New leader of Russia probe: Nunes 'has not interfered'

New leader of Russia probe: Nunes 'has not interfered'
© Greg Nash

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has had no involvement in the committee's ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election since his recusal, the lawmaker who is now leading the probe said Wednesday. 

“He’s had absolutely no — he’s not interfered with our investigation or tried to affect it in any way whatsoever,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) told reporters. “With respect to the Russia issue, he’s left me totally alone and let me do it exactly how I see fit.”

Questions have swirled around the extent of Nunes’s recusal after he issued three subpoenas focused on improper “unmasking” of Trump campaign officials, without consulting committee Democrats. That issue had previously been seen as part of the scope of that investigation. 

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Minority members have complained that he has not fully removed himself from the panel’s investigation, and Nunes himself stoked speculation over the weekend when he told a Fresno talk show that the media had misrepresented his recusal. 

“All I said was I was going to temporarily step aside,” he told host Ray Appleton on KMJ-AM.

The issuance of the subpoenas, in late May, gave ammunition to committee critics who say Nunes was still involved in the investigation.

“With all due respect, you don’t recuse yourself a little. You’re either in or you’re out,” one committee Democrat said Wednesday.

Nunes has not appeared in the two open hearings in the committee’s investigation since he stepped aside. He has staunchly refused to answer repeated questions from reporters to clarify the scope of his recusal.

The three subpoenas he issued in May are part of his larger duties as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Conaway said Wednesday — not the Russia probe.

Those three orders reportedly went to the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency and are related to questions about how the names of associates of President Trump were unredacted and distributed in classified Obama administration reports during the transition period.

“[Nunes has] equities with the broader committee, responsibilities he’s trying to take care of,” Conaway said Wednesday. “There is a whole separate issue as to the propriety of unmasking in general.”

The mechanics of unmasking, Conaway said, is a broader committee-wide responsibility that is “Devin’s in its entirety” and goes “way beyond Russia.”

“I’m not interested in how something got unmasked, I’m interested in who got unmasked and how it relates to what we’re doing. That’s separate altogether from the mechanics of how people get unmasked.”

Republicans have previously signaled that they see unmasking as the key to investigating the source of media leaks damaging to the Trump administration and have questioned officials on the matter during open hearings in the Russia investigation. 

Nunes stepped back from the probe in April after making a clandestine trip to the White House to view documents he told reporters revealed inappropriate unmasking of transition team officials.

The revelation quickly devolved into partisan infighting that threatened to derail the House panel’s investigation permanently — and led to a House Ethics Committee investigation into whether Nunes disclosed classified information when he described the intelligence he had seen.

Just moments before the Ethics Committee announced its investigation, Nunes announced that Conaway, with two other committee Republicans, would “temporarily take charge” of the Russia investigation. Nunes has described the charges as false and politically motivated.

Reps. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyCummings announces expansion of Oversight panel's White House personal email probe, citing stonewalling Pelosi says it's up to GOP to address sexual assault allegation against Trump Our sad reality: Donald Trump is no Eisenhower MORE (R-S.C.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) are assisting Conaway, and the fracas has largely died down since. The committee held a sober, polite hearing on Wednesday morning examining the Obama administration's response to the original hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). 

Unmasking was not mentioned.