The case for an independent commission to investigate Russia’s interference in last year’s election, perhaps including “wise men” (and women) like Colin Powell, Sandra Day O’Connor, George Mitchell, and Jimmy Carter, plus a special prosecutor, is getting stronger by the hour.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats are raising cain and Republicans are clearly unsettled by revelations that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, paid a clandestine visit to the White House complex last week to discuss evidence – so far undisclosed – that FBI agents who were eavesdropping on suspected Russian operatives last year also overheard associates of then-candidate Donald Trump.
Nunes has apologized for going straight to the White House with the information rather than first sharing it with his Intelligence Committee colleagues. Democrats say the chairman’s actions should disqualify him from further participation in the Russia investigation and perhaps from the committee chairmanship. Republicans are mostly staying mum, but on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said if Nunes is "not willing to tell the Democrats and Republicans on the committee who he met with and what he was told, then I think he’s lost his ability to lead."
Graham likened Nunes’ leadership to an “Inspector Clouseau” investigation. Another senior Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, suggested that in the wake of the Nunes affair the Senate Intelligence Committee has more credibility than the House panel to pursue Russia-related investigations.
Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn issued a statement this morning calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove Nunes as committee chairman. She also urged quick action in Congress to pass the “Mar-A-Lago Act,” legislation that would require the administration to disclose the identities of visitors to the White House complex and other facilities where the president and vice president routinely conduct official business.
In a related development, The Washington Post is reporting this morning that the Trump administration is claiming executive privilege in an attempt to prevent former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying to the Intelligence Committee’s investigation of possible Russia-Trump ties.
Nunes abruptly canceled a scheduled hearing this week in which Yates was to be a witness.
The Post said that “Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made… The following day, when Yates’s lawyer sent a letter to the White House indicating that she still wanted to testify, the hearing was canceled.”
The White House insisted the Post report is unfounded and that it did nothing to discourage Yates’ testimony.
Yates, deputy attorney general at the end of the Obama administration, became acting attorney general when Trump took office on Jan. 20. She was fired abruptly 10 days later, after she instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the president’s executive order temporarily barring entry to the U.S. by travelers from seven mostly-Muslim countries. That order was overturned in court.
Office: Common Cause National