While Schiff did not say Democrats would pull out of the investigation, he called for an independent commission and said anyone watching this week’s drama would have “very legitimate concerns” about whether the House investigation would be credible.
The dueling press conferences cap an astonishing week in the Russia investigation. On Monday, the committee held hearings with Rogers and Comey, in which Comey confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating potential collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia to interfere in the election.
On Wednesday, Nunes made a strange announcement in which he said he had obtained documents about surveillance of Trump team officials. But Nunes’s revelation was extremely vague: First, he repeatedly said he did not yet have all the facts. Second, he said that all surveillance appeared to have been lawful, and involved Trump transition team officials whose information was “incidentally collected” in the course of communication with foreign nationals under legal surveillance. He said he was concerned about “unmasking” of U.S. persons—citizens’ names and information are generally redacted, or masked, unless somehow relevant. But Nunes could not or would not say who or why it appeared “inappropriate,” in his words.
Even stranger was Nunes’s handling of this revelation, which came from a source he would not reveal. Despite having only partial information, he did not inform Schiff or other members of the committee. Instead, he briefed Speaker Paul Ryan, made a public announcement, and then went to the White House to brief Trump. Although Nunes continued to say that Trump’s claims of having been “wiretapped” by President Obama were baseless, the cloak-and-dagger handling, along with Nunes’s close ties to the president, elicited accusations that he was trying to throw Trump a political lifeline. Whether or not that was true, the president took it that way. He said on Wednesday that he felt “somewhat” vindicated, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer again used the v-word on Thursday.
Schiff was furious. He blasted Nunes in a press conference, accusing him of “act[ing] as a White House surrogate.” Then Schiff went on MNSBC’s Meet the Press Daily, where he announced that there was evidence that was “more than circumstantial” of collusion between Russia and the Trump administration.
On Thursday, Nunes gestured toward making nice, apologizing to the committee for going to Trump before he spoke with Schiff. But in a contradictory move, he later told reporters he did not regret handling the situation in the way he did. Nunes also seemed to back away from some of his comments on Wednesday, with a spokesman telling ABC News the chairman did not know for sure whether Trump or any of his associates were even on the communications he had cited.