Partisan battle stalls House Russia probe
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes was facing mounting calls this week to step aside from the panel’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election after top Democrats claimed the California Republican was more focused on shielding President Trump than leading an impartial investigation. Controversy flared after Nunes admitted meeting on White House grounds with a confidential source who, the congressman said, handed him intelligence reports that showed Trump or his associates had been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by U.S. spy agencies. Nunes then briefed the president on what he’d learned, bypassing committee colleagues. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demanded that Nunes be replaced as committee chairman, accusing him of being “more interested in protecting the president than in seeking the truth.” The congressman insisted he would continue leading the inquiry. “Why would I not?” he said. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said a select committee or independent commission should be convened to run a Russia probe because Congress no longer had the “credibility to handle this alone.”
Nunes abruptly canceled all his committee meetings scheduled for this week, while the Trump administration denied reports that it had sought to block former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama appointee, from testifying. Meanwhile, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, agreed to meet with Senate investigators who are probing ties between Trump associates and Russian officials. It emerged this week that Kushner had met last year with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
What the editorials said
“Nunes is a lapdog in a watchdog role,” said The New York Times. A former member of Trump’s transition team, he has no intention of running an independent investigation. Nunes’ vague claim that U.S. intelligence “incidentally intercepted communications” from Team Trump was a clumsy effort to offer the president cover for his ludicrous tweeted claims that President Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower. A week later, Nunes still hadn’t disclosed to committee colleagues his information or its unnamed source—this from a congressman who routinely assails government leaks. How rich. These surveillance claims should be taken seriously, said WashingtonExaminer.com. Nunes made it clear that intelligence agencies lawfully picked up conversations referring to or involving Trump transition staffers. But “the striking part of his revelation” was that information about these U.S. citizens “may have been shared illegally” inside the government. Protocol demands that intelligence transcripts “mask” the identities of U.S. citizens whose communications are incidentally collected in the course of surveilling foreign nationals. Nunes suggests no such effort was made in this case, and he’s “right to demand answers.”
What the columnists said
Nunes’ White House mission proved “loyalty to Trump” outweighs everything else, said Jay Bookman in The Atlanta Journal- Constitution. During an interview, the representative admitted that he briefed the president on his findings because Trump was taking “heat in the news media.” And Nunes’ surveillance “bombshell” falls apart on close examination: He says U.S. citizens’ identities “had been masked,” but he could guess “from the context who it might have been.” Oh.
The chairman has no reason to recuse himself, said David Harsanyi in TheFederalist.com. The Democrats’ faux outrage is “meant to create the impression that Nunes has done something unethical” to cover for Trump. But he said the surveillance information he shared with the White House had nothing to do with his Russia investigation. “So what’s wrong with the House Intelligence Committee chair sharing intelligence about the president with the president—and then letting the world know he’s done so?”
Democrats “should walk out” on Nunes’ sham investigation and “follow the Russian money,” said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. Despite Trump’s repeated claims that he has no business links to Russia, an investigation by USA Today found 10 wealthy Russians and oligarchs from ex-Soviet republics—some with links to organized crime—who had invested in Trump-branded real estate. Democrats should dig more and introduce legislation requiring Trump to release his tax returns, which might reveal other financial ties to Russia. Republicans will likely block such a bill. But Democrats can then run in 2018 “asking voters to give them the majority.”