Democrat Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, held a hastily-planned press conference to respond to committee chairman Devin Nunes‘ decision to give President Donald Trump updates on the Russia investigation and wiretapping without showing the evidence to Schiff. He said that Nunes’ actions mean that there is reason to create an independent commission to investigate Russia’s involvement.
Schiff, who is also from California, said that Nunes’ actions created “enormous doubt” that Congress can handle an independent investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He said he will ask House Speaker Paul Ryan about creating an independent commission.
“We have certainly made it clear now for many weeks … we do an investigation through our intelligence committees but we also have a truly independent commission,” Schiff said. “A commission would have a dedicated staff and resources solely on this … issue.”
Schiff said that Nunes was the only person on the House Intelligence Committee to see the newly discovered intercepts before the press conferences. He also underlined how unusual it was for Nunes to share information with the press and the president before speaking with the other members of the committee.
Schiff also said that he hopes these press conferences weren’t part of a “broader campaign” by the White House to distract attention away from FBI Director James Comey‘s testimony that there is no evidence that President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the campaign. Comey also confirmed that the FBI is running an investigation into possible ties between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.
During his press conferences on March 22, Nunes said that he saw intercepts that showed that the Trump transition team was surveilled in “incidental collection” after the election. However, he said that it appeared that the conversations were collected legally and weren’t connected to the investigation into the Russia investigation.
Schiff also issued a statement on Twitter, saying that Nunes can’t conduct a credible investigation this way. “Because the committee has still not been provided the intercepts in the possession of the Chairman, it is impossible to evaluate the Chairman’s claims,” Schiff wrote. “It certainly does not suggest – in any way – that the President was wiretapped by his predecessor.”
Just before Schiff’s press conference, Nunes went on The Lead With Jake Tapper on CNN to defend his decision. Tapper asked Nunes what he would say to Democrats who think he’s being political in his handling, noting that Nunes himself was a member of the Trump transition team. He defended his decision to hold the press conferences.
“Look, there’s no good way to do this,” Nunes said. “The bottom line is that we are all elected. I serve at the pleasure of the Republicans in my conference as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee and it’s my job to run these investigations and provide oversight over the intelligence agencies. And that’s what I’m doing. So at the end of the day, people can make up their own mind when we come up with a product that we’ll come out at the end of all this and we’ll share as much as we can with the public. I’m trying my best, any time I have new information and come out and talk to all of you.”
Schiff also told MSNBC that be believes there is “more than circumstantial evidence now” to possibly prove that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. It is “very much worthy of investigation,” Schiff said.
During two press conferences, Nunes said that he saw new information that members of the Trump transition were surveilled by the U.S. intelligence community. Their communications were collected in “incidental collection,” Nunes said. That’s a term describing what happens when a foreign target communicates with a U.S. citizen while under surveillance. Typically, the U.S. citizens’ names wouldn’t appear in the reports, but Nunes said that the names of Trump transition members were “unmasked.” This included more members than just former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
After first announcing his findings to the press at the Capitol, Nunes spoke with Trump and then held a second press conference. After meeting with Nunes, Trump said he felt “somewhat” validated. However, Nunes still insisted that there is no evidence that President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped, as Trump claimed on Twitter earlier this month.