In­tel chair's visit to White House un­set­tles probe

Panel’s top Demo­crat calls on Nunes to exit Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Eileen Sul­li­van

House in­tel­li­gence Chair­man Devin Nunes went to the White House grounds to re­view in­tel­li­gence re­ports and meet the se­cret source be­hind his claim that com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­volv­ing Trump as­so­ci­ates were caught up in “in­ci­den­tal” sur­veil­lance, the Repub­li­can con­gress­man said Mon­day, prompt­ing the top Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee to call on Nunes to re­cuse him­self from the com­mit­tee’s Rus­sia probe.

Rep. Adam Schiff said Nunes’ con­nec­tions to the White House have raised in­sur­mount­able pub­lic doubts about whether the com­mit­tee could cred­i­bly in­ves­ti­gate the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign as­so­ci­ates.

“I be­lieve the pub­lic can­not have the nec­es­sary con­fi­dence that mat­ters in­volv­ing the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign or tran­si­tion team can be ob­jec­tively in­ves­ti­gated or over­seen by the chair­man,” Schiff, of Cal­i­for­nia, said in a state­ment Mon­day.

Nunes, also of Cal­i­for­nia, con­firmed Mon­day that he met with the source at the White House com­plex, but he de­nied co­or­di­nat­ing with the pres­i­dent’s aides.

Af­ter re­view­ing the in­for­ma­tion last week, Nunes called a news con­fer­ence to an­nounce that U.S. spy agen­cies may have in­ad­ver­tently cap­tured Trump and his as­so­ci­ates in rou­tine tar­get­ing of for­eign­ers’ com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Trump quickly seized on the state­ments as at least par­tial vin­di­ca­tion for his as­ser­tion that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower — though Nunes, Schiff and FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey have said there is no such ev­i­dence.

The Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee also is con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion and pos­si­ble ties with the Trump cam­paign.

On Mon­day, it an­nounced that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kush-

ner, has agreed to be in­ter­viewed.

Kush­ner is the fourth Trump as­so­ciate to of­fer to be in­ter­viewed by the con­gres­sional com­mit­tees look­ing into the murky Rus­sia ties. Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort, Trump ad­viser Carter Page and Trump as­so­ciate Roger Stone last week vol­un­teered to speak as well.

“Mr. Kush­ner will cer­tainly not be the last per­son the com­mit­tee calls to give tes­ti­mony, but we ex­pect him to be able to pro­vide an­swers to key ques­tions that have arisen in our in­quiry,” the chair­man, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and the top Demo­crat, Mark Warner of Vir­ginia, said in a joint state­ment Mon­day in a sign of bi­par­ti­san­ship.

The House in­ves­ti­ga­tion, mean­while, has been plagued with par­ti­san di­vi­sions un­der Nunes’ lead­er­ship.

The chair­man did not tell Schiff, the top Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee, about the meet­ing at the White House com­plex.

It is highly un­usual for a com­mit­tee chair­man and rank­ing mem­ber not to co­or­di­nate meet­ings re­lated to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I think the chair­man has to make a de­ci­sion whether to act as a sur­ro­gate of the White House — as he did dur­ing the cam­paign and the tran­si­tion — or to lead an in­de­pen­dent and cred­i­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Schiff said Sun­day on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion.”

Nunes ar­gued he had to re­view clas­si­fied, ex­ec­u­tive branch doc­u­ments from a se­cure fa­cil­ity at the White House be­cause the re­ports had not been pro­vided to Congress and could not be trans­ported to the se­cure fa­cil­i­ties used by the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee.

“Be­cause of clas­si­fi­ca­tion rules, the source could not sim­ply put the doc­u­ments in a back­pack and walk them over to the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee space,” Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said. “The White House grounds was the best lo­ca­tion to safe­guard the proper chain of cus­tody and clas­si­fi­ca­tion of these doc­u­ments, so the chair­man could view them in a le­gal way.”

Nunes would not name the source of the in­for­ma­tion, nor would he dis­close who in­vited him on the White House grounds for the meet­ing.

In ad­di­tion to the White House it­self, the grounds in­clude an ad­ja­cent build­ing with of­fices for Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and other ex­ec­u­tive branch em­ploy­ees.

Nunes de­scribed the source as in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial, not a White House of­fi­cial. In an in­ter­view on CNN, he sug­gested the pres­i­dent’s aides were un­aware of the meet­ing.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer would not com­ment on whether White House of­fi­cials were in­volved with Nunes.

“I’m not go­ing to get into who he met with or why he met with them,” Spicer said.

The dis­clo­sure re­newed calls for an in­de­pen­dent com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the Rus­sia ties.

In­deed, Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to re­place Nunes as chair­man of the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

“He has not been op­er­at­ing like some­one who is in­ter­ested in get­ting to the un­var­nished truth. His ac­tions look like those of some­one who is in­ter­ested in pro­tect­ing the pres­i­dent and his party,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

Ash­Lee Strong, a spokes­woman for Ryan, R-Wis., said Mon­day the speaker has “full con­fi­dence that Chair­man Nunes is con­duct­ing a thor­ough, fair and cred­i­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

When Nunes dis­closed the in­tel­li­gence re­ports last week, he said what he re­viewed had noth­ing to do with Rus­sia.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, has come un­der fire from top Democrats in both cham­bers.

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