GOP Intel chair end runs own committee to give Trump cover from FBI probe


GOP intelligence chair Devin Nunes broke protocol and bypassed his own committee to debrief Donald Trump while an FBI investigation into his Russian activities is ongoing. The time for an independent investigator is now.

Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee met with Donald Trump at the White House, even as his committee is supposed to be engaged in oversight of Trump, his team, and their connections to Russian government attempts to influence the election.

Nunes served on Trump's presidential transition team.

The congressman held a media availability after speaking to Trump, and said he told him that his personal communications may have been picked up in the course of legal foreign surveillance during the campaign. Trump later touted Nunes' comment and said he felt "somewhat" vindicated.

The meeting came on the same day that the Associated Press broke a major story about Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort, and his work on behalf of politicians allied with Russia's Vladimir Putin. The AP story broke hours after White House Press Secretary lied and said that Manafort had limited involvement with the Trump campaign (he was chairman of the campaign).

Jeremy Bash, former chief minority counsel on the intelligence committee, said that Nunes' meeting with Trump represented a "breakdown in the entire oversight process" and that other members of the committee would be "horrified" at what he's done.

BASH: Brian, I served as chief counsel of the House Intelligence Committee, and I think in the 40 years of the committee's existence, since the post-Watergate era reforms, with the Church and Pike committees that emerged from those scandals, I have never heard of a chairman of an oversight committee going to brief the president of the United States about concerns he has about things he's read in an intelligence reports. The job of the committee is to do oversight over the executive branch, not to bring them into their investigation or tip them off to things that they may be looking at. And I've got to believe that other members of the committee are horrified at what they just witnessed.

This is a chairman who is supposed to be doing an impartial bipartisan investigation of the president and his inner circle, and instead he goes and basically tells the president and his team everything he knows. It's very concerning, particularly when what he has saying is that the collection was lawful, it was court-ordered by lifetime federal judges against a valid foreign intelligence targets, that the reports generated by the non-partisan, non-political intelligence community were of foreign intelligence value and then he goes and tries to make this into a political cover story for the president's tweetstorm two Saturdays ago, and potentially reveals to the president things about the committee's existing investigation. This is a true break down, Brian, in the entire oversight process.

Former NBC congressional correspondent Luke Russert said, "In my 7 years covering the Hill, never saw something like this from Intel Chair," adding, "This is very dangerous. I have trouble seeing somebody like [former congressman] Mike Rogers doing this. Intel Chairmen don't act like this."

Nunes going to Trump before speaking to the Democrats on the committee gave off the appearance of providing cover to Trump as the FBI investigation into his ties to Russia penetrate the public consciousness.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said, " this information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been." Schiff also noted, "The Chairman also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation.  I have expressed my grave concerns with the Chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way."

As if by clockwork, one of the super PACs associated with Trump, Great America PAC, began to fundraise off of the entire smoke screen, echoing Trump in claiming his conspiracy theory had been "vindicated."

DNC Senior Adviser Zac Petkanas blasted the behavior in a statement, noting, "Former Trump transition member Devin Nunes blew what little credibility he had left with this pathetic charade." The DNC also pointed out that the episode once again illustrated the need for an independent commission styled after the 9/11 investigation to get to the bottom of Russian interference.

Nunes' break with protocol and the manner in which he debriefed Trump (who quickly used it to try and detract from serious questions about his behavior) does not change the underlying case. Trump's accusation that President Obama wiretapped him is false, while he and his team remain under FBI investigation for their Russia connections as they have been since last July.