Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Friday that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will testify on his alleged ties to Russia.
The offer comes amid growing concern over the role Russia played in influencing the presidential election and that potential members of President Donald Trump’s team colluded with the country to tip things in his favor. Manafort resigned from the campaign in August after revelations he lobbied for pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that in 2006 Manafort signed a $10 million contract with a Russian billionaire as part of a political strategy to “greatly benefit the Putin government.”
The White House has sought to distance itself from Manafort, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying Tuesday the former chair “played a very limited role for a very limited period of time.” Spicer said Trump was not aware of the 2006 deal, and it was ridiculous to assume the president would be familiar with all of Manafort’s past business dealings.
Earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey confirmed in House testimony that he is investigating potential ties between Russia and members of the Trump campaign. Nunes said he’s asked Comey and National Security Agency head Mike Rogers, who also testified publicly Monday, to brief the Intelligence Committee in a closed session. Nunes canceled a planned public hearing scheduled for March 28.
By volunteering to testify, Manafort avoids being subpoenaed.
Nunes caused an uproar Wednesday when he went to the White House to brief Trump on the ongoing House investigation into Russian involvement in the U.S. election. He said he wanted to share with the president intelligence he said he received from classified documents.
Nunes did not inform the rest of his committee, including ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., about the intelligence he received. Democrats expressed outrage, questioning whether Nunes could continue to credibly lead the investigation. Nunes, who refused to reveal the source of his classified information, privately apologized to his committee Thursday. He denied that the White House engineered his Wednesday briefing to Trump.
Schiff, following Nunes’ press conference Friday, called for an independent body similar to the 9/11 Commission to investigate the Russia ties. In his own press conference, the Democrat said further briefing from intelligence officials “needs to be done in the public eye.” Schiff also said he welcomes Manafort’s appearance before the committee, but that he should testify publicly.
“As much of this investigation that we can properly do in public, I believe that we should do,” Schiff said. He said that closed sessions can be arranged for any information that cannot be shared publicly, but criticized Nunes for canceling next week’s hearing.
Following Nunes’ briefing to Trump on Wednesday, the president said he felt “somewhat vindicated” about his accusations that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. The House intelligence chairman denied this outright on Friday.
“There was no wiretapping of Trump Tower,” Nunes said. “That didn’t happen.”
Schiff, Comey and Rogers have all also said they have seen no evidence that Trump’s claim, made on Twitter several weeks ago, was true.
Presidents do not have the ability to order wiretapping on individual American citizens. Nunes said that members of the Trump team could have been swept up in routine surveillance of foreign diplomats, so anyone talking with a foreign leader during the transition could have been recorded. This is called incidental collection and the names of Americans are usually concealed in intelligence reports. Republicans have express concern that such names are being “unmasked,” revealing identities of U.S. persons.