Democrats who successfully pushed for the House Intelligence Committee chairman to step away from the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election might be in danger of exposing their own misconduct, according to a senior official on the panel.
The official, who has direct knowledge of the investigation and spoke to LifeZette on condition of anonymity, characterized the surprising decision by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to step away as a willingness to take a bullet for committee members who likely would be dogged by questions about the controversy when they returned to their districts for the Easter recess.
“First of all, Devin Nunes has earned my trust over many years for his integrity and his dedication to the critical work that the intelligence community does to keep Americans safe.”
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Democrats have been hounding Nunes to step aside or resign his chairmanship since he disclosed to the public that he had uncovered documents indicating that members of the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama had improperly “unmasked” the names of incoming President Donald Trump’s associates who were supposed to be disguised in intelligence reports.
Nunes faces an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee, but the House Intelligence Committee official told LifeZette there is no evidence Nunes did anything wrong. By contrast, the official said, there is evidence that some Democrats have leaked classified material — both inadvertently and intentionally.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) publicly backed Nunes on Thursday.
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“First of all, Devin Nunes has earned my trust over many years for his integrity and his dedication to the critical work that the intelligence community does to keep Americans safe,” Ryan said at a news conference. “He continues to have that trust, and I know he’s eager to demonstrate to the Ethics Committee that he has followed all proper guidelines and laws. In the meantime, it is clear that this process would be a distraction to the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in our election.”
The Intelligence Committee official said that the direction of the Russia investigation would not change with Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) at the helm. The official said that Nunes eventually would resume his leadership position and would continue to lead the panel’s investigation of other matters, such as leaks of classified information unrelated to Russia.
Nunes said last month that the information he reviewed involved surveillance of non-Russian foreign officials.
The unmasking allegations received new credibility this week with a report by Bloomberg that a Trump administration official discovered then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice had requested the identity of Trump associates whose identities were disguised in summaries of the surveillance transcripts. Republicans have seized on that as evidence of improper “reverse-targeting,” although Rice has vehemently maintained that her activities were a routine part of her job and not politically motivated.
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The Intelligence Committee official said that Rice appears to have been sloppy but that there is reason to believe that other Obama political appointees engaged in similar unmasking activity – and did a better job of covering their tracks.
Ultimately, the official said, Republican members of the committee believe it will require the Justice Department or a special prosecutor to ferret out all the information surrounding how Obama administration officials handled classified surveillance information.