House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that he had seen no evidence supporting President Trump’s claim that his phones were tapped by the previous administration.
But unlike many other members of Congress, Nunes did not demand that the administration explain the basis of Trump’s accusation, saying that “we were going to look into it anyway.”
“The bigger question that needs to be answered is whether or not Mr. Trump or any of his associates were in fact targeted by any of the intelligence agencies or law enforcement authorities,” Nunes told reporters Tuesday. Over the weekend, he announced that his committee would look into Trump’s accusation delivered via Twitter that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
“At this point we don’t have any evidence of that,” Nunes said. “But we also don’t have any evidence of many people who have been named in multiple news stories that supposedly are under some type of investigation.”
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), also told reporters Tuesday that he was happy to look into the president’s allegations — but warned that if they were proven false, accusing Obama of ordering an illegal wiretap could pose much bigger problems for Trump.
“We accept — we will investigate this,” Schiff said, referring to another Trump tweet in which the president likened the alleged wiretap to a “Nixon/Watergate” style scandal.
“If a sitting U.S. president alleging that his predecessor engaged in the most unscrupulous and unlawful conduct … that is also a scandal, if those allegations prove to be false,” Schiff said. “And we should be able to determine in fairly short order whether this accusation was true or false.”
Nunes told reporters last week that he had seen no evidence of improper contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials. He repeated that assertion on Tuesday, stressing that it was common practice for incoming administrations to meet with diplomats.
He added that based on his understanding of the transcripts of calls between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, there was nothing inappropriate or suspect about the substance of the conversation.
Nunes also questioned the official explanation for why Flynn’s calls were recorded. Was it actually because of “incidental collection” — as the intelligence community has argued — “or was it something else?” he asked.
“It’s important for us to know whether or not the Department of Justice or any other agency tried to get a warrant on anybody related to the Trump campaign — or any other campaign for that matter,” Nunes said, explaining that the committee wanted to “verify” that the intelligence community was using its surveillance authorities “ethically, responsibly and by the law.”
Nunes may have a chance to grill intelligence community members about that on March 20, when he plans to hold an open hearing as part of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
The guest list for the hearing is formidable, but not entirely comprehensive: Nunes and Schiff agreed to invite FBI Director James B. Comey, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, former CIA director John Brennan, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., former acting attorney general Sally Yates, and two senior officers of CrowdStrike — the company that found proof that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee.
Schiff said Tuesday that he plans “on asking the director of the FBI directly whether there was any wiretap directed at Mr. Trump or his associates” at the hearing.
But no one has been subpoenaed, and some names that have been prominent in the Russia allegations are missing from the list — including that of Flynn.
Nunes said that Flynn was a “tangent” to the investigation but that he would welcome Flynn’s testimony if he wanted to participate.
All of the current and former officials invited to appear before the committee for its opening hearing were active during the waning months of the Obama administration when, Nunes and Schiff have argued, the committee chiefs should have been getting more complete briefings.
“We are supposed to be kept up to speed on any pertinent counterintelligence investigations. If that did not occur last year, we need to understand,” Nunes said. “We should have known that, if there was an actual investigation.”