Nunes Faces Ethics Complaint, Calls for Recusal Amid Growing White House Scandal
"He shouldn't be anywhere near this investigation, let alone leading it"
Charging that he violated the Espionage Act and House rules "in his quest to assist President [Donald] Trump politically," MoveOn.org Civic Action on Tuesday filed a federal ethics complaint with the U.S. House of Representatives' Office of Congressional Ethics against Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
The House Intelligence Committee chairman's secret visit to the White House, followed by his announcement that members of Trump's transition team were "incidentally" monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, "was evidently intended to lend some credence to President Trump's claims that former President [Barack] Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped—claims that have repeatedly been shown to be absolutely baseless," the complaint (pdf) reads. "In his quest to assist President Trump politically...it appears that chairman Nunes has committed serious violations of law and House rules."
The filing comes as calls grow for Nunes to recuse himself from the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. A petition launched by MoveOn Monday night, demanding House leadership remove Nunes from his chairmanship of the committee, had garnered more than 166,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
"Devin Nunes' reckless and clearly partisan actions prove he lacks the judgment and independence to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump and his associates with the government of Russia—and underscore why an independent commission and special prosecutor are so desperately needed," said MoveOn.org campaign director Jo Comerford. "Congress must stop all business and focus on the creation of an independent commission and the appointment of a special prosecutor or the American people will never be able to trust that the Trump campaign did not in engage illegal collusion with a foreign government to sabotage a U.S. election."
Separately, watchdog groups Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) also wrote to the Office of Congressional Ethics on Tuesday asking them to conduct an inquiry into whether Nunes disclosed classified information to the public last week in violation of House ethics rules.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is refusing to step aside from the panel's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, despite growing calls for him to do so in the wake of revelations that he secretly visited the White House the day before he announced President Donald Trump's transition team may have been incidentally surveilled by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Leading lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and the committee's ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), have called for Nunes to recuse himself or for GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to replace him.
"This is not a recommendation I make lightly," Schiff wrote in a statement. "I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the President's campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the chairman." Nunes served on the transition's executive committee.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), also a member of the intelligence committee, went as far as to describe the entire situation as "a cover-up to a crime."
"He shouldn't be anywhere near this investigation, let alone leading it," Swalwell said of Nunes on MSNBC. Watch below:
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 28, 2017
Meanwhile, CNN reported Tuesday morning that the committee "has scrapped all meetings this week" amid the mushrooming scandal.
According to the outlet:
The decision to scrap this week's meetings shows that the panel is facing serious turmoil and questions about whether it can proceed. Nunes scrapped a Tuesday public hearing on Russia to hold a private briefing with FBI director James Comey and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers, prompting outcry from Democrats who wanted the issue of the Trump campaign's alleged ties to the Kremlin to remain in public view.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) confirmed the news on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," saying meetings set for Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday had all been cancelled.
"Not only has this investigation sort of had a shadow cast on it, but the committee's been put into suspended animation," said Himes, who has also called for Nunes' recusal.
The Connecticut lawmaker further noted that Nunes still has not shared his information with the rest of the committee.
"No member of the committee, Republican or Democrat, has seen, after a full week, this stuff that caused Nunes to make himself famous nationally," Himes said. "Not a single member of the committee. I don't even think anybody on his own staff has any idea what caused him to do this sort of musical chairs thing with the White House."
Adding another layer of intrigue, the Washington Post reports that Nunes cancelled Tuesday's hearing, which was to feature testimony from former acting attorney general Sally Yates, on the same day the White House counsel waived presidential communication privilege regarding Yates' testimony. The Trump administration had reportedly been trying to employ that privilege to block Yates' testimony; with the privilege waived—and had the hearing not been cancelled—Yates would have been free to tell the committee what she knew about links between Russian officials and Trump's presidential campaign.
The Post notes:
As acting attorney general, Yates played a key part in the investigation surrounding Michael T. Flynn, a Trump campaign aide who became national security adviser before revelations that he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States in late December led to his ouster.
[...] In January, Yates warned White House counsel Donald McGahn that statements White House officials made about Flynn's contact with the ambassador were incorrect, and could therefore expose the national security adviser to future blackmail by the Russians.
While Ryan said through a spokeswoman that he "has full confidence that chairman Nunes is conducting a thorough, fair, and credible investigation," some Republicans appear to be losing faith.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday on the "Today Show" that Nunes at the very least has "put his objectivity in question" and "lost his ability to lead." Graham likened Nunes to the hapless detective from "The Pink Panther," saying: "He's gone off on a lark by himself, a sort of Inspector Clouseau investigation here."