House Ethics Officials Move Slowly on Democrat Disclosures
Committee that rapidly took up Nunes inquiry still sitting on Schiff complaint after four weeks
The House Ethics Committee and its subordinate Office of Congressional Ethics may be slow-walking a decision on whether to open an investigation into whether two Democrats, Rep. Adam Schiff and Rep. Jackie Speier, both of California, disclosed classified information when criticizing President Donald Trump.
The concern that the two House ethics agencies are unusually tardy to advance their consideration of the matter strikes a large contrast with how quickly they moved on a House Republican last month — arguably over a smaller matter.
“I fear Democrats are manipulating the process for partisan gain.”
On March 22, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) spoke to the media about a discovery he made about incidental intelligence-gathering that affected President Donald Trump’s transition team. Nunes said that not only the intel was gathered, but that federal officials “unmasked” Americans in their spying. Unmasking U.S. identities can only be done for specific, valid purposes and has a high bar for approval.
It was a major news revelation that enraged liberal pundits and Democratic lawmakers.
The discovery such intelligence had been collected, and unmasking was done, was a huge blow to Trump’s critics, who blasted the president for his March 4 tweets claiming that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, traveled to the White House to brief Trump on what he found. He then gave a press conference outside the West Wing.
Liberal commentators and Democrats erupted after the revelations disrupted their narrative that Trump was unhinged to suggest the previous administration had been involved in surveillance of his team. Keith Olbermann, the oddball former MSNBC commentator now at GQ.com, went so far as to say Nunes should turn himself into the FBI, in one of the more unhinged reactions.
It was only a few weeks later, on April 6, that Nunes recused himself from the House Intelligence Committee’s work on Russia because the House Ethics Committee decided to investigate a complaint that Nunes may have confirmed the existence of classified information in a press conference. The GOP-led committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), a moderate Republican, moved with unusual speed, and may have even decided to not wait for a recommendation from the Office of Congressional Ethics.
In total, about 15 days passed between Nunes’ press conference and an official opening of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
Nunes protested and said the charges were baseless. Nunes has said repeatedly that he did not break any rules on classified information in making his public statements. He remains chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
One of the complainants against Nunes was MoveOn.org, the famously left-wing organization, which has been trying to dog Trump. The complaint centered on Nunes’ response when asked if the information he had seen was related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Officials are not supposed to discuss FISA data. Nunes said he didn’t know. That was neither a confirmation or a denial.
On the other hand, citing public remarks by Schiff and Speier, the right-leaning watchdog organization Judicial Watch filed a complaint (using hand delivery) to the Office of Congressional Ethics on April 13. That was four weeks ago.
The Office of Congressional Ethics is evenly balanced between Republicans and Democrats. Its board can recommend action, which would lead to a full-on investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
But because the process is confidential, it is hard to know if a case is proceeding.
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, is so far willing to cut the office and the larger committee some slack.
“I expect we will be hearing something soon,” said Fitton, speaking to LifeZette on Thursday. “I don’t think the issue can be avoided, that’s for sure.”
At least one House Republican official is not happy with the pace. The Democrats in the office and on the House committee are simply not interested in looking into public comments by Schiff and Speier about classified information, the source told LifeZette, requesting anonymity.
Schiff and Speier’s dilemma is far worse than that of Nunes, the source said.
Schiff, who loves talking to TV cameras, is accused of telling the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution on March 21 about a conversation that Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had with the Russian ambassador. By talking about it, Judicial Watch claims, Schiff broke rules confirming classified data.
Speier’s disclosure was more explicit. Judicial Watch cited an April 3 report by the Daily Caller, in which Speier said “we do know” the contents and context of the conversation between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. That is a textbook confirmation.
Both disclosures are said to be worse than what Nunes did, according to the House Republican source. But why Brooks, the House Ethics Committee and the office are hesitant to move with as much speed and vigor is anyone’s guess.
Republicans are also curious as to when Nunes’ case will be closed.
Fitton said if the ethics office and the House Ethics Committee don’t act on Schiff and Speier, they will be seen as just another “Establishment” apparatus being used to get at Trump. There is also concern that Democrats are more keenly taking advantage of the process than the Republican majority.
“I fear Democrats are manipulating the process for partisan gain,” said Fitton.