House Republicans cancel all hearings on Russian investigation, blame Democrats

Nunes and Gowdy say Democrats are obstructing things. They aren’t.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes arrives for a weekly meeting of the Republican Conference with House Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP leadership on Wednesday. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes arrives for a weekly meeting of the Republican Conference with House Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP leadership on Wednesday. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

On Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee chair and former Trump transition official Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) made the extraordinary claim that Democrats are actually the ones obstructing his committee’s investigation into connections between President Trump and Russian officials.

Nunes — who abruptly cancelled all scheduled committee hearings last week, including one that was to feature testimony from Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who alerted the White House to Michael Flynn’s deceptions about his communications with Russian officials and was fired for refusing to enforce President Trump’s Muslim ban — told NBC News that “it appears the Democrats aren’t really serious about this investigation.”

“They need to give us their witness list because we have no idea who they even want to interview,” Nunes said. “So, at the end of the day here we’re going to get to the truth, we’re going to find out who’s actually doing a real investigation… we’re going to do an investigation with or without them, and if they want to participate that’s fine, but the facts of the matter are pretty clear.”

But a source with knowledge of the situation tells ThinkProgress that Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee actually submitted a tentative witness list to Republicans on Tuesday and haven’t yet heard back. That information was corroborated by Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand, who reported that a “[c]ommittee aide tells me Dems provided witness list to Nunes yesterday and offered to schedule hearings next week, have not heard back.”

Nunes’ blame game is also being played by committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who went on Fox News this morning and said House Intelligence committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) needs to “give me your list of witnesses, tell me who you want to talk to, I’ll give you mine, let’s get started, let’s focus on the investigation.”

“This week’s been about politics,” Gowdy said, ignoring the fact that his Republican colleague is the one responsible for derailing the committee’s work. “Let’s go find facts and let’s do it together.”

Nunes might say “the facts of the matter are pretty clear,” but they’re not. Here’s what we do know. Last Wednesday, Nunes held a press conference where he appeared to try and clumsily validate Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower phones by saying he has “recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.”

Instead of sharing that information with the intelligence community or his committee members, Nunes raced to the White House to brief Trump, whose campaign is under investigation for possible collusion with foreign agents. In the week since, Nunes has steadfastly refused to share what he claims to know about legal incidental collection at Trump Tower with his House Intelligence Committee colleagues.

Nunes hasn’t provided any evidence to substantiate his claim that legal surveillance of Trump transition officials occurred. He also hasn’t provided any substantive details. But in an interview that was conducted shortly after Nunes’ March 22 press conference, Trump told a Time Magazine reporter that Nunes’ claims “means I’m right.” That night, White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. praised Nunes or his loyalty to Trump, characterizing the House intel chair as “a member of [Trump’s] campaign from the start.”

On Monday, Nunes disclosed that he was on the White House grounds the night before he made his allegation to meet with an unnamed source. He said he was there because he needed a secure area to view the documents he received. But that explanation doesn’t make sense, as the US Capitol also has areas of that sort. Later that day, Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to rule out that the White House was complicit in providing Nunes with whatever information he has.

On Wednesday, CBS reporter Major Garrett grilled Spicer about the still-unexplained fact that Nunes was on the White House grounds the night before his press conference.

Nunes “hasn’t told his own committee members what he knows, how he learned about it, and what the substantive importance of that is,” Garrett said. “So we are also curious about that. And among the things that might shed light on that is how he got [to the White House], who he met with, and what he learned.”

Spicer replied by saying “we can’t cherrypick every time that you decide that a piece of information is relevant to what you want.” But Garrett pushed back.

“When you say a process is going on, and the members of the very committee themselves say they don’t know what is being discussed, how is the process going forward? How is that a workable process?” Garrett said.

Spicer dodged the question, telling Garrett he should ask Nunes instead of him.

Nunes’ handling of national security information may have opened him up to an ethics probe, and at least two House Republicans have already called for him to recuse himself. But if his conduct is really meant to distract from the underlying Trump-Russia scandal, it appears to be working.

According to a new CBS poll, 74 percent of Republicans now believe Donald Trump’s offices “were wiretapped, or under government surveillance during the 2016 presidential campaign.”

That’s a remarkable finding considering Trump hasn’t provided any evidence for the accusation he made during a March 4 tweetstorm — a claim that has been denied by both the FBI and NSA — and neither has Nunes.

Schiff, meanwhile, indicated he’s just as confused about Nunes’ position as everybody else.

The aforementioned CBS poll finds that 50 percent of respondents don’t believe that Trump was under government surveillance. Meanwhile, 59 percent believe Trump associates had improper communications with Russian officials.

UPDATE: ThinkProgress received the following statement from a Democratic House Intelligence Committee spokesperson in response to Nunes’ comments earlier Wednesday.

The Minority submitted a list of witnesses to the Majority yesterday. This list represents only the first of many witnesses we believe should be called to testify. Additionally, the Minority proposed days ago that two hearings be scheduled for next week — both the closed hearing with Comey and Rogers requested by the Majority and the open hearing with Yates, Clapper and Brennan that had been previously agreed to by both parties and cancelled abruptly and unilaterally by the Chair. We have yet to receive a response.