‘There’s nothing there’
The House Intelligence Committee chairman says there is no evidence so far of contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives.
WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes denied on Monday that there was any evidence from the intelligence community of contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives.
“As of right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist. ... What I’ve been told by many folks is that there’s nothing there,” said Nunes, R-Calif.
Nunes contended there was no need at this time for a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of contact between Russian officials and Trump campaign aides.
Instead, the Republican said that the “major crimes” that have been committed are leaking to the news media on the subject of Russia, as well as other accounts of what should be confidential dealings with the Trump White House, including calls with foreign leaders like the Australian prime minister.
“There’s been major crimes committed,” Nunes said, referring to the leaks. “What I’m concerned about is no one is focusing on major leaks that have occurred here. ... We can’t run a government like this. A government can’t function with massive leaks at the highest level.”
This is the first time a leading House Republican — in this case, the lawmaker whois leading the investigation in the lower chamber— has said flatly that he has not seen any evidence of inappropriate communications between Trump aides and Russia. The FBI is investigating Russia’s role in last year’s election, and potential ties between Trump associates an d Russia.
Nunes also rejected the call by Democrats that he would request Trump’s tax returns, which they believe would shine light on possible Trump business dealings with Russia.
Democrats pushed back forcefully on the idea that conclusions could be drawn even before the investigation has really gotten up and running.
In a Monday afternoon news conference, top Intelligence Committee Democrat Adam Schiff, of California, argued Nunes’ conclusions are “premature.”
Schiff pointed to the fact that the committee has not yet received any documents, called any witnesses, or even released the final agreement about the scope of its investigation.
“When you begin an investigation, you don’t begin by stating what you believe to be the conclusion,” Schiff told reporters.
The dueling press conferences are the latest sign that House Republicans and Democrats are divided about how to probe allegations that members of Trump’ s team had improper contacts with Russian officials.
Schiff has agreed to make the leaks part of the House Intelligence panel’s investigation — but he warns that the focus should be on the substance of what was leaked, particularly as it pertains to former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contact with Russian officials.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, back from a trip to Ukraine and other countries he said were worried about Russia, told Bloomberg News editors and reporters in New York on Monday that an ongoing investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee isn’t sufficient.
“It has to reach a point where we have public sentiment strong enough thatwe launch an independent, transparent investigation of wha tthe Russians did to us,” he said. “Think 9/11.”