Intelligence committee members disagree on dust-up involving Devin Nunes

WASHINGTON -- The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee believes that the chairman of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is in danger of being perceived as a partisan surrogate of the Trump White House.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.,, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “I think the chairman has to make a decision, whether to act as a surrogate of the White House, as he did during the campaign and the transition, or to lead a independent and credible investigation. I hope he chooses the latter.”

Nunes and Schiff have been openly fighting since last week, after Nunes told reporters and the White House Wednesday that President Trump’s personal communications might have been picked up by the intelligence community through “incidental collection.” He made the remarks before he had briefed his colleagues on the committee, Republicans and Democrats alike.   

It’s still the case that none of the members of the committee have been briefed on what Nunes was talking about last week, Schiff said -- “we’re all quite in the dark on this,” he told “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson. 

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, confirmed that he has also not been briefed on the information that Nunes has. He, however, holds a different view of the chairman’s information-sharing with the president.

“The chairman of House Intel briefed the commander-in-chief on something that has nothing to do with the Russia investigation,” Gowdy said on “Face the Nation.” “So if the commander-in-chief cannot be briefed by the chairperson of the House Intel Committee on a matter that has nothing to do with the F.B.I. investigation, then I don’t know what they can talk about, John.”

Last week, Nunes said of the “incidental collection,” which apparently occurred during the transition, from November to January, that “none of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”   

Schiff also accused Nunes of attempting to “camouflage” the cancellation of an open hearing Tuesday with former top intellegence and Justice Department officials with another hearing -- he has recalled FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers. The California Democrat hypothesized that the hearing with Comey on Monday caused the White House to resist another open hearing involving administration officials. 

“I think that hearing went so poorly for the White House that there was a lot of pushback in doing a second open hearing honestly, John, because the other explanations simply don’t make sense,” Schiff said.

In that Monday hearing, Comey said there’s no information indicating Obama wiretapped Mr. Trump, and he also confirmed an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia. 

“We could always have directors Comey and Rogers come back at any time. There’s no necessity of having them come back before the open hearing,” Schiff said. “I think that was merely an effort to camouflage the true object here, which was the closure or the cancellation of the hearing with Sally Yates.” 

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates were to testify in the open hearing Tuesday.  

Yates in particular, Schiff thought, “would have shed light on that Flynn chapter” -- a reference to the end of Michael  Flynn’s short tenure as national security adviser, when information surfaced that he had misinformed the vice president about his contacts with Russian envoy, Sergey Kislyak. Flynn had told Pence that he hadn’t discussed President Obama’s sanctions against Russia over its meddling in the election. Yates, who was acting attorney general during this time, told White House officials that she believed Flynn had misled them about the Kislyak conversations.