House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes said congressional investigations into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russian officials during the 2016 election were an attempt by Democrats to blame someone other than Hillary Clinton for her loss, The LA Times reported Tuesday.
"The Democrats don't want an investigation on Russia. They want an independent commission," Nunes told attendees at a private Republican fundraiser on April 7, which an event-goer captured on video and provided to the LA Times. "Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that's the reason that he won, because Hillary Clinton would have never lost on her own; it had to be someone else's fault."
The California Republican initially spearheaded the House intelligence committee's Russia probe, but stepped aside after a string of controversial actions that raised questions about his independence leading the investigation.
Nunes drew intense scrutiny after it emerged that he met with a secret source on the White House grounds the day before he briefed the president on information that showed Trump and his advisers may have had their communications "incidentally collected" by the intelligence community during the transition period.
Following an announcement from the House Ethics Committee that it was investigating whether Nunes had disclosed classified information without authorization, he stepped aside from the House's Russia investigation on April 6.
Nunes' comments at the Republican fundraiser came the very next day.
"[Democrats] have tried to destroy this Russia investigation, they've never been serious about it, and one of the great things now that I've stepped aside from this Russia investigation, I can actually say what I want to say," Nunes said at the fundraiser. "I know that there's probably media in here — you can write it, but just try to get it right when you do."
When reached for comment by The Times, Nunes' spokesperson issued a statement saying: "For the LA Times to tout comments I made in front of 700 people, which attendees broadcasted on Facebook Live and which reflected themes I've discussed repeatedly this year, as some sort of unique revelation is the epitome of lazy reporting and fake news."
During the fundraiser, Nunes also addressed Trump's unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. He said he was aware that Obama administration officials had requested the unmasking of certain individuals whose communications had been intercepted.
"I went and looked at what I knew existed on the unmaskings, but what I found was a treasure trove of stuff that's really bad in terms of surveillance on Americans, and that is critical to the job that I have as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee," Nunes told attendees.
The California Republican went on to call the unmaskings "horrible" and said the Obama administration had abused its power and endangered national security by requesting that the names of certain Trump associates be revealed.
Michael Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA, told CNN on Saturday that some of the latest revelations about communications between Trump advisers and Russian officials could have prompted former national security adviser Susan Rice to request their names be unmasked.
When it emerged on Friday that Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner may have spoken to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about setting up a secret back-channel between Trump and Moscow using Russian facilities, Hayden said that would have raised a huge red flag.
Kislyak reportedly notified Moscow of Kushner's request in a phone call that was intercepted by US intelligence. The details of that call would have been included in an intelligence report that Rice had access to.
When asked whether he would have requested the unmasking of a US individual proposing a back-channel between Trump and the Kremlin, Hayden said, "Oh my, yes. Anyone would have."
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