In just over a week, the chasm between the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee seems to have grown.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, held dueling press conferences on Friday to discuss investigations centering on the Trump administration.
It was quite a departure from last week, when Nunes and Schiff held a joint press conference to discuss President Donald Trump’s assertion that the government wiretapped Trump Tower before the election. During that appearance, both Nunes and Schiff said they saw “no evidence” to support Trump’s claim.
But now, the committee seems divided on both the wiretapping probe and another investigation into Trump associates’ connections to Russia.
In recent days, Nunes has been defending himself against accusations of “betraying” the “independence” of the Intelligence Committee by telling Trump and the public that he had seen reports that the intelligence community had “incidentally collected” information about Trump’s transition team. Nunes made this disclosure publicly before informing his Democratic colleagues on the committee.
Nunes apologised to Democrats on the committee, but cracks in the facade of party unity were already showing.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called for an independent commission to investigate Trump and his associates.
“He’s not the president’s lawyer and he betrayed the independence that our committee must show at such a trying time in our nation’s history,” Swalwell told CNN. “And this is all the more reason that we need an independent commission to get to the bottom of this.”
Nunes held his own press conference on Friday to discuss surveillance of the Trump team and the ongoing investigation into Russia connections.
Shortly after Nunes’ press conference ended, Schiff tweeted that Nunes just canceled an open Intelligence Committee hearing with intelligence officials in an “attempt to choke off public info.” Schiff then held his own press conference to discuss the committee’s dealings.
His frustration was palpable — he accused Republicans on the committee of buckling under pressure from the White House to cancel the open hearing despite the fact that witnesses were willing to publicly testify.
“I think that there must have been a very strong pushback from the White House about the nature of Monday’s hearing,” Schiff said. “It’s hard for me to come to any other conclusion about why an agreed-upon hearing would be suddenly canceled.”
When asked whether he thought Nunes should step aside from running the Intelligence Committee, Schiff said it was up to House Speaker Paul Ryan to decide.
“I think the speaker has to decide, just as well as our own chairman, whether they want a credible investigation being done here, whether they want an investigation that the public can have confidence in,” he said. Schiff also said the “events of this week” were “not encouraging.”
The fact that the two leaders of the House Intelligence Committee no longer seem interested in presenting a united front might signal a breakdown between the two parties.
During Schiff’s press conference, MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell tweeted: “Open warfare on House Intel?”
CNN reporter Tom LoBianco said Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee were “livid” with Nunes. Nunes apparently made the same blunder he’d apologised for earlier this week by not informing his Democratic colleagues that he was cancelling Monday’s open hearing.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, is now reportedly calling for Nunes to step down, according to LoBianco.
The future of the Intelligence Committee is unclear. On Thursday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, called for an investigation into Nunes, saying he “put a cloud over his own investigation” by publicly discussing intelligence he’d seen on Trump team surveillance.
“What he did was basically to go to the president, who’s being investigated, by the FBI and others and by the intelligence committee, to give him information,” Cummings told CNN. “… It’s a real problem.”
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