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, his allies and the betrayal of America Trump expected to nominate Texas GOP lawmaker to replace Dan Coats: report House Republicans claim victory after Mueller hearings 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 ConawayTexas faces turbulent political moment Democratic Party official: Texas is 'biggest battleground state in the country' Another Texas congressman planning to retire 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 RooneyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons 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 GowdyRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Cummings 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 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 StewartFCC proposes new 3-digit suicide prevention hotline number GOP lawmaker's town hall erupts in shouting over mass shootings, Trump Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress 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 HimesRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress MORE (D-Conn.) said Thursday. “But again, none of the Democrats to my knowledge have been briefed on this.”

Ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime New intel chief inherits host of challenges 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 ClintonThe exhaustion of Democrats' anti-Trump delusions Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado Soft levels of support mark this year's Democratic primary 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.