STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says his actions last week were not as compromising as they may sound. Devin Nunes says he was on the White House grounds the day before he made public claims about surveillance that appeared to defend the Trump administration. Nunes is supposed to be investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. He said on CNN last night his source was not on the White House staff, but he met his source on the White House grounds because it has secure locations to look at evidence.
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DEVIN NUNES: The Congress has not been given this information these documents, and that's the problem. There is no way for the folks that I have been working with to actually bring this forward to light. There was no way I could view that because they couldn't get it to the House Intelligence Committee.
INSKEEP: Nunes' Democratic counterpart seems unimpressed and has called for him to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential campaign. Adam Schiff is on the line. Congressman, welcome back to the program.
ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you, Steve. It's good to be with you.
INSKEEP: What's wrong with the chairman's explanation?
SCHIFF: Well, I'm afraid everything is wrong with the fact that he went to the White House to obtain material that he didn't share with his own committee, but then went back to the White House purportedly to disclose to the White House. You know, it just doesn't add up. Someone on the White House staff would have let - had to let him onto the grounds. It's not something that he can wander onto.
But more importantly, you just have this inherent conflict of interest. The president asked our committee to look into whether he was wiretapped by his predecessor. That was something we were looking into. That was something that was the subject of testimony and repudiation by the directors of FBI and NSA just on Monday. On Tuesday, you have a member of that transition team going to the White House, getting information, returning it to the White House and the president claiming to be somewhat vindicated.
Clearly, this was a matter that the committee was looking at and why it wasn't shared with the committee itself but with the president you just cannot maintain, I think, either impartiality or credibility with that kind of a conflict.
INSKEEP: So let me understand clearly what you want Nunes to recuse himself from - just the president's claim that he was wiretapped or do you want him to be recused from the entire broad investigation of the election and everything else?
SCHIFF: I think much like the attorney general has had to recuse himself from the Russian investigation so the public can have confidence in it, both the actions here and the actions earlier to bat down stories on behalf of the White House that did go to the Russian investigation, I think the public would be best served if the chair recused himself from both those matters - both the Russian investigation as well as whether the transition team was the subject of any incidental collection. Since he was a member of that team, it makes little sense for him to be overseeing or investigating that issue either.
INSKEEP: But how does that even work? If he recuses himself, he remains chairman, and so that part of his work is taken over by Mike Conaway of Texas, I guess, who's the number two guy - or Peter King of New York who's the number three guy. They're still Republicans. Are they going to be independent enough for you?
SCHIFF: Well, look, I think it's the best that we can do within the House Intelligence Committee. I do think that it calls up the need once again for a truly independent commission, something that would supplement whatever we do in Congress, but would be detached from Congress, would be beyond any kind of political interference by the White House. So the public ultimately can have confidence in the work product. That's the ultimate goal.
If the public can't believe what the committee puts out or anyone else, it's not going to have much value. And at this point, I think there is such a cloud over the chairman's leadership at least of the Russia investigation or issues involving the transition team. It would benefit the public if he would on those two areas recuse himself.
INSKEEP: Do you agree with Chairman Nunes' contention that he is at least looking at a serious issue - the question of whether U.S. persons, as they're called - American citizens and others - were not properly scrubbed from intelligence information, and then it was passed around the executive branch?
SCHIFF: You know, without looking at what he's referring to, there's simply no way to know. And one of the reasons this is so puzzling, Steve, is the chair and I asked the agencies to provide us with any incidental collection during that period. And the agencies said they are complying with that, and they are providing it to us. And the chairman said he had no reason to believe the agencies weren't complying.
If that's true, then why go on this, you know, dead of night kind of a run to the White House and then obfuscate where the material came from? It just doesn't make much sense.
INSKEEP: Well, Congressman Schiff, thanks for joining us this morning once again, really appreciate it.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: Adam Schiff of California is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and he's called on that committee's chairman, Devin Nunes, to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and other matters.
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