The House Intelligence Committee appears to be paralyzed amid indications that Republican chair Devin Nunes has been working on behalf of President Donald Trump to undermine its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
On Tuesday morning, the Washington Post reported that the White House had attempted to bar former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying in front of the committee. Yates was expected to contradict aspects of the administration’s narrative of the events leading up to the resignation of Michael Flynn. According to the Post, Nunes’s cancellation of Yates’s hearing came just after she said that she would testify regardless of the administration’s objections.
Meanwhile, Nunes called off the committee’s scheduled Tuesday briefing with FBI director James Comey and NSA director Michael Rogers. According to what Democratic member Jim Himes told The New Yorker and the New York Times, Nunes also canceled at least two regular committee meetings that were supposed to take place this week. “I’m sorry to say, the chairman has ceased to be the chairman of an investigative committee and has been running interference for the Trump White House, cancelling hearings,” said Himes. “Effectively, what has happened is the committee’s oversight, the oversight of our national intelligence apparatus, has come to a halt because of this particular issue.”
On Tuesday evening, The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza wrote, “The evidence is now clear that the White House and [Nunes] have worked together to halt” the investigation. Here’s Lizza’s account of March 20 — the day before Nunes attended the secret White House meeting that supposedly led to his announcement that members of Trump’s transition team had been the subjects of “incidental” legal surveillance:
Last Monday morning, shortly before the start of the hearing [during which Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating Trump’s Russia ties and denied Trump’s claim that he had been wiretapped by Obama], a senior White House official told me, “You’ll see the setting of the predicate. That’s the thing to watch today.” He suggested that I read a piece in The Hill about incidental collection. The article posited that if “Trump or his advisors were speaking directly to foreign individuals who were the target of U.S. spying during the election campaign, and the intelligence agencies recorded Trump by accident, it’s plausible that those communications would have been collected and shared amongst intelligence agencies.”
The White House clearly indicated to me that it knew Nunes would highlight this issue. “It’s backdoor surveillance where it’s not just incidental, it’s systematic,” the White House official said. “Watch Nunes today.” Sure enough, at last Monday’s hearing, Nunes asked in his opening statement, “Were the communications of officials or associates of any campaign subject to any kind of improper surveillance?”
The committee still hasn’t even seen the intelligence describing the surveillance. Politico reports:
Another committee Democrat, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, said he suggested to Nunes that the entire committee sit down and talk through the evidence he briefed Trump on — a step Swalwell said could ease some of the bad feelings.
“We would all benefit to just sit in the same room and talk about what he saw, who he received it from, and how it’s relevant to what we’re trying to do with the Russia investigation,” Swalwell said. “I think that would take a lot of the tension out of this process.”
While Nunes hasn’t publicly said whether he plans to show the information to the committee, he did say that he’ll “never” share its source colleagues.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, has called for Nunes to recuse himself, as have House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers. (They’ve since been joined by GOP Representative Walter Jones. “How can you be chairman of a major committee and do all these things behind the scenes and keep your credibility?” asked Jones. “You can’t keep your credibility.”) But Nunes doesn’t seem willing to budge. “There is no chance the chairman will recuse himself, absolutely not,” said his spokesperson. Nunes continues to have the support of Republican committee members and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who simply answered “no” when asked if the chair should step down.