The Mueller investigation into possible Russia - Trump campaign connection
Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s redacted report is out, but Rep. Devin Nunes’ war on the officials who launched inquiries into the 2016 election is far from over.
Nunes, R-Tulare, has made it clear he plans to continue his campaign against FBI and Department of Justice officials he believes acted wrongly in the context of the Russia investigation, announcing last week on Fox News that he was sending eight criminal referrals to Attorney General William Barr. Nunes has not identified the people he wants investigated.
Five of the referrals are related to lying to Congress, misleading Congress and leaking classified information, he told Fox.
The other referrals are allegations of lying to the court that approves foreign surveillance warrants, manipulating intelligence and a “global leak referral,” Nunes said.
Nunes been one of Trump’s most prominent defenders in Congress and served on the president’s transition team in early 2017. Nunes is not personally mentioned once in the Mueller report despite his relationship with the president’s transition team and Nunes’ position as former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
He has a long history linking him to the Mueller investigation. The House Ethics Committee in 2017 investigated whether Nunes improperly disclosed classified information related to the Russia election interference investigations, an inquiry that led him to cede his committee leadership position for eight months that year. The committee cleared him.
The Mueller report described a sweeping effort by Russian operatives to influence the 2016 in Trump’s favor through social media and intelligence operations targeting Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mueller did not find that Trump coordinated efforts with Russians, but the special counsel described numerous instances in which Trump sought to derail investigations into Russia’s election interference.
Nunes declined to comment for this story. His office released a written statement about the investigation.
“The biggest takeaway from the entire Russia hoax is that our nation’s counter-intelligence capabilities should never again be abused to target an administration’s political opponents,” Nunes said in a statement Thursday. “Those who colluded in this effort – the media, Fusion GPS, Democratic Party leaders in Congress, the Clinton campaign, and partisan intelligence leaders – should apologize to the innocent people they maligned and to the American people they deceived.”
Earlier this year, The Daily Beast reported that a January 2017 breakfast with foreign officials that Nunes attended at the Trump International Hotel in Washington had drawn scrutiny from Mueller’s team. Former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn reportedly was among the guests. Nunes was a speaker at the breakfast.
The redacted Mueller report mentions no such breakfast, though it described several Russian contacts between prominent members of Trump’s campaign and Russian dignitaries at the time. That was the month of Trump’s inauguration.
Nunes’ recent calls for Barr to investigate federal law enforcement officers echo his previous efforts to cast doubt on the motives of officials who launched the Russia investigation.
A year ago, Nunes released a partisan memo from his former position as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that accused former leaders of the FBI and Justice Department of inappropriately spying on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Specifically, it accused FBI officials of only using a non-verified dossier to justify spying on an American citizen.
That memo prompted Democrats on the committee to release their own documents based on classified briefings rebutting Nunes’ summary. The Democratic memo charged that Nunes and Republicans on the committee sought to “undermine” law enforcement agencies investigating Russia’s attempted interference with 2016 election.
Last summer, Nunes reportedly sought meetings with high-ranking British intelligence officials to question them about a former British spy who created a “dossier” of intelligence leads on Trump’s alleged connections with Russia. The British officials declined to meet with Nunes, according to Reuters.
Mueller’s redacted report mentions the dossier as a footnote. It was created by former spy Christopher Steele, who worked for Fusion GPS, a political research firm first hired by Republican media outlet Washington Free Beacon and then Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to investigate Trump.
Mueller describes Trump’s desire to refute the dossier, which alleged blackmail material Russia had on Trump, and a person — involved in circulating rumors in the dossier that there were tapes showing Trump engaged in embarrassing acts — saying the mentioned tapes were fake.
The report did not detail if the dossier was used to authorize spying on Page, as Nunes has alleged. But Nunes has been trying to find his own answers — with significantly diminished power in 2018, as Democrats taking over the House means he is no longer chair of the Intelligence Committee and therefore lost his ability to subpoena witnesses.
In recent weeks, Nunes has used Attorney General Barr’s four-page characterization of Mueller’s report to argue that Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California should step down from his position. Schiff and Democratic leadership in the House have repeatedly declined to act on that demand.
Other lawmakers and Trump transition team members are described in the redacted Mueller report.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had been leading the transition team prior to Nunes, was mentioned in the report 63 times and interviewed by the special counsel’s office. Other Trump campaign officials were mentioned hundreds of times.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, is mentioned a few times, and even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who was not personally involved in investigations or the campaign gets one mention. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which Nunes led, also warrants a few mentions.