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Lawmakers in dark about 'phase two' of Nunes investigation

Lawmakers in dark about 'phase two' of Nunes investigation
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House Intelligence Committee lawmakers are in the dark about an investigation into wrongdoing at the State Department announced by Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC What good are the intelligence committees? CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be MORE (R-Calif.) on Friday.

Democrats on the committee say Nunes has refused to brief them on the probe, which he described as “phase two” of his investigation into alleged surveillance abuse at the Department of Justice. Senior members say they learned of the investigation when Nunes announced it on Fox News. 

And some committee Republicans appear to know little more than the Democrats. 

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Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayEx-Rep. Mike Conaway, former aide launch lobbying firm Thompson named top Republican on Agriculture Bottom line MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican on the panel, said he had been briefed on “some of the priorities” of the probe but said he believes Nunes will lead the investigation. Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides MORE (R-Fla.), who along with Conaway is leading the panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election, throughout the week has said he doesn’t know what the focus of the new probe will be.

“He hasn’t talked to me about that,” Rooney said Monday, several days after Nunes announced the inquiry into State. 

Some key Republicans insist that the new focus on State is nothing more than the committee exercising its oversight powers. 

One member called the characterization of the State inquiries as a new investigation “a garble.” 

Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyPompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy The Hunter Biden problem won't go away Sunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election MORE (R-S.C.), who was intimately involved in the creation of the surveillance memo released by Republicans and is participating in the inquiry into the State Department, also doesn’t view what Nunes is doing as a “phase II,” according to an aide, but rather an ongoing examination.

“It’s not Devin launching another investigation,” Rep. Chris StewartChris StewartOn management of Utah public lands, Biden should pursue an accountable legislative process Georgia AG rejects prosecutor's request for Rayshard Brooks case to be reassigned House Republicans ask for briefing on threats keeping National Guard in DC MORE (R-Utah) said. “We’re aware of it, we’ve talked about it, it’s just something that we know as much about at this point. That’s not because Devin has kept from us, it’s just we don’t know that much about it yet.” 

Despite expressing some private uncertainty about the future of the committee’s expanding investigative purview, Republicans did not suggest they were being deliberately excluded from Nunes’s plans.

Democrats repeatedly pressed Nunes on the scope of his investigation into State in a bitter closed-door Monday meeting, the transcript of which was released on Friday. Nunes did not address the matter. 

The apparent confusion comes as Democrats have accused Nunes — they suggest perhaps alone — of breaking committee rules by launching new investigations without briefing the minority. 

"What you can glean from the process, in what he is saying, is this is not a committee activity, this is a Devin Nunes activity or arguably maybe a majority activity,” Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesHouse panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps COVID-19 could complicate Pelosi's path to Speaker next year Democrats debate fate of Trump probes if Biden wins MORE (D-Conn.) said Thursday. “But again, none of the Democrats to my knowledge have been briefed on this.”

Ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: Intel heads to resume threats hearing scrapped under Trump | New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy | Amazon backs corporate tax hike to pay for infrastructure Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today MORE (D-Calif.), during Monday’s meeting, called the investigation “a farce.”

Nunes, backed by other Intelligence Committee Republicans, last week used an obscure House rule to release a controversial memo accusing the FBI and Justice Department of abusing U.S. surveillance powers during the 2016 presidential election.

The incident further inflamed partisan tensions on a panel that has struggled to maintain any semblance of bipartisanship during the Russia investigation. 

In yet another signal of the increasingly toxic atmosphere in the committee’s secure office spaces, rumors swirled around the Capitol on Thursday that Nunes is considering building a physical barrier between the minority and majority staff in what is known as “the bullpen,” the open floor space where committee staff work. 

“[The House Intelligence Committee] is poison right now,” Rooney said Thursday, who noted that he didn’t know anything about the rumors of segregating staff.

But, he said, “the fact that we might be building a wall just goes to show you how bad it is. The level of trust is just gone.”

Nunes told Fox News on Friday that, “we are in the middle of what I call phase two of our investigation.” 

"That investigation is ongoing and we continue work toward finding answers and asking the right questions to try to get to the bottom of what exactly the State Department was up to in terms of this Russia investigation," he told Bret Baier.

Since then, GOP lawmakers have been quietly buzzing about allegations that an Obama-era State Department official passed along information from allies of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhy does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams? Republican legislators target private sector election grants How Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 MORE that may have been used by the FBI to launch an investigation into whether the Trump campaign had improper contacts with Russia. 

"I'm pretty troubled by what I read in the documents with respect to the role the State Department played in the fall of 2016, including information that was used in a court proceeding. I am troubled by it," Gowdy told Fox News on Tuesday.

Nunes has declined to go into the details of his probe in a handful of conservative media appearances in recent days.

He declined to answer any questions on Thursday. A spokesman also did not respond to requests for comment on this story.