The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday rejected reports that members of President Trump’s campaign team had regular contact with Russian officials.
“There is no evidence that I’ve been presented [by the intelligence community] of regular contact with anybody in the Trump campaign,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters.
“The way it sounds like to me is, it’s been looked into and there’s no evidence of anything there.”
Nunes's committee is investigating Russian efforts to influence U.S. presidential election, including any links between campaign officials and Moscow.
The scope of the review has been under fierce scrutiny following Trump's dismissal of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who misled Vice President Pence about the subject of a pre-inauguration call with the Russian ambassador, which included talk of sanctions against the country.
The committee has settled on the scope of its investigation, Nunes said Monday, but has not received all of the evidence it expects from U.S. intelligence agencies. He described his inquiries to those agencies regarding Trump’s campaign associates as “initial.”
“As of right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I don’t have that,” he reiterated. “What I’ve been told, by many folks, is that there’s nothing there — but we’re absolutely looking into it.”
Nunes also dismissed calls from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others for Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE recuse himself from any FBI investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia.
“At this point, what are we going to appoint a special prosecutor to do, exactly? Chase stories of American citizens that end up in newspaper articles?” he said, adding that if there was any evidence of serious crime, the committee would “consider” the need for an independent prosecutor.
Rather than any links between the White House and Russia, Nunes insisted, the only “serious crime” of which the committee had any evidence is a myriad of media leaks, apparently from the intelligence community.
The contents of the transcript of the wiretapped phone call between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyac were made public through leaks to The Washington Post earlier this month. The report revealed that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia in the Dec. 29 call, despite his insistence to the contrary.
Nunes on Monday said he was “very interested” in who made the decision to expose the contents of the intercepted phone call to the media.
“What laws did they use to decide to unmask Flynn’s name?” he said.
In discussing the concerns over the leak, Nunes appeared to reveal the mechanism by which the government was able to legally surveil Flynn, a U.S. citizen, something that has been speculated about since the transcripts were leaked.
Referring to the calls as “FISA-warranted communications,” Nunes said that he believed Flynn’s side of the conversation was captured inadvertently. Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the government may retain communications by U.S. citizens that are “inadvertently” intercepted if the material contains foreign intelligence or evidence of crime.
“The good thing is about FISA and the way it works, there should be a record of who in the government knew about Gen. Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador and from there we should be able to know who’s in the realm of the possibles of who we would need to talk to,” Nunes said Monday.
The White House has repeatedly characterized the “real story” as the leaks, not Trump’s alleged connections to Russia.
The administration has sought to counter a number of unflattering media stories, and apparently asked the FBI to publicly dispute a report that agents had uncovered contact between Russian officials and the president’s campaign.
The White House also reportedly enlisted Nunes, who was a member of the executive committee of Trump’s transition team, to counter the narrative.
Nunes denied a coordinated effort by the White House to push back on the stories.
“If anything, it was the opposite,” he said. “All it was was a White House communications person passing a number and a name of a reporter over to me if I would talk to them following up what I had already told all of you in the days before that.”
Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt Press: Steve Bannon behind bars in Capitol basement? Paris Hilton to visit Capitol Hill to advocate for bill on children's treatment centers MORE (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking member, plans to speak to reporters concerning the investigation for later Monday afternoon.