidence of surveillance of Trump’s team and Trump Tower specifically.

On March 21, Nunes took a phone call while sharing a ride with a staffer.  After the call, he changes cars without telling anyone where he was going.  Nunes later states that the unscheduled trip was to the White House.  While at the White House, an unnamed source provides Nunes with information about incidental surveillance of Trump and his team.

On March 22, Nunes holds a press conference stating that there was incidental surveillance of Trump and his team.  He also stated that the members of Trump’s team were unmasked. In this context, “unmasking” means that the names of American citizens were revealed in intelligence reports rather than concealed to protect the citizen’s rights.  Nunes says that the reports came from FISA surveillance.

After this meeting, Nunes visits the White House to brief Trump on the reports.  Immediately, after the meeting with Trump, he held another press conference on the White House lawn.  After this second press conference, Representative Adam Schiff released a statement saying that Nunes did not share his information with the other members of the committee prior to the press conferences and said that Nunes told him that the names in the reports were masked.

On March 23, Nunes offers an apology to the members of his committee and he promised to share the documents with them on March 24.  A spokesperson for Nunes clarified that Nunes does not know for sure whether or not Trump’s team were the targets of surveillance or if they were mentioned in conversations between foreign nationals. On Fox News in the evening, Nunes said his decision to brief Trump was because he felt like he had a duty to tell him.

On March 24, Nunes cancels a scheduled hearing that was to feature Jame Clapper, John Brennan, and Sally Yates.  A number of members on the committee confirms that Nunes has not shared the intelligence reports as promised.  Nunes declined to say whether or not the information came from the White House.

On March 27, Nunes claims that he met his source of the information at the White House in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information from the informant.  Nunes says the reason to go to the White House was because the information had not been provided to Congress.

In the evening, Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, said that the White House officials did not have any knowledge of Nune’s visit.  However, members of Congress, like the general public, must be cleared and escorted into facilities on White House grounds. Nunes has repeatedly declined to explain details about his source but he stressed that the information that he had has nothing to do with Russia.

Nunes may be facing a possible investigation by the House Ethics Committee.  Revealing the existence of a foreign surveillance warrant is against the rules.  In this case, it is the revealing of the existence of a FISA warrant because they are classified facts.

All hearings schedule by the committee for the week of March 27 have been canceled by Nunes with no explanation.  Democrats believe that the reason is to block Yates from testifying in the investigation. Yates has received letters from the Justice Department earlier in the month telling her that her testimony on collusion and ouster of Michael Flynn were covered by presidential communication privilege.

Schiff and House Democrats have called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation. Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, was asked to replace Nunes. Ryan refused and said that he has full confidence that Nunes can oversee the probe.

Update 4/2/2017: It has been reported that Nunes contacts’ have been identified. They are White House staffers, Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis. This revelation has fueled the accusations that Nunes is working for President Trump.

Schiff has viewed the documents that Nunes had viewed. After viewing the intelligence, he issued the following statement.

Today my staff director and I reviewed materials at the White House. It was represented to me that these are precisely the same materials that were provided to the Chairman over a week ago. While I cannot discuss the content of the documents, if the White House had any concern over these materials, they should have been shared with the full committees in the first place as a part of our ordinary oversight responsibilities.

Nothing I could see today warranted a departure from the normal review procedures, and these materials should now be provided to the full membership of both committees. The White House has yet to explain why senior White House staff apparently shared these materials with but one of member of either committee, only for their contents to be briefed back to the White House.

 

References and Further Reading

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