Nunes endures another rough day

Tuesday was another rough day for embattled House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (Calif.). 

Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.), who frequently bucks his party’s leadership, said Nunes has lost credibility as an investigator of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election. He became the first Republican to call for Nunes’s recusal from his committee’s probe. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts GOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death MORE (R-S.C.) accused Nunes of running an “Inspector Clouseau investigation,” comparing a fellow Republican to the bumbling French police officer from the Pink Panther film series. 

And a new damaging story in The Washington Post said Nunes canceled a hearing where former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was to testify the same day that the White House said it opposed her testimony. 

Despite the storm, most of Nunes’s colleagues in the House are standing by him.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Soaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington MORE (R-Wis.) tersely told reporters “no,” when asked whether Nunes should step away from the investigation. The two men served together on the House Ways and Means Committee — and Nunes holds the gavel at his discretion. 

Other Republicans were more verbose in defending the chairman.

“I don’t know of a person in the Republican conference that doesn’t hold Devin Nunes in the highest esteem,” Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ariz.) said fiercely.

“Those who tear down Devin Nunes don’t know him or they have a secondary opinion and they should be ashamed of themselves, because they probably couldn’t tear up his picture.”

Several lawmakers echoed a defense of Nunes from a former chairman of the committee, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who held the gavel from 2004 to 2007.

“The only important issues are: what was in the materials, are they credible and not fakes. If you get affirmative answers that they are real it doesn't matter who supplied them,” Hoekstra told The Hill in an email on Monday.

Those remarks seemed unlikely to calm the storm around the chairman. Intense speculation continues to swirl around who Nunes met on the White House grounds last week — and what that source showed him. 

Democrats have accused Nunes of doing the bidding of the White House even as he is leading an investigation tasked with probing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia — suspecting that the chair’s unusual actions over the last week were part of a coordinated effort to justify Trump’s claim that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign.

A former member of Trump’s transition team, Nunes tarred any perception of independence, the Democrats say, by secretly meeting an unnamed source on the White House grounds the day before announcing he'd been shown evidence of incidental surveillance of President Trump’s transition team.

Graham and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (R-Ariz.), the sole GOP critics of Nunes in the Senate, have echoed those concerns, though both have stopped short of calling for his recusal. 

Jones, however, went further on Tuesday.

“How can you be chairman of a major committee and do all these things behind the scenes and keep your credibility. You can't keep your credibility!" Jones told The Hill just off the House floor. “If anything has shown that we need a commission, this has done it by the way he has acted.”

Jones, a member of the Armed Services committee, had already signed on as the only GOP co-sponsor on a bill from Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings (Md.) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.) that would establish an independent commission to probe Russian interference in the U.S. election. 

Nunes himself described calls for him to step down as “politics,” asking, “Why would I?”

The intelligence chair has been mobbed by reporters wherever he has appeared on Capitol grounds on Tuesday. 

He has at times appeared annoyed and chided reporters for asking questions he found repetitive — but he has hardly shirked away from media appearances, going before cameras twice on Monday evening and taking questions when asked. 

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday decried the report from The Washington Post about the administration scuttling Yates’s testimony as “entirely false.”

“I hope she testifies,” Spicer said. “I look forward to it. … If they choose to move forward, great. We have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple. The report in The Washington Post is 100 percent false.”

Reports have suggested that Yates, who was fired by Trump for refusing to defend in court his original travel ban, was expected to provide testimony that would conflict with comments from White House staff.

The hearing was originally set for Tuesday — but Nunes announced Friday that it had been canceled to make way for a closed-door session with FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Agency head Adm. Michael Rogers, which has yet to be scheduled. 

Citing the open hearing Monday during which Comey confirmed the bureau’s investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, Schiff disputed Nunes’ public reason for the cancellation. 

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