WASHINGTON — Key Trump campaign figures have agreed to appear before the House Intelligence Committee, but a highly anticipated open hearing scheduled for Tuesday — including Sally Yates, the former deputy attorney general fired by President Trump — has been called off in what the committee’s top Dem branded an “attempt to choke off public info.”
On Wednesday, Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) held a press conference announcing that he “recently confirmed that, on numerous occasions, the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition” in legal surveillance not related to Russia. He then rushed over to the White House to share the information with President Trump, speaking again to reporters outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Nunes did that before informing committee Democrats, angering members of the panel and prompting a closed-door apology from the chairman on Thursday. He told reporters he regretted his “judgment call”: “At the end of the day, sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you don’t.”
Today in another press conference, Nunes said Tuesday’s Russia investigation hearing with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and Yates was called off so FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers could return to answer more committee questions in closed session.
The chairman also said a lawyer for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort contacted the committee and said his client would be willing to be interviewed. “We thank Mr. Manafort for volunteering and encourage others with knowledge of these issues to voluntarily interview with the committee,” Nunes said. “…If he wants to come out in public and have a public hearing he’s more than welcome to do that. If he wants to do it in the closed setting, that’s also fine with me.” Committee Dems said they preferred open session. An interview does not mean he would be testifying under oath.
Trump confidant Roger Stone tweeted after Nunes’ conference that his lawyers contacted the committee and requested that he be able to testify in open session. Former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page also agreed to testify.
Nunes said Manafort’s name does not appear in the new documents he spoke about this week. The return of Comey and Rogers, he said, also doesn’t have to do with those documents.
“There are reasons to unmask names, I can tell you without question. At least some of what I’ve seen — I don’t know what that reason would be, maybe someone has a good reason for it. But not from what I’ve been able to read,” he said of those documents. “…For the most part I think these — these reports that I read for the most part are — are valuable intelligence. However, I think there are just questions in those reports that I wonder does that reach threshold of foreign intelligence. And then you have to ask why were names unmasked?”
“…There’s some information in those documents that concern me, in the reports that I read, that I don’t think belong there. They would make me uncomfortable and that’s why I wanted to inform the president of it.”
Intel Committee Dems said they still haven’t seen the documents Nunes took over to the White House. Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said he’s guessing it’s a subset of documents the committee had previously requested from the NSA, and they need to know “why it was necessary to take a subset of those documents to the White House before the committee did its own work.”
“In the midst of looking at foreign spies, it could be a simple a matter as a foreign spy mentioning the name of an American. Now, you would imagine they might mention the name of an American running for president. That would be considered incidental collection,” Schiff said. “So, I assume, without knowing any better, that what the chairman is talking about is he’s looked at communications that were incidentally collected. That is not targeted at the president.”
“So, no defense for the president. Not a full validation or vindication of the president, not a partial validation of the president, a zero validation of the president, even if you accept what the chairman has said.”
On the canceled hearing with Brennan, Clapper and Yates, Schiff said, “We welcome at any time bringing the former directors back in closed session. We don’t welcome cutting of the public access to information, when we have witnesses, as these three very important witnesses, who are willing and scheduled to testify in open session. We also made the offer, rejected by the majority, that we could have these three witnesses testify in open session and if their questions members wanted to ask in closed session, that we could then go to a closed portion of the hearing.”
“…So we strongly object to the cancellation of this hearing. We would still urge the majority to reconsider. The witnesses have made it clear to us they’re still available. And we would urge that that hearing be allowed to go forward.”
Schiff said he believes Nunes canceled the hearing after “a very strong pushback from the White House about the nature of Monday’s hearing,” in which Comey confirmed there is an ongoing FBI investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.