Republicans rally around Nunes as Russia firestorm spreads – Politico
Devin Nunes isn’t going anywhere.
Even as Democrats demand that the California Republican recuse himself from his panel’s Russia investigation and criticism ratchets up from key GOP senators, House Republicans are standing by the embattled Intelligence Committee chairman.
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“No and no,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday when asked whether Nunes should recuse himself and if he knew the identity of the source who provided Nunes with evidence he claims showed Trump transition aides were improperly monitored.
Nunes himself rebuffed questions from reporters Tuesday about whether he’ll continue to lead the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, saying: “Why would I not?” His spokesman followed up by saying in a statement, “There is no chance the chairman will recuse himself, absolutely not.”
Rank-and-file Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are also voicing support for their chairman, who sparked the ire of Democrats last week when he briefed Trump on evidence that he said showed President Donald Trump’s transition team had been improperly monitored following November’s presidential election. Democrats still have not been provided access to this information.
“I honestly think it’s much ado about nothing. I do,” said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), a member of the Intelligence panel. “We understand that what he’s done was in the best interest of the committee. I really believe that.”
Added Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), also a member of the panel, “He did exactly the right thing. He had an obligation to tell the president.”
One reason Nunes almost certainly will not heed calls to recuse himself: Ryan was kept fully informed of everything he was up to, including his decision last Wednesday to go to the White House to brief the president, according to Nunes.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong confirmed that Nunes “briefed the speaker that day.”
The Intelligence chairman’s actions, though, have led to strong condemnation from Democrats in what amounts to a stunning rebuke on a committee that typically operates in a bipartisan fashion.
On Monday, Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat and fellow Californian, called on Nunes to recuse himself, as did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other key Democrats.
For them, Nunes, himself a former Trump transition member, has shown he is too close to Trump to lead an impartial investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election — a probe that will delve into possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
The recusal demands poured out after Nunes acknowledged he met with his source on the White House grounds, heightening suspicions among Democrats that the entire thing was orchestrated by a White House eager to take heat off Trump for his much-maligned claim that President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower.
Schiff said that one way to get the committee back on track would be to reschedule a hearing originally set for Tuesday but that was canceled after the Justice Department raised concerns about testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
The White House denied pressuring the committee to call off the hearing, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying: “I hope she testifies. I look forward to it.”
“The White House today said they want Sally Yates to testify, so let her testify,” Schiff told reporters following Spicer’s remarks. “I think it will be hard now for the chairman to explain why he won’t permit her to come testify.”
In an earlier statement, Schiff said Yates had been planning to testify on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s efforts to “cover up” his phone calls with Russia’s ambassador, which led to his resignation last month after it became clear he had misled his colleagues about the nature of those calls.
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.”
Nunes also has come in for sharp critiques by key Republican senators, including leading Russia hawks John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Graham, appearing Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show, likened Nunes to the bumbling Inspector Clouseau from the “Pink Panther” movies.
“The problem that he’s created is he’s gone off on a lark by himself, sort of an Inspector Clouseau investigation here,” Graham said. “The only way this thing can be repaired is he tells his colleagues on the House Intel committee who he met with and what he saw and let them look at the same information.”
In the House, though, Nunes maintains the strong backing of his Republican colleagues.
“I think he’s been attacked by some of our Democratic members very unfairly,” said Stewart. “Look, I understand why they would’ve been upset that he didn’t advise them of some of his actions last week.”
“But,” the congressman added, “this thing about going to the White House is perfectly understandable, it was perfectly appropriate.”