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Nunes Defiant Amid Calls to Step Down  03/29 06:03

   The chairman of the House intelligence committee is refusing to step away 
from its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as fresh 
political allegations bring new cries of protest from Democrats.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chairman of the House intelligence committee is 
refusing to step away from its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 
election, as fresh political allegations bring new cries of protest from 
Democrats.

   Asked Tuesday if he should recuse himself, committee chairman Devin Nunes 
responded, "Why would I?" Later in the day, the White House vehemently denied a 
report that it had sought to hobble the testimony of a former acting attorney 
general before Nunes canceled the hearing where she was to speak.

   President Donald Trump's spokesman, Sean Spicer, lashed out at reporters, 
claiming they're seeing conspiracies where none exist.

   "If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow 
that's a Russian connection," he suggested.

   The embattled House committee is conducting one of three probes into the 
election campaign, its aftermath and potential contacts between Trump officials 
and Russians. The Senate intelligence committee is doing its own investigation, 
and since late July the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence 
investigation into Russia's meddling and possible coordination with the Trump 
campaign.

   Nunes' decision to cancel Tuesday's hearing was the latest in a series of 
actions that Democrats contend demonstrate that his loyalty to Trump is greater 
than his commitment to leading an independent investigation. The California 
Republican, who was a member of Trump's presidential transition team, has said 
he met with a secret source last week on White House grounds to review 
classified material that showed Trump associates' communications had been 
captured in "incidental" surveillance of foreigners in November, December and 
January.

   Nunes would not name the source of the information, and his office said he 
did not intend to share it with other members of the committee.

   Nor would he disclose who invited him on the White House grounds for the 
meeting. He described the source as an intelligence official, not a White House 
official. In an interview on CNN, he suggested the president's aides were 
unaware of the meeting.

   Trump has used Nunes' revelations to defend his unproven claim that Barack 
Obama tapped phones at Trump Tower.

   Adding to the swirl of questions was the publication of a series of letters 
dated March 23 and March 24 involving a lawyer for former Acting Attorney 
General Sally Yates.

   Yates, along with former CIA Director John Brennan and former director of 
national intelligence James Clapper, had agreed to testify publicly before the 
House intelligence committee.

   The canceled hearing would have been the first opportunity for the public to 
hear Yates' account of her role in the firing of Trump's first national 
security adviser, Michael Flynn.

   The letters from lawyer David O'Neil, published by The Washington Post, 
appeared to be in response to a meeting O'Neil had at the Justice Department on 
March 23 in advance of the hearing.

   In them, O'Neil pushes back against what he says is Justice Department 
guidance on what Yates could say about conversations she had with Trump --- 
conversations the department indicated could be covered by executive privilege.

   "We believe that the Department's position in this regard is overbroad, 
incorrect, and inconsistent with the Department's historical approach to the 
congressional testimony of current and former senior officials," O'Neil wrote 
in a March 23 letter to Justice Department official Samuel Ramer. He also wrote 
that Yates' testimony would cover details that others have publicly recounted.

   The Justice Department responded to O'Neil saying that the question of what 
privileged conversations Yates could discuss was ultimately up to the White 
House.

   Spicer on Tuesday said the White House never sought to stop her. "We have no 
problem with her testifying, plain and simple," he said.

   O'Neil declined to comment Tuesday, and a Justice Department spokeswoman did 
not return a message seeking comment.

   Yates was fired in January as acting attorney general after she refused to 
defend the Trump administration's first travel ban. She alerted the White House 
in January that Flynn had been misleading in his account of a December phone 
call with the Russian ambassador to the United States in which economic 
sanctions against Russia were discussed. Flynn was ousted after those 
discrepancies were made public.

   Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence 
committee, said that White House meddling is not helping to "remove the cloud 
that increasingly is getting darker over the administration."

   Democratic members of Nunes' House committee said his ability to lead a 
bipartisan probe is compromised.

   "It's irregular, to be benign about it, to have a lead investigator 
kibitzing with the people being investigated," said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.

   House Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his support for Nunes, and Nunes himself 
said all of the controversy was standard for Washington.

   "It's the same thing as always around this place --- a lot of politics, 
people get heated, but I'm not going to involve myself with that," he said.


(KA)

 
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