Nunes: ‘No evidence’ of Trump campaign contact with Russia
Katie Bo Williams, The Hill, Feb 27 2017
Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, on Monday rejected reports that members of Trump’s campaign team had regular contact with Russian officials, telling reporters:
There is no evidence that I’ve been presented of regular contact with anybody in the Trump campaign. The way it sounds like to me is, it’s been looked into and there’s no evidence of anything there.
Nunes’s committee is investigating Russian efforts to influence U.S. presidential election, including any links between campaign officials and Moscow. The scope of the review has been under fierce scrutiny following Trump’s dismissal of Michael Flynn. The committee has settled on the scope of its investigation, Nunes said Monday, but has not received all of the evidence it expects from the intelligence agencies. He described his inquiries to those agencies regarding Trump’s campaign associates as “initial” and reiterated:
As of right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I don’t have that. What I’ve been told by many folks, is that there’s nothing there, but we’re absolutely looking into it.
Nunes also dismissed calls from Nancy Pelosi and others for Jeff Sessions recuse himself from any FBI investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia, saying:
At this point, what are we going to appoint a special prosecutor to do, exactly? Chase stories of Pindo creeple that end up in newspaper articles?
He added that if there was any evidence of serious crime, the committee would “consider” the need for an independent prosecutor. Rather than any links between the White House and Russia, Nunes insisted, the only “serious crime” of which the committee had any evidence is a myriad of media leaks, apparently from the intelligence community. The transcript of the wiretapped phone call between Flynn and Kislyak in the report revealed that Flynn had discussed Pindo sanctions on Russia in the Dec 29 call, despite his insistence to the contrary. Nunes on Monday said he was “very interested” in who made the decision to expose the contents of the intercepted phone call to the media, asking:
What laws did they use to decide to unmask Flynn’s name?
In discussing the concerns over the leak, Nunes appeared to reveal the mechanism by which the government was able to legally surveil Flynn, something that has been speculated about since the transcripts were leaked. Referring to the calls as “FISA-warranted communications,” Nunes said that he believed Flynn’s side of the conversation was captured inadvertently. Under FISA, the government may retain communications by Pindo citizens that are “inadvertently” intercepted if the material contains foreign intelligence or evidence of crime. Nunes said Monday:
The good thing is about FISA and the way it works, there should be a record of who in the government knew about Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador, and from there we should be able to know who’s in the realm of the possibles of who we would need to talk to.
The White House has repeatedly characterized the “real story” as the leaks, not Trump’s alleged connections to Russia. The administration has sought to counter a number of unflattering media stories, and apparently asked the FBI to publicly dispute a report that agents had uncovered contact between Russian officials and the president’s campaign. The White House also reportedly enlisted Nunes, who was a member of the executive committee of Trump’s transition team, to counter the narrative. Nunes denied a coordinated effort by the White House to push back on the stories, saying:
If anything, it was the opposite. All it was was a White House communications person passing a number and a name of a reporter over to me if I would talk to them following up what I had already told all of you in the days before that.
Adam Schiff, the committee’s ranking member, plans to speak to reporters concerning the investigation for later Monday afternoon.