The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), slammed Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) on Wednesday, saying Nunes’ recent actions cast “great doubt” on both his ability as chairman and the credibility of the committee’s ongoing investigation of potential ties between the Trump administration and Russia.
Earlier Wednesday, Nunes called a press conference, during which he told reporters that he had information regarding incidental collection of information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump campaign. He then headed straight to the White House to inform President Donald Trump, who is currently the subject of an FBI investigation and an investigation by Nunes’ own committee.
Incredibly, Nunes shared the information with the press and one of the people his committee is investigating before he shared it with Schiff or any other members of the committee — who only found out from the press conference itself.
Schiff responded to Nunes in a press conference of his own a few hours later.
“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both,” Schiff said. “Unfortunately, I think the actions of today throw great doubt into the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.”
Trump, who is currently under scrutiny for claiming, without evidence, that he was wiretapped by President Obama, told reporters he felt “somewhat vindicated” by Nunes’ statements. In right-wing media spheres, Nunes’ presser was quickly spun as proof of Trump’s wiretap accusation.
Despite Trump’s comments, none of the information Nunes disclosed, if confirmed, would back up Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump tower. Incidental collection of U.S. citizens’ information in the process of surveilling foreign actors is currently lawful — in fact, it’s the same type of information that led to the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Schiff told reporters that he’d discussed Nunes’ new information with the chairman after the press conference, though he hadn’t yet seen it, and that based on that conversation the evidence Nunes’ touted had no bearing on Trump’s claims.
“There is still no evidence that the president was wiretapped by his predecessor. President Trump’s claims that he was remain as baseless today as they were yesterday and the day before, when the directors of the FBI and NSA testified that they were made without any basis in fact,” Schiff said.
Instead, Schiff said the events of the day were just another indication of the damage the Trump administration and its lackeys were leaving in the wake of their attempt to back up the president’s baseless accusation.
“If the incident today is an indication that, after making the baseless claim the president then aggravated the damage by implicating the British in a potential plot to have the British surveil him on behalf of president Obama, and now is attempting to interfere in the Congressional investigation, again with the effort of trying to provide some substance to a claim without substance, then the damage of the wrecking ball of this allegation has just claimed another victim, that being our own committee.”
Nunes’ press conference adds yet more fuel to the case for an independent investigation into both Trump’s wiretap claims and his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia — a call Schiff reiterated on Wednesday while slamming Nunes for compromising the House Intelligence Committee’s credibility.
“I think it does underscore the importance of establishing an independent commission, a body that is fully independent of any political considerations including those that may emanate from the White House,” Schiff said. “That would certainly give me a lot of confidence that in addition to whatever work our committee does and the Senate Intelligence committee does, that there is a truly independent body that is looking into the grave issues that have been raised.”
Later, Schiff told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that the committee had “more than circumstantial” evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian actors. He refused to go into specifics, but told Todd that it underscored the need for a credible investigation.
Schiff fell short, however, of calling for Democrats to abandon the committee investigation altogether. Some committee Democrats have previously indicated they would be willing to pull out of participation, should the investigation seem too political.
“I’m not going to be part of a dog-and-pony show that is not a serious effort to do an investigation because this is really serious,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) told the New York Times earlier this month. “If it’s not a legitimate and comprehensive and in-depth investigation, why would we be party to it?”
In his Wednesday press conference, Schiff said he would participate in the investigation if there was “any chance remaining” for them to conduct the investigation,” but that Nunes’ actions threw faith in the investigation into further doubt.
“If you have a chairman who is interacting with the White House and sharing information with the White House when people around the White House are the subject of the investigation and doing so before sharing it with the committee, it throws a profound doubt over whether that can be done credibly,” he summed up.