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The House’s Russia Investigation Is Currently A Gigantic, Partisan Mess

Following a dramatic week, Democrats — and even some Senate Republicans — are questioning the House Intelligence committee’s ability to continue investigating Russia and the 2016 election. One Democrat even suggested that its chairman could become a witness in it.

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WASHINGTON — Members of the House Intelligence committee say its Russia investigation is at a standstill as the cloud of controversy surrounding Chairman Devin Nunes lingers.

The committee, coming off a week of major public revelations and high drama, is currently in turmoil as members start to point fingers at the chairman, an unusual twist for a committee that prides itself on keeping politics out of its work.

“The investigation is definitely stalled. In fact, the committee as a whole has stalled. Not only was the open hearing cancelled but the regular activities of the committee have been suspended for reasons that are mystifying to all of us,” said Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat on the committee. “Everything has been wiped off the calendar, for reasons I don’t understand.”

At this point, the chaos in the committee has not been a typical war between Republicans and Democrats — Nunes has been the person singled out. But the chairman has said he will not share the source of his information even with other members of the Intelligence committee.

“Do you share your sources?” Nunes responded to reporters and then walked into the House chamber when asked about his decision not to share that information with the rest of the committee.

Some committee members say they still have full confidence in Nunes and argue that things will simmer back down.

“It’s a one-week thing. I think this will work out. For the most part the committee has worked together. I think it will come back again. I wouldn’t let a few days — we’ll see, but I think it’s going to come back together,” Rep. Peter King, a Republican on the Intelligence committee, said. “I think everybody wants it to. Just have to find the way back.”

But several Democrats and even some Senate Republicans like Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain have raised questions about the chairman’s ability to lead the investigation. On Monday evening, both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence committee, called on Chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation.

“In much the same way that the Attorney General was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation after failing to inform the Senate of his meetings with Russian officials, I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the President’s campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the Chairman,” Schiff said in a statement. Nunes was a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team.

Nunes began to catch heat last Wednesday after he announced he had seen information suggesting that the U.S. government captured surveillance of the Trump team during the presidential transition, adding the information had nothing to do with Russia, the subject of his committee’s investigation. He then went to the White House to brief the president on what he had seen, leaving the rest of the House intelligence committee members in the dark.

“So far, at least from what I’ve seen, he’s the only one that I can tell so far has blurred the lines between leading this investigation and advocating for the president,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, another of the committee’s Democrats, told BuzzFeed News.

The chairman apologized to the rest of the committee and promised to share the information as soon as he received it, but the congressman has reportedly since said he will not share his sources with the rest of the committee.

On Monday, news broke that Nunes went to White House grounds to view the information before speaking about it publicly. Shortly after his trip to the White House grounds became public, members began actively calling for him to move over.

“I’d been praising the bipartisan nature of the committee work up until last week,” Castro said. “At this point I believe that Chairman Nunes’s ability to lead the investigation has been compromised and that he has made himself a potential witness in this investigation.”

Democrats were also outraged at Nunes’s decision to call off the committee’s second public hearing, originally scheduled to occur this week. Democrats have said it was “cancelled,” but Nunes’s office has said it was merely “postponed.”

At the committee’s first public hearing on the Russia investigation held last week, FBI Director James Comey confirmed for the first time that the bureau is investigating coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia as well. Democrats have suggested that the White House did not like the “nature” of the hearing, and that is perhaps the reason for the second hearing being postponed. Nunes said there was no point in doing more interviews until after Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers were questioned further in a closed-session for members only.

“We’ve made no progress since last Monday’s open hearing,” said Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell. “It was a bipartisan, investigative road up until last Tuesday when the chairman exited and went to work with the White House. That’s where this stalled.”

But despite the lack of progress and concern about Nunes’s ability to lead moving forward, Swalwell and other Democrats on the committee have said they will not walk away from the investigation and will continue it to the extent they can as the minority party.

Swalwell told reporters he had reached out to Nunes and asked for a roundtable meeting to “let the steam out of the pot,” especially as concerns around the Russia investigation begin to affect the rest of the committee’s work. Swalwell wouldn’t go into detail about how Nunes responded, but did say, “I don’t think it’s happening.”

The Senate Intelligence committee, for its part, has gone out of its way to distance itself from its House equivalent. Senators on both sides of the aisle have maintained their support for and confidence in the Senate committee’s ability to continue investigating, and Chairman Richard Burr has generally stayed out of the fray.

Throughout all of this, House leadership has stood by Nunes. At a press conference on Tuesday, Speaker Paul Ryan, whom Nunes briefed on the new information he saw at the White House last week, defended the chairman. “No and no,” Ryan said simply when asked Tuesday whether Nunes should recuse himself from the investigation and whether he knew the source of Nunes’s information.


Lissandra Villa is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Lissandra Villa at lissandra.villahuerta@buzzfeed.com.

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