House Republicans and the White House continue to back House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, saying there is no merit to Democrats’ demands for him to recuse himself from leading an investigation into potential Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Many Republicans on the Intelligence Committee have ducked questions on the topic. New York Rep. Peter T. King was an exception; he said there was no reason to lose confidence in Nunes or to think that a series of strange incidents concerning the chairman created a perception problem.
“You can’t govern by optics,” King said Tuesday. “Then you’re giving into the media and the Democrats — can’t give in to either one of them. I mean zeitgeist can be against you. Doesn’t mean it’s right.”
A spokeswoman for Rep. Trey Gowdy, who leads the House’s special Committee on Benghazi and serves on the Intelligence Committee, told Roll Call the South Carolina Republican remained fully confident in Nunes.
In an appearance on Fox News on Monday, Gowdy said Democrats should not be concerned with how Nunes obtained information, a key criticism of the Intelligence chairman.
“Whether it was the White House or Waffle House, what difference does it make if the information is reliable and authentic?” Gowdy told Fox News. “Devin had to do it this way.”
Nunes came under fire from Democrats and some Republicans after he admitted to meeting a source on White House grounds the day before he announced publicly that Trump campaign associates might have been caught in a surveillance web.
That revelation — which the California Republican said was separate from the Russia investigation — came after President Donald Trump sought vindication for a claim he made on Twitter that his predecessor had him wiretapped in Trump Tower during the presidential transition period.
Nunes has disputed the claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped by the Obama administration. But he had left open the possibility that Trump and his associates may have been caught up in incidental collection of communications by intelligence agencies elsewhere.
The White House is also standing behind Nunes, who worked on Trump’s transition team. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday there is “nothing I see that is problematic” in Nunes continuing to lead the investigation, even considering his contact with White House officials.
Committee members criticized Nunes for briefing the public at the White House about Trump associates being incidentally spied on before informing the panel’s minority members.
That broke a bipartisan agreement between the committee’s top two lawmakers — a shift from how the panel typically conducts its business.
But Nunes said calls by ranking member Adam B. Schiff, a fellow Californian, and other House Democrats for him to step down was business as usual on Capitol Hill.
“Same thing as always around this place,” Nunes said Tuesday. “A lot of politics, people get heated, but I’m not gonna involve myself in that.”
On Monday, Schiff became the first Democrat to call for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation.
He also criticized Nunes for canceling a public hearing that was planned for Tuesday when former Obama administration officials were to testify on circumstances surrounding surveillance calls between Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn resigned from the administration after it was discovered he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about the calls.
After the meeting was canceled, Schiff on Tuesday disputed Nunes’ contention that the committee had to first hear from FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers before it could hear from additional witnesses.
“I’m not sure where they’re coming from,” Schiff said, adding, “They’ll obviously have to decide their leadership issues.” It is unclear when the next public hearing of the panel will occur.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, another California Democrat on the committee, told Roll Call on Tuesday that Nunes’ “original sin” was going to the White House to review intelligence material and, in doing so, cutting out Democrats on the committee.
Swalwell said he had confidence in Nunes’ ability to conduct independent investigations — just not the one involving Trump and his associates.
“If he doesn’t step aside, he’s going to lose the credibility he needs to do the job,” Swalwell said.