The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday defended his recent controversial visit to the White House, which has suggested that those close to President Donald Trump might have been caught up in intelligence activity.
"If I really wanted to I could've snuck onto the [White House] grounds, and nobody would've seen me," Rep. Devin Nunes told CNN in an interview on Monday, denying accusations he improperly reviewed classified information one evening, then visiting the Oval Office the following day.
"I wasn't sneaking out ... the sun was out," Nunes said. "I needed a place I could go and get access to what I needed to see," the Intelligence Committee chairman told CNN, because the information he received on White House grounds had not yet been provided to Congress.
Nunes, whose committee is investigating potential ties between Trump's campaign and Russia, visited the White House the day before announcing he had valuable information — signaling Trump's administration could have been subject to some level of intelligence activity before Trump even took office in January.
During a CNN interview on Monday, Nunes reiterated the fact that what he reviewed has "nothing to do with Russia," but everything to do with American citizens and their safety. "It bothered me that this level of information would be included in intelligence reports because it wasn't necessary, legal or not," he said.
"Chairman Nunes met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source," Nunes' spokesman Jack Langer has said. "The chairman is extremely concerned by the possible improper unmasking of names of U.S. citizens, and he began looking into this issue even before President Trump tweeted his assertion that Trump Tower had been wiretapped."
Before Nunes appeared on CNN, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for the removal of Nunes as chairman of the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee. "Chairman Nunes is falling down on the job and seems to be more interested in protecting the president than in seeking the truth," Schumer said in a Senate speech on Monday.
Shortly after Nunes' interview, meanwhile, California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted a statement, saying the chairman had "no legitimate justification for bringing that information to the White House instead of to the committee."
Nunes has declined to say who provided the intelligence reports he's referenced, but he did tell Bloomberg that his source was an intelligence official, not a White House staffer.
Nunes had said he would share the information he reviewed with committee Democrats as early as today, and House intelligence committee Democrats were scheduled to meet this evening to review intelligence reports, according to Democratic aides.
Ryan speaks up for Nunes
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan has said he has "full confidence" in the investigation of possible Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, which is being led by Nunes.
"Speaker Ryan has full confidence that Chairman Nunes is conducting a thorough, fair and credible investigation," a Ryan spokeswoman told Reuters in a statement on Monday.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer further backed up Nunes, saying at a briefing on Monday: "[Nunes] is reviewing the situation. ... He's been fairly open with the press about what he was doing and why."
There are many on Capitol Hill, though, who remained concerned about Nunes' credibility, despite reassurance from Ryan and Spicer.
"Chairman Nunes is deeply compromised, and he cannot possibly lead an honest investigation," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said during a press conference last week.
Senator John McCain chimed in during an interview on NBC's TODAY Show last Thursday, calling the entire situation "very disturbing." McCain has called for a select committee for the probe into Trump and Russia, but at the end of the day "that's left up to the House of Representatives," he said.
— Reuters contributed to this report.
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