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Paul Ryan Defends Devin Nunes on Russia Probe

Intelligence Chairman Under Fire from House Democrats and Senate Republicans

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is expressing confidence in the House Intelligence chairman. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan is expressing confidence in the House Intelligence chairman. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Despite calls from Democrats for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes to step aside from an investigation of Russian meddling in U.S. politics, and even ridicule from GOP quarters, the California Republican doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan said “no and no” when asked at a news conference whether Nunes should recuse himself and whether the Wisconsin Republican knew the source of intelligence Nunes apparently received on White House grounds about potential incidental collection of communications of Trump campaign associates.

Nunes refused to respond to calls that he recuse himself from the investigation saying he did not understand the purpose of the question.

“Why would I not?” remain chairman during the investigation, said Nunes.

His response to questions about why House Intelligence hearings were cancelled this week was that the panel wanted to hear more from FBI Director James Comey before bringing in additional witnesses after he said “nothing has been cancelled.”

Nunes also deflected questions about the recusal repeatedly telling reporters to “ask them” because it sounded like the other side had a problem.

House Intelligence ranking member Adam B. Schiff said that in fact Nunes did scrap an open hearing that would have included testimony from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

“Today’s hearing would also have provided the opportunity for former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to testify about the events leading up to former National Security Advisor [Mike Flynn’s] firing, including his attempts to cover up his secret conversations with the Russian Ambassador,” Schiff said in a statement. “We are aware that former AG Yates intended to speak on these matters, and sought permission to testify from the White House. Whether the White House’s desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today’s hearing, we do not know.”

Schiff’s statement followed a Washington Post report about alleged Trump administration efforts to block Yates from providing testimony.

A White House official disputed the Post report in its entirety.

“The Washington Post story is entirely false. The White House has taken no action to prevent Sally Yates from testifying and the Department of Justice specifically told her that it would not stop her and to suggest otherwise is completely irresponsible,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.

Nunes’ critics are not all Democrats. Senate Republicans who are often critical of Russia also have doubts about the California Republican’s investigation.

“He’s gone off on a lark, by himself, sort of an Inspector Clouseau investigation here. Trying to find some unmasking information about collection incidental with the Trump campaign and some foreign agent outside Russia,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on NBC’s Today Show. “I love Inspector Clouseau. I wouldn’t pick him to do this investigation, though.”

Rema Rahman, Lindsey McPherson and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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