Donald Trump
Credit: Michael Vadon/Flickr

As Martin reported yesterday, Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, took unprecedented steps yesterday to brief both the press and subsequently the White House on information he had received about communications that may be by or about Trump and his associates that were intercepted due to “incidental collection” during an unrelated, completely legal FISA-approved investigation. He further stated that these intercepts happened after the election – during the transition period.

In other words, while Nunes may have obstructed justice by sharing this information with the White House, nothing he said is related to what Trump tweeted on March 4th.

And yet the president reacted almost immediately by saying that he feels somewhat vindicated.

A Breitbart headline blared: “Nunes ‘Unmasking’ Report Vindicates Trump Claims on Surveillance.” And Trump’s fundraising arm, Great America PAC, immediately began fundraising off the news saying, “Friend, we’ve been vindicated and there is nothing the mainstream media can do about it now.”

I say all that because it is obvious who is hoping to benefit from the firestorm Nunes created. Beyond that, it is important to remember that Trump’s tweets were part of his pattern to lie, distract and blame when he feels threatened. In other words, pointing the finger at Obama for wiretapping him was meant to overshadow the fact that he and his campaign are under investigation for possible collusion with the Russians to influence the outcome of the election. Nunes announcement today was designed to put that lie back in the headlines.

That is why later in the afternoon, ranking member on the committee Rep. Adam Schiff had a few things to say about all this. First and foremost he said that Rep. Nunes needs to decide if he is going to chair an independent investigation or act as a surrogate of the White House – because he can’t do both.

Schiff went on to explain that none of the information Nunes referred to had been shared with committee Democrats or Republicans. All of them learned about it the same way we did – via Nunes’ statement to the press. He also said that sharing the information with Trump and his team was inappropriate given that they are the targets of the investigation.

Schiff indicated that when he has had a chance to review the information Nunes referred to he will issue a statement about it, but noted that if these intercepts are eventually provided to the committee, it raises the question of why Nunes would make this statement to the press before the entire committee had a chance to review them.

As to whether or not the committee can continue its investigation under these circumstances, Schiff has been championing the need for a bipartisan investigation, but said that Nunes’ action give him grave doubts about whether that is possible. On the other hand, he noted that perhaps the White House would be pleased if the committee failed.

In the end though, Schiff’s main message was that these events underscore the need for an independent commission to investigate whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. It’s important to note that he is not calling for a special prosecutor. Schiff continually refers to the 9/11 commission as an model for the kind of independent investigation that is needed. As long as Nunes chooses to be a White House surrogate rather than an investigator, he’s right.

P.S. After that press briefing, Rep. Schiff made some news himself:

It is very possible that what Schiff is referring to was corroborated later in the evening by CNN.

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN…

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.