House Intel Committee Leaders Divided As Russia Probe Continues

Mar 24, 2017
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The House Intelligence Committee has canceled a hearing that was scheduled for this coming Tuesday. It was part of its investigation into the connection between President Trump, members of his campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. I'm joined in the studio by NPR security correspondent David Welna, who's been following all this. Hi, David.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the big news at this moment is that the head of the House Intel Committee, Devin Nunes, has made an announcement about that hearing; canceled it. This has to do with Paul Manafort - right? - the former campaign manager for Donald Trump.

WELNA: Actually, the hearing that was scheduled for next Tuesday was to be an open hearing with former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Sally Yates, who was the acting attorney general who was fired by Trump. That session has been postponed indefinitely. And instead, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, announced this morning that he has asked FBI Director James Comey and Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency who testified on Monday in an open hearing before this committee, to come back and testify in a closed session - preferably on Tuesday - to answer further questions that Nunes says they have that may not be able to be answered in an open session. But he said that the documents that he's mentioned this week, intercepts that he says involve names of people in the Trump campaign, that is not the issue that they're looking at. He didn't say what they are trying to find out from these two men.

MARTIN: So how does this play into everything that's been happening now with this investigation at this point?

WELNA: Well, I think the bombshell this week, besides the fact that FBI Director Comey said that there is a counterintelligence investigation looking at possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, was that Nunes said that he has seen intelligence that suggests that the names of people involved in the Trump campaign may have been unmasked. That is, revealed in regular surveillance of foreign officials, and only Nunes has seen these documents. And there are many questions about this, especially why he went to the White House and told President Trump about this.

MARTIN: Briefing members of his own committee.

WELNA: Before briefing members of his own committee about this.

MARTIN: So this has really raised the ire of the ranking member on that committee, Adam Schiff. I believe we've got a clip of tape of Adam Schiff talking today. Let's listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: We welcome at any time bringing in the former directors back in closed session. We don't welcome cutting off 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.

WELNA: Yeah. That's Adam Schiff talking about the fact that this session, the open session with Brennan and Clapper and Yates, has been postponed.

MARTIN: But really what this - this is a committee leadership that is splitting. I mean...

WELNA: It is.

MARTIN: If anything, this week we have learned that this independent investigation that's supposed to be happening at the House level, chaired by Devin Nunes, Republican, Adam Schiff, the Democrat, there's a divorce afoot or at least a separation between these two men.

WELNA: They may be divorcing, but they are still living in the same house, so to speak, because Nunes - I'm sorry - Schiff told me yesterday that despite everything, he thinks that there is reason to push ahead on this. He says there's more than circumstantial evidence that there may have been collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. And he wants to push ahead on that. Now, the other big news this morning is that Devin Nunes, the chairman, announced that Paul Manafort, who was the campaign director for Trump, has volunteered to come and testify before the committee.

MARTIN: There's that Manafort hook. OK, NPR's David Welna. Thanks so much, David.

WELNA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.