Joseph Marks | Nextgov | February 27, 2017 | 0 Comments

House Intelligence Leaders Show Shaky Marriage on Russia Hack Investigation

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, meets with reporters to discuss the process for investigating whether or how Russia influenced the presidential election, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee gave dueling press conferences Monday offering differing interpretations of their investigation into possible Trump campaign ties with Russian intelligence operators.

The bottom line for Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., based on preliminary conversations with intelligence leaders is that “there’s nothing there,” he told reporters during a morning press conference.

The committee’s ranking member, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., described those same conversations as merely advancing discussions about a congressional investigation that hasn’t even truly begun.

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“We’ve reached no conclusion, nor could we, in terms of issues of collusion because we haven’t called in a single witness or reviewed a single document on that issue yet,” Schiff said.

“The most we’ve had is private conversations with intelligence officials, the chairman and I, and that’s not a substitute for an investigation,” he later added.

Nunes and Schiff are leading one of several congressional investigations into Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election. Those efforts included data breaches at Hillary Clinton's campaign and at the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The committee will reach a final decision today about the precise scope of the investigation, which will include both possible collusion between the Trump team and Russian intelligence, Russian cyber meddling during the 2016 election and subsequent executive branch leaks about the investigation, Schiff said.

Schiff disagreed with a handful of Nunes’ statements when confronted with them, but said he believes, at this point, the committee can conduct a full, fair and cooperative investigation.

“The chairman and I have had an important working relationship that I want to keep intact,” he said. “I’ve expressed concern to the chair about these issues and will continue to do so when I feel it’s important.”

In particular, Nunes and Schiff split on the appropriateness of demanding testimony from former Trump campaign officials who The New York Times reported had been in contact with Russian officials during the campaign, including former campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn.

Nunes compared reviewing call transcripts or compelling testimony from those people as akin to McCarthyism. Schiff disagreed.

“I strongly disagree with those comments,” he said. “We have a responsibility to get to the bottom of this. … I don’t think, at this stage, we ought to exclude anyone or any issue.”

Schiff is also concerned the FBI may not be sufficiently cooperative with the committee’s investigation, he said, and that the committee will lack staffing resources to conduct the investigation as fully as he’d like.

Schiff has pushed several times for the House and Senate Intelligence committees to pool resources on an investigation as well as for an independent commission modeled on the 9/11 commission. Neither of those proposals has won support from Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The investigation will include reviewing raw intelligence and taking testimony from key players, Schiff said.

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