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House Russia investigation: What a contrast between leaders Nunes and Schiff

Rep. Devin Nunes is in over his head and has lost the ability to convince fair-minded Americans that the committee is up to the task.

House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, right and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, left, speaking with the media on March 15.
REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

I’m not sure how the Republicans got such a doofus as U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes of California as their leader on the House Intelligence Committee. His recent fumbles in the investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election have undermined any reasonable belief that the committee is seriously committed to finding out how much the Russians interfered and especially the even more sensational question of whether the Trump campaign colluded in such interference.

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Nunes is in over his head and has lost the ability to convince fair-minded Americans that the committee is up to the task.

Poor Nunes is also disadvantaged by the contrast between his fumbling antics and the clear, sharp performance turned in over recent days by the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, also of California. If you didn’t catch Schiff on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday, you can watch his interview here, or read the transcript here.

Schiff was careful to avoid talking about anything he shouldn’t disclose, such as the content of any of the documents the committee has been reviewing. But he did point clearly to what he believes is the motive behind the recent crazy business — in which Nunes played courier between members of the White House staff and President Trump. Schiff seized on questions from CNN’s Jake Tapper to offer his understanding of what he called Trump’s “transparent” goal with regard to the investigation, which is distraction from the possible-Trump-campaign-collusion-with-Russia question to anything else including Trump’s false and unsupported claim that former President Obama wiretapped him.

I thought Trump had dropped that one, after pretty much every official with reason to know about it had testified publicly that they knew of no evidence of any such wiretapping. But Trump brought it back up over the weekend with tweets like this one:

When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russia story?

And this one:

It is the same Fake News Media that said there is “no path to victory for Trump” that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam!

Trump is now the boss of the CIA and the FBI. Members of Trump’s party chair the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. If he has nothing to hide, why is he so worried about letting these investigations proceed? Schiff suggested an answer:

SCHIFF: I think part of the reason why that was done is this effort to deflect attention from the Russia investigation, to raise other issues, to effectively create a cloud through which the public cannot see what is at stake here.

And what is at stake here is a foreign intervention in our election, a very serious issue about whether U.S. persons were involved, an investigation that is being conducted by the FBI into possible [Russian] coordination with the Trump campaign.

That is really, I think, among the most serious business the country has to do right now. And the White House seems to be doing everything it can to point in other directions and say, do not look here, there is nothing to see here. 

JAKE TAPPER: And the big issue, of course, is whether or not there was collusion among members of the Trump campaign or surrounding the Trump campaign, Trump advisers. Can you say definitively that there was collusion, there were people affiliated with the Trump campaign who were working with Russians to time the release of damaging information about Hillary Clinton that had been hacked either from John Podesta or the DNC? 

SCHIFF: I don’t think we can say anything definitively at this point. We are still at the very early stage of the investigation. The only thing I can say is that it would be irresponsible for us not to get to the bottom of this. We really need to do — we really need to find out exactly what the Russians did, because one of the most important conclusions that the intelligence community reached is that they are going to do this again to the United States. They are doing it already in Europe. So, we can say, you know, conclusively this is something that needs to be thoroughly investigated. But it’s way premature to be reaching conclusions. 

Mr. President (me talking here): If you have nothing to hide, why not let the committee complete its investigation so those who don’t feel like taking your word for it will know that you have nothing to hide?

As I have occasionally done in the past, I’ll draft a statement that President Trump might adopt if he wanted to stop giving the impression that he has something terrible to hide. Something like:

My fellow Americans. Because of various disturbing reports you may have heard or read, some of you may be concerned by allegations or rumors that I or some members of my campaign may have colluded with Russia to influence last year’s election.

We did not. It would be reprehensible, disloyal, anti-American and criminal for Americans to collaborate with a foreign power in such a scheme, and I would surely have rejected and exposed any such effort. But it’s naïve to think that all of you would take my word for that. So I am instructing all of my staff, and urging all of my former campaign team, to cooperate fully with the official investigations of these issues.

I urge all members of the relevant congressional committees, regardless of party, to take all necessary steps to find the facts and report them to the citizens, for whom we work. If there is any indication of partisan interference with the goal of a full and fair investigation, I will join those voices of those who have called for an independent commission to be formed.

If necessary, I myself will testify honestly and fully under oath about this matter before such a commission. If I were to lie under oath about such a matter, it would be an impeachable offense. But believe me, I will not lie because I have nothing to hide.

Thank you.