White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday he sees nothing “problematic” about House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ handling of an investigation into Russia’s interference in the November U.S. election.
“There is nothing that I see that is problematic,” Spicer told reporters at his daily White House media briefing.
The embattled Nunes threw a formerly bipartisan investigation into doubt Tuesday, as he rejected calls for his recusal and stopped the committee’s work for the rest of the week.
Spicer said some steps in the investigative process “take a little time” and the White House is “fine with that.”
An anticipated closed-door briefing with FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers was postponed, deepening the frustrations of Democratic members who said Nunes’ actions over the last week and a half jeopardized his credibility and undermined his ability to lead the investigation.
Nunes met a source on White House grounds before making his disclosure last week that members of President Donald Trump’s transition team were caught up in “incidental” surveillance, according to his spokesman, who added that Nunes wanted “to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source.”
That revelation led ranking Democratic committee member Representative Adam Schiff to call for Nunes to step away from the Russia investigation.
“Why would I do that?” Nunes asked a small group of reporters at the Capitol Tuesday.
“Everything is moving as is,” he added, saying scheduling an open hearing would be “a logical first step” after a meeting with Comey.
But Democrats said the committee’s work has stalled.
“To suggest that we need to hear from Comey and Rogers is to suggest that there’s only two hours in the day and we have to make a decision,” Representative Eric Swallwell, a Democratic committee member, said. “We could have done both.”
Swallwell said he asked Nunes to meet with all committee members to defuse the situation.
“Just to sit in the same room and talk about what he saw, who he received it from and how it’s relevant for what we’re trying to do with the Russia investigation. I think that would take a lot of tension out of this process,” he said.
Nunes has still not revealed the identity of the source.
He spoke with reporters and the president about the material last week without informing any of the other 21 members of the House Intelligence Committee, angering Democrats who questioned Nunes’ credibility. Nunes later apologized to the committee.
“We’re trying to get those documents as rapidly as possible,” Nunes told VOA Tuesday on efforts to brief other committee members. He maintained that his relationship with other members is “good” and that its Russia probe is moving forward.
Former AG Yates
Nunes’ meeting on White House grounds was not the only concern Tuesday.
A Washington Post report said the Trump administration tried to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying at an open House Intelligence Committee hearing this week “about the events leading up” to former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s firing, “including his attempts to cover up his secret conversations with the Russian ambassador.”
Chairman Nunes’ cancellation of that hearing prompted Representative Schiff to question “whether the White House’s desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today’s hearing. We do not know. But we would urge that the open hearing be rescheduled without further delay,” Schiff said.
The White House denied taking action to prevent Yates from testifying.
Congressional reaction on Nunes
Fellow Republicans defended Nunes’ actions.
“He did the exact right thing from beginning to end and there really is a concerted effort out to undermine him,” Republican Representative Peter King) told VOA. “He’s really on to something – that’s why.”
But Republican Senator John McCain called Wednesday for a bipartisan “select committee” to investigate the issue because of many “unanswered questions” and the partisan “schism” on the committee.
“I think it’s reached a new level where it requires a select committee,” McCain said on Fox News’ ‘America’s Newsroom’ television program. “There’s too many unanswered questions out there.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to replace Nunes as head of the Intelligence Committee, while House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says the speaker should at least insist that Nunes is not involved in the Russia investigation.
“He has not been operating like someone who is interested in getting to the unvarnished truth,” Schumer said. “His actions look like those of someone who is interested in protecting the president and his party.”
But King said members of the committee stand by Nunes.
“Obviously, the president had nothing to do with it – the information is totally controlled, and it did not leak out at all,” King said. Ryan also said Nunes should not recuse himself.
The White House has defended Nunes’ actions, saying he had done his job to investigate allegations of surveillance and was being upfront with journalists about his activities.
Trump, who earlier this month tweeted unsubstantiated allegations that former president Barack Obama had wiretapped his campaign while he ran for office, has said he was “somewhat vindicated” by Nunes’ statement about the surveillance.
Comey has said that there is no information to support Trump’s allegation that Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower in New York. Trump has asked Congress to investigate.
VOA’s Wayne Lee contributed to this report.