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
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
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
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
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.