House intelligence panel tries to get Russia investigation back on track

Members of the House intelligence committee met Monday evening as the future of the House’s Russia investigation hangs in the balance.

Monday’s meeting was the first of the full committee — Democrats and Republicans — since the top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, called on House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation. House investigators did not discuss Russia at Monday’s meeting, multiple sources said, but instead plan to talk about it at a separate meeting Tuesday.

The House investigation has been on life support ever since Nunes took a clandestine trip two weeks ago to the White House to review evidence he said shows top aides to President Donald Trump were picked up in intelligence collection.

Last week’s bumpy ride for Nunes ended in reports that two top White House staffers coordinated the release of information to him.

“This business is always hard and politics is always hard, but I’m used to that,” Nunes said Monday, when asked about Schiff’s allegations that he is colluding with the White House. “I don’t really listen to what anyone says. I was very clear and transparent with all of you, and the statement still stands — which is: I had a duty and obligation to go tell the President of the United States.”

After the meeting, Nunes told CNN the committee could start interviewing witnesses again in the coming weeks and said the committee was ready to bring in a separate group of witnesses before private testimony from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, said on CNN’s Erin Burnett “OutFront” following the meeting that the panel still didn’t have any interviews scheduled and reiterated his call for public testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan. All three were scheduled to testify in March, but their hearing was canceled, to the dismay of Democrats on the committee.

“We really, really want to get back on track and have the public hearing that we were supposed to have,” Swalwell said.

In public there appears to be little hope for House investigators — Sen. John McCain said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Nunes “killed” the investigation with his White House trip. But, around the Capitol, House Democrats admit they have nowhere else to turn, with almost no chance that a special commission will be created to investigate Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 elections.

Rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans on the committee have privately said they miss the bipartisanship that used to be a hallmark of the group. And there is some indication that Schiff and Nunes have been working better together at the end of last week — after the two talked Thursday, Schiff said they agreed to bring Comey back before the committee.

But Schiff’s visit to the White House to review what he said was the same intelligence Nunes reviewed only opened a new wound.

“If these were produced either for or by the White House, then why all of the subterfuge?” Schiff asked Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Schiff then accused of Nunes of working with the White House to distract from efforts to review Russia’s involvement in the election.

“It certainly is an attempt to distract and to hide the origin of the materials, to hide the White House hand,” Schiff said Sunday. “The question is, of course, why? And I think the answer to the question is this effort to point the Congress in other directions, basically say, ‘Don’t look at me. Don’t look at Russia. There is nothing to see here.'”

A spokesman for Nunes declined to comment on Schiff’s accusations.

House investigators have big questions to figure out — like whether Comey will agree to come back to the committee and whether they can reschedule Yates after her own delving into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia were reported last week.

Meanwhile, the Senate investigation appears to be moving smoothly, with the Senate intelligence committee beginning its interviews of witnesses Monday.

The Senate’s second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, told CNN’s Manu Raju any talk of granting Flynn immunity for testimony, as Flynn’s lawyers have sought, is “premature.”

Cornyn also said the Senate investigation will address Republicans’ concerns over intelligence agencies’ unmasking of targets in their sharing of intelligence.