Russia probe in turmoil as top Dem calls for Nunes’ recusal

The House intelligence committee investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election was thrown into new turmoil Monday night, after the ranking Democrat on the panel called on the Republican chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., to “recuse himself from any further involvement.”

The call by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., came after Nunes acknowledged he had gone to the White House grounds to receive classified information from an unidentified source about U.S. intelligence community surveillance that, he says, had swept up conversations involving Trump transition officials. That information — which Trump has claimed partially vindicates his tweets charging that former President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” him — was never shared with others on the panel, Democrats charge.

Schiff said his call for Nunes to step aside was not made “lightly,” because the two have worked well together for years.

“But in much the same way that the attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation after failing to inform the Senate of his meetings with Russian officials, 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 said in his statement.

The Schiff statement came as panel staffers speculated on the possible identity of Nunes’ White House source, focusing on Michael Ellis, a lawyer who worked for Nunes on the intelligence panel and who was recently hired to work on national security matters at the White House counsel’s office. A White House official and spokesman for Nunes declined to comment on whether Ellis was involved in providing information to Nunes, as did a spokesman for Schiff. White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted that White House officials were not aware of Nunes’ secret trip to meet his source and referred all questions to Nunes’ office.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House intelligence committee, briefs reporters at the U.S. Capitol on March 24, 2017. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House intelligence committee, briefs reporters at the U.S. Capitol on March 24, 2017. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Democrats have been furious that Nunes has yet to describe precisely the classified intelligence he has seen. Nor has he shared any documents with others on the House intelligence panel. Nunes, for his part, defended his previously undisclosed trip to the White House grounds, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he had to view the classified documents in an executive branch location because the intelligence community had not yet provided them to Congress.

“The Congress has not been given this information, these documents, and that’s the problem,” Nunes said. “This is executive branch.”

Last week, Nunes announced the postponement of a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday at which former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had been due to testify. Instead, Nunes said, FBI Director James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers would be called back in closed session to explain the new material that he says shows Trump transition officials, and possibly even the president himself, were captured during U.S. surveillance of foreign targets.

But late Monday, the committee confirmed that that session too had been postponed, and will be rescheduled. Comey and Rogers were said to be unavailable.

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