House Republicans boycott public Intelligence panel hearing

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee boycotted a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, in a sign that the panel's partisan clashes during the impeachment inquiry are festering even after that chapter has come to a close.

In a letter explaining their decision to skip the hearing, Republicans blasted Democrats for not examining the issue of surveillance abuse after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report detailing significant abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by intelligence community officials. The abuses were related to wiretap applications for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Despite the seriousness of these issues and our clear jurisdiction, you have failed to hold a single briefing or hearing on this matter,” the Republicans wrote. 

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The letter was signed by Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesCalifornia governor responds to Nunes on canceling school: 'We'll continue to listen to the experts' Nunes claims it would be 'way overkill' to cancel school year in California due to coronavirus Trump steps up intensity in battle with media MORE (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the full panel, and other GOP members.

Until the Committee prioritizes oversight activities related to urgent and critical concerns, Republican Members cannot support distractions from our core responsibilities,” it stated.

Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesDemocrats get assurances from Cuccinelli on immigrants, coronavirus care Gaetz wears gas mask on House floor during vote on bill to fight coronavirus Democrats press World Bank chief on meeting with Ukrainian president amid Trump pressure MORE (D-Conn.) announced the GOP boycott in his opening remarks, criticizing it in the process.

He said the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartPentagon grapples with coronavirus outbreak Schiff says Democrats are negotiating to include more privacy protections in key surveillance bill Trump shakes up Justice Department, intelligence community MORE (R-Utah), and other Republicans had sent him their letter earlier Wednesday describing the decision. 

Himes also said that while the letter protested the subcommittee hearing's focus on the intelligence community’s use of emerging technologies, he had previously been told the boycott was about prior grievances.

“I received a letter this morning explaining the Republican absence from this hearing, which is as wrongheaded as it is mendacious," said Himes, the chairman of the Intelligence Subcommittee on Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research.

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"It basically says that the Republicans disagree with the priorities of this subcommittee.” 

Himes said he had asked Stewart last week what was going on with Republicans ahead of the hearing.

He said Stewart told him that Nunes felt strongly that the GOP committee members should not engage in committee work “because of some perceived grievance with the impeachment investigation.”

Himes also described the boycott as a publicity stunt and an example of trolling.  

Tensions on the Intelligence panel were sky-high during the impeachment proceedings.

Republicans have accused Democrats on the Intelligence panel of crossing the line by targeting their staff during the impeachment inquiry, including by publishing a staffer's phone records in their investigative report. Republicans have also accused Democrats of selectively leaking information. 

Democrats say their staffers have also been targets, with Republicans claiming and publicly naming staffers who had contacts with the whistleblower who first brought forward the complaint that President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE sought to pressure Ukraine to open two politically motivated investigations to benefit his 2020 reelection chances. 

Himes acknowledged the boycott marks a new phase in the partisan divide of the panel.

“This is a sad and dangerous moment even as this committee was the epicenter of the polarizing impeachment debate. The committee has always succeeded in compartmentalizing the emotions and arguments of impeachment and the critical work we do on behalf of the American people,” Himes said.

“Today that Rubicon has been crossed.”