“Generally, collection activities by intelligence agencies are classified,” Chaffetz and Goodlatte wrote, arguing that the act of monitoring Flynn’s call, the substance of the call, and any warrants sought to monitor Russian bank records were also probably classified.
“The release of classified national security information can, by definition, have grave effects on national security,” they wrote, stressing that their committees had the right to launch an investigation.
The letter is the latest effort from the GOP to focus on the fact that information about Flynn’s contacts was leaked as the chief problem — as opposed to the substance of those conversations, which indicated that Flynn had lied to Vice President Pence about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
President Trump called the leaks a “criminal action, criminal act,” adding that he thought Flynn had been treated “very, very unfairly by the media.” GOP leaders in the House especially have sounded a similar alarm about leaking, with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) arguing that “the big problem I see here is that you have an American citizen who had his phone calls recorded.”
In the Senate, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) argued that “the leaks are coming from somewhere … obviously it’s coming from people that don’t want to see this administration succeed.” He also dismissed the furor over the substance of Flynn’s conversations, arguing that “incoming members of an administration would be derelict in their duty not to be reaching out and getting up to speed on what they’re going to be faced with once they start governing.”
But other members of the GOP, particularly in the Senate, are frustrated with their party’s fixation on leaks over and above the information they exposed.
“All of us know that leaks happen in this town, and we all don’t like it — but the fact is that you now have a much larger issue to address,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday. “The national security adviser lied to the vice president of the United States. That’s a pretty serious event.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that although leaks are always a serious matter, they were in this case “ancillary” compared to Russia, which he called “the elephant in the room, that’s what we need to be dealing with.”
Meanwhile, Democrats are pushing back fiercely against the GOP’s primary focus on the leaks.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat and Intelligence Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) argued against the entire premise of the GOP’s focus on leaks Wednesday, stating, “I haven’t seen any classified information leaked to the press.”
She added that “there is knowledge” — on the Intelligence Committee, at least — of “whose calls are being recorded” that is “long-standing.”
In the House, Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) argued Wednesday that focusing on leaks was just another way for the GOP to cozy up to the Trump administration.
“Frankly it’s safer for them to talk about leaks than be critical of the president,” Schiff said of his GOP colleagues. “There are still a lot they want from this president in the form of tax cuts and regulatory giveaways, so I think they’re hoping to get what they can get before they have to confront him.”