It was less than two months ago that Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, temporarily recused himself from leading the panel’s Russia investigation amid allegations that he disclosed classified information in what his Democratic critics called an attempt to substantiate President Trump’s false claim that his predecessor ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower.
On Wednesday, the California Republican appeared to dive back into that inquiry, exercising his authority as chairman to unilaterally issue subpoenas to the intelligence community for information on the alleged improper “unmasking” of Trump campaign officials referred to in intelligence reports by members of the Obama administration.
Nunes’s move prompted an outcry from Democrats and ethics watchdog groups, who accused Nunes of violating the terms of his recusal from the Russia investigation.
“This is an incredibly inappropriate action, and it is a matter that the House Ethics Committee must look at promptly. Nunes is supposed to be completely out of the Russia investigation,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a group whose complaint to the Ethics Committee prompted Nunes to announce he was stepping back from the Russia probe in early April. The allegations stem from Nunes’s claim that he had uncovered evidence that Trump associates had been caught up in incidentally recorded conversations involving the Trump campaign. “Incidental” collection is when intelligence agencies obtain the communications of individuals who are not the target of surveillance, because they correspond with or are mentioned by an individual who is being targeted.