In what will likely be a setback to the ongoing press campaign to portray the Trump administration and campaign as a Kremlin puppet, on Monday the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee said he has seen no evidence of contact between Donald Trump's campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election, Reuters reported.
Devin Nunes, head of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the panel is expanding an ongoing investigation into Russian activities to include Moscow's efforts targeting the U.S. election. Nunes said he had been briefed on a transcript of a phone call that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn had with a Russian envoy after the election. He said he did not hear anything worrisome about that call.
During a press conference with reporters on Monday, Rep. Nunes downplayed claims that the White House had asked members of the CIA and FBI to squelch reports of contact between Russia and members of Trump’s presidential campaign, saying that there was “nothing wrong” with what he characterized as attempts to have a better working relationship with the press. He also said that the committee wanted evidence of any American citizens who may have talked to Russian officials, implicitly broadening the issue beyond the Trump campaign and administration. He characterized the FBI as being “very upfront” with his committee about what they know about Trump’s potential connections with Russia, although he admitted that he’d like to know more.
When asked if they have any evidence of contacts specifically from the Trump campaign, Nunes replied: “It’s been looked into and there’s no evidence of anything there. Obviously we’d like to know if there is.” He also dismissed concerns that Flynn had violated the Logan Act as “ridiculous” and said that they would not subpoena Trump’s tax returns, which puts him at odds with Senate Intelligence Committee member Susan Collins, R-Maine. Throughout the press conference, Nunes insisted that both he and the White House were simply trying to be “transparent” and claimed to be confused as to why the Trump administration providing his phone number to a reporter would be a news story. He also repeated his earlier statements about wanting to avoid “McCarthyism” and “witch hunts” based on reports that Americans may have connections to the Russian regime.
“This is almost like McCarthyism revisited,” Nunes told reporters at the California Republican Party’s spring convention on Saturday according to Politico. “We’re going to go on a witch hunt against, against innocent Americans?”
Nunes added: “At this point, there’s nothing there. Once we begin to look at all the evidence, and if we find any American that had any contact with Russian agents or anybody affiliated with the Russian government, then we’ll be glad to, at that point, you know, subpoena those people before the House and let the legislative branch do its oversight and then we would recommend it over to, you know, the appropriate people.”
Nunes concluded, saying, “we can’t go on a witch hunt against the American people, any American people who have not had any contact, just because they appeared in a news story.”
Also on Monday, while speaking to a gathering of health insurance executives he was meeting with at the White House, president Trump on Monday dismissed a question about his aides’ alleged ties to Russia by saying he hasn’t spoken to the country in a decade.
Q: Do you support a special prosecutor on Russia?
Trump: “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.” pic.twitter.com/wJGTUHzBaq
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 27, 2017
“I haven’t called Russia in 10 years,” he told a reporter who asked him whether a special prosecutor should carry out an investigation.