Nunes rejects calls to remove self from Russia-Trump investigation

The House Intelligence Committee chairman said Tuesday he couldn't understand why lawmakers would ask for his recusal.
By Doug G. Ware  |  March 28, 2017 at 9:30 PM
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March 28 (UPI) -- With a political storm swirling around him, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Tuesday he will continue to lead the panel's investigation into reputed Russian interference last year in the U.S. presidential election.

Nunes, R-Calif., has been the subject of growing scrutiny over the past week since he announced that members of President Donald Trump's transition team were incidentally caught up in surveillance by the U.S. intelligence community in November, December and January.

Monday, several Democrats called for Nunes' removal from the investigation, citing concerns with his objectivity. Tuesday, the lawmaker said there is not any need to recuse himself from the investigative proceedings.

"I'd like to know first what the purpose of that would be," Nunes told a reporter who asked if he planned to recuse himself from probes involving Russia or Trump.

"Other leaders in Congress are calling for your recusal, saying you have a conflict of interest," the reporter answered.

"You guys know the truth of that," the congressman said.

Nunes' committee is currently investigating reports that Moscow attempted to sway the election in Trump's favor, as well as allegations that members of Trump's campaign may have conspired with the Kremlin to that end. The FBI has been investigating the matter since last summer, bureau director James Comey confirmed to the panel last week.

Nunes also fielded questions about Tuesday's cancellation of an open House hearing that was supposed to feature testimony from former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates about matters related to the Russia probe.

The Washington Post reported that Trump's administration wanted to block Yates' testimony -- a claim denied Tuesday by press secretary Sean Spicer.

"We are aware that former AG Yates intended to speak on these matters, and sought permission from the White House to testify," Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel's ranking Democrat, said in a statement. "Whether the White House's desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today's hearing, we do not know."

"Nothing has been canceled, nothing has been canceled," Nunes said Tuesday morning, before reiterating that the hearing was canceled because his committee has more questions for Comey.

"We have more questions for Mr. Comey. Until Mr. Comey comes in, it's a little tough for us to do depositions and interviews," the chairman said.

Nunes has attracted criticism for his handling of the surveillance information -- first for keeping the information from members of the House Intelligence Committee and then for saying his source provided the classified information on the White House grounds -- fueling speculation that the information may have come from inside the White House. Some Democrats also questioned whether Nunes disclosed classified information to the press.

Monday, Schiff led the calls for Nunes' recusal.

"I believe chairman [Nunes] should recuse himself from involvement in investigation/oversight of Trump campaign & transition," Schiff said in a statement. "There was no legitimate justification for bringing that information to the White House instead of the committee."

In his remarks Tuesday, Nunes seemed confused as to why he wouldn't continue to run the House's investigation as the committee's chairman.

"Why would I not?" he asked a CNN reporter. "You guys need to go ask [Democrats] why these things are being said [about a conflict of interest]. ... That sounds like their problem.

"My colleagues are perfectly fine. They know we are doing an investigation and that will continue."

"How many questions are you going to ask me?" a visibly agitated Nunes said as he continued to walk toward the House chamber. "It's like you guys don't listen."

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