Schiff angrily responded during a press conference late Wednesday afternoon.
“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both,” Schiff said. “Unfortunately I think the actions of today throw great doubt in the ability of the both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.”
Nunes also made several jabs at Comey, who confirmed that the FBI was investigating whether Russia colluded with Trump officials to interfere with the election. This is also exactly what one might do if one were trying to assist Trump.
There are a few useful pieces of information to be gleaned from Nunes’s two press conferences, one at the Capitol and another at the White House later in the afternoon. Nunes said that none of the information involved Russia, though he would not say what foreign countries the subjects of surveillance were from. He said he did not know that any of the communications were intercepted from Trump Tower. Nunes was not clear about who might have been caught up in the incidental collection. It was already known that Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, was intercepted speaking with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, and Nunes said it went beyond that, though his wording was somewhat opaque.
“I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were I guess at least monitored and disseminated about in the intelligence community,” he said.
In both press conferences, reporters expressed puzzlement at what Nunes believed was wrong, since he indicated that the collection was lawful and incidental. His answer focused on the question of “unmasking.” When Americans’ names are caught up incidental collection, those names are supposed to be redacted unless there is a reason why including them is essential to understanding the report.
At the White House, however, Nunes offered an answer that muddied the waters on whether he thought the collection was in fact legal.
“What I have read seems to me to be some level of surveillance activity, perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right, I don’t know that the American people would be comfortable with what I read, but let’s get all the reports,” Nunes said.
But this, too, is perplexing, as though Nunes was just now realizing for the first time that U.S. persons’ information is routinely caught up in FISA surveillance.
In sum, Nunes’s announcement on Wednesday raises far more questions that it answers. It’s hard to see how that ambiguity, and the way he handled it, make the American public better informed, or strengthen the House investigation or instill faith in it. But by design or not, they brightened the skies over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, at least for a day.