In case you were worried, the partisan divide in Congress is as gaping as ever.
On Monday, the senior Republican and Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee held separate news conferences to address what they saw as the principal issues to be addressed during their “bipartisan” investigation of possible collusion between Russia and members of the campaign of President Donald Trump.
They almost agreed on a single point. Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the the committee, said there is “no evidence” of regular contact between Trump’s campaign staff and “anyone with any association to the realm of the Russian intelligence apparatus.”
A few hours later, Rep. Adam Schiff, the Californian who is the senior Democrat on the panel, noted that Nunes was correct but only to the extent that there is no evidence before the committee, at all.
“We haven’t taken a single testimony,” he said. “We haven’t reviewed a single document.”
Beyond that, the two Californians had very little in common as they talked about what turned out to be their very disparate visions of the “bipartisan” investigation.
Nunes talked about his concerns about “major crimes” the investigation will probe – by which he meant the many leaks of information to reporters implicating Trump campaign figures in questionable actions. Schiff insisted the much bigger issue was the allegation of Russian meddling in the election, Russian hacking and whether there had been collusion with Trump aides.
Nunes suggested that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had done nothing wrong when he spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions the Obama administration had imposed.
Schiff reminded reporters that the sanctions Flynn is accused of discussing with the Russian were imposed by President Barack Obama as a response to intelligence community findings that Russia had meddled in the U.S. elections.
Nunes called Flynn “an American war hero” and said that those sanctions were “petty” and “weak” and shouldn’t have been taken seriously, in any case.
Schiff said Flynn is said to have lied to Vice-President Mike Pence about the conversation, and that led Pence to inadvertently lie to the American people. “Which is a big deal,” he said.
When questioned about why he had agreed to contact a reporter for the White House, Nunes said it was a commonplace request, and he was sharing similar information with reporters even before the call.
Schiff said such requests from the White House to Congress and to officials of the intelligence community created the appearance of White House influence on an ongoing investigation. Discussing possible conclusions on the investigation, before it has gotten rolling, is a mistake, he insisted.
“We can’t have reached any conclusions,” he said. “This investigation is in its infancy.”
“What I’ve been told by many folks,” Nunes said, “is that there’s nothing there regarding contacts with anyone with any association to the realm of the Russian intelligence apparatus.” He pointed out that someone had to go to the effort of identifying Flynn in intelligence community surveillance of Kislyak’s call before the information could be leaked. “There have been major crimes that have been committed,” he said.
Schiff said the committee has to hear evidence before reaching such conclusions. He said he is very interested in calling Flynn in and hearing what he has to say regarding the matter. He said he would like for the committee to have the chance to interview FBI director James Comey.
Nunes suggested it would be wrong to put any burden on Flynn. “We can’t have McCarthyism back in this place,” he said, recalling the 1950s era when Sen. Joe McCarthy summoned government officials to quiz them on their supposed links to communism.
Schiff disagreed with that characterization. He suggested that the model for this investigation should be the 9/11 commission, which reviewed the materials gathered by intelligence and investigative agencies.
Schiff did say said that the House intelligence committee is understaffed to take on a large scale investigation. And, he said that there is bipartisan agreement that the intelligence committee does need more funding.
What else the two sides agree on was uncertain.