Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, accused both the White House and the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee of attempting to “distract” from the congressional investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Last month, Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) made a point of racing to the White House to brief President Trump on intelligence he had viewed that, he said, showed that some Trump campaign officials had been caught up in the government’s surveillance of foreign nationals and that their identities had perhaps been improperly unmasked.
News reports later revealed, however, that at least three senior White House officials were involved in handling the intelligence information that Nunes had received — prompting an outcry from Democrats, and even some Republicans, that Nunes had politicized his committee and was simply acting on behalf of the president to try to buttress Trump’s earlier claims, on Twitter, that former president Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the election campaign.
So far, the White House has been unable to provide any evidence to support the president's assertion.
Speaking Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Schiff said Nunes and the White House’s actions proved that they were trying to distract from the broader question of what role, if any, Russia had played in the U.S. election.
“It certainly is an attempt to distract and to hide the origin of the materials, to hide the White House hand,” Schiff said. “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.’ You know, I would tell people, whenever they see the president use the word ‘fake,’ it ought to set off alarm bells. And I think that is really what has gone on here.”
Schiff, who last week went to the White House to view the same intelligence files Nunes had originally seen, also disputed the administration’s claim, including from press secretary Sean Spicer, that the files were produced “in the ordinary course of business.”
“Well, the question for the White House and for Mr. Spicer is the ordinary course of whose business? Because, if these were produced either for or by the White House, then why all of the subterfuge? There's nothing ordinary about the process that was used here at all.”
Schiff also said that he has a “very healthy skepticism” of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's offer to cooperate with congressional investigators in exchange for immunity.
“There is a lot we need to learn before entertaining anything like this,” Schiff said. “We don't want to do anything that will interfere in any case that the Justice Department may decide to bring. We also have to determine whether he really can add value to our investigation, whether we need him to learn information we can't learn from other sources. So, it's very early, I think, even to be considering this.”
Asked about Nunes's original claim, that some Trump campaign officials were improperly unmasked in intelligence documents, Schiff declined to comment. “At this point, I can't say whether anything was masked or unmasked improperly,” he said.
And he also said he was not prepared to answer one of the central questions his committee is investigating: whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russians to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign.
“I don't think we can say anything definitively at this point,” Schiff said. “We are still at the very early stage of the investigation. The only thing I can say is that it would be irresponsible for us not to get to the bottom of this.”