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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 NunesJuan Williams: Trump, the Great Destroyer The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Latest on Hurricane Michael | Trump, Kanye West to have lunch at White House | GOP divided over potential 2020 high court vacancy Senate Dem: Trump's 'fake, hyperbolic rantings' an insult to real Medal of Honor recipients 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 ConawayLawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects House Intel votes to release Russia transcripts Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems 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 RooneyCongress falls flat on election security as midterms near Senate panel postpones election security bill markup over lack of GOP support Hillicon Valley: FBI fires Strzok after anti-Trump tweets | Trump signs defense bill with cyber war policy | Google under scrutiny over location data | Sinclair's troubles may just be beginning | Tech to ease health data access | Netflix CFO to step down 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 GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Collusion bombshell: DNC lawyers met with FBI on Russia allegations before surveillance warrant Comey rejects request for closed-door interview with House Republicans 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 StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartGOP lawmaker: Trump comments about Stormy Daniels 'unpresidential' Lawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects House panel signals Russia probe document dump before midterms 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 HimesHow the Trump tax law passed: Bipartisanship wasn't an ingredient Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems MORE (D-Conn.) said Thursday. “But again, none of the Democrats to my knowledge have been briefed on this.”

Ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia Dems eye ambitious agenda if House flips Schiff: There is legal precedent for impeaching sitting officials over prior criminal conduct 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 ClintonBudowsky: Closing message for Democrats Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP mocks Clinton after minor vehicle collision outside Mendendez campaign event 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.