House Intel Chairman Apologizes Over Trump Surveillance Claims

Mar 23, 2017
Originally published on March 23, 2017 9:21 pm
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The Republican head of the House Intelligence Committee is drawing criticism from all sides today. Yesterday, Chairman Devin Nunes went to the White House to talk with President Trump. He shared classified information about surveillance that took place after the presidential election. It was highly unusual because Nunes had not yet shared that information with members of his own committee. NPR's David Welna has more.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: When the House Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors this morning, Chairman Devin Nunes had some explaining to do. Despite the panel's newly launched inquiry into Russia's meddling in the presidential election, Nunes had shared with President Trump but not the committee intelligence he said may show Trump and his transition team were monitored while having conversations with foreign officials. Adam Schiff is the committee's ranking Democrat.

ADAM SCHIFF: I think the members had a chance to raise their concerns with what happened yesterday and the cloud it has put over the investigation in terms of the credibility of the chairman and his ability to conduct this investigation impartially.

WELNA: Jackie Speier, another committee Democrat, told CNN the chairman had shown some contrition at the meeting.

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JACKIE SPEIER: After a few minutes, Devin Nunes did apologize in a generic way.

WELNA: Nunes, for his part, told reporters it was his idea to go to the White House and brief the president before sharing what he knew with his committee members.

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DEVIN NUNES: It was a judgment call on my part. At the end of the day it's - you know, sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes make the wrong one. But you've got to stick by what you - the decisions you make.

WELNA: At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer characterized the information Nunes gave Trump as a very serious revelation that supported Trump's claims of being wiretapped.

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SEAN SPICER: He was vindicating the president and saying there is something that you need to know about the substance of the allegations that are being made against you.

WELNA: Congressional Democrats are livid that Nunes, who was on Trump's transition team, appeared to take the president's side in what's supposed to be an impartial investigation. Nancy Pelosi is the House minority leader.

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NANCY PELOSI: By being a stooge for the president of the United States, going to him, going to the speaker and going to the press before he even went to the ranking member of the committee, I think he has demonstrated very clearly that there is no way there can be an impartial investigation under his leadership on that committee. It speaks very clearly to the need for an outside independent commission.

WELNA: Not many Republicans express similar outrage. One who did was Senator John McCain, speaking this morning on NBC's "Today" show.

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JOHN MCCAIN: No, I have not seen anything like it. And it's very disturbing.

WELNA: McCain said what was needed to clear up questions about Russia's involvement in the election was a select committee. Ranking Democrat Schiff says an independent probe is needed.

SCHIFF: But I don't think this is something we can walk away from. It's just too important.

WELNA: Schiff says he's seen what he calls more than circumstantial evidence of contacts between Russia and people on the Trump campaign.

SCHIFF: I can't go into the specifics of that evidence. But, you know, viewing it as a former prosecutor, it's the kind of evidence that you would submit to a grand jury at the beginning of an investigation. It's not the kind of evidence you would submit to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. But we are at the beginning of our investigation.

WELNA: An investigation that Schiff, despite doubts about his chairman's independence, remains willing to be a part of. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.