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A 'vanishing' congressman, a mysterious White House visit: The latest twists in the Trump/Russia saga

Pressure continues to build in Washington.
Mar 29th 2017, 11:48 AM 18,584 37

Trump Russia Congressman Devin Nunes Source: J. Scott Applewhite

THE REPUBLICAN POLITICIAN tasked with heading up one of the investigations into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia is under sustained pressure in the wake of a controversial visit to the White House last week.

Congressman Devin Nunes is refusing to step away from his position as chair of the House intelligence committee amid fresh allegations about the nature of his visit.

“Why would I?” he responded, when asked whether he would recuse himself.

The committee is conducting one of three probes into the election campaign, its aftermath and potential contacts between Trump officials and Russians.

Democrats contend that Nunes’ actions in recent weeks show that his loyalty to President Trump is greater than his commitment to leading an independent investigation.

The California Republican, who was a member of Trump’s presidential transition team, has said he met with a secret source last week on White House grounds to review classified material that showed Trump associates’ communications had been captured in ‘incidental’ surveillance of foreigners in November, December and January.

Nunes would not name the source of the information, and his office said he did not intend to share it with other members of the committee.

Nor would he disclose who invited him on the White House grounds for the meeting. He described the source as an intelligence official, not a White House official. In an interview on CNN, he suggested the president’s aides were unaware of the meeting.

Trump has used Nunes’ revelations to defend his unproven claim that Barack Obama tapped phones at Trump Tower.

Source: CNN/YouTube

Nunes has been criticised for making a beeline to present his information to Trump rather than sharing it with the rest of his committee.

Since last week, he has revealed nothing about the information he received, drawing sharp criticism and calls to step down. Jackie Speier, a Democratic member of the committee, said the moves smack of an effort by the White House and Nunes to shut down the House investigation.

“I don’t think the president wants this investigation to go forward,” she told MSNBC on Tuesday.

Adam Schiff, the most senior Democrat on the committee, has called  for Nunes to recuse himself from any further involvement in the Russia investigation.

However House Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his support for Nunes, and Nunes himself said all of the controversy was standard for Washington.

It’s the same thing as always around this place — a lot of politics, people get heated, but I’m not going to involve myself with that.

‘Vanished’

The Daily Beast reported at the weekend that Nunes “practically disappeared” hours before he announced his surveillance claims.

Quoting several sources, the site said that he had been travelling in an Uber on the evening in question when he received a communication on his phone. He then left the car abruptly, without telling his staffer where he was going.

He arranged a press conference at short notice the following morning telling reporters: “The intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.”

Trump’s communications were picked up during court-approved targeting of suspected foreign intelligence operatives, Nunes suggested last week.

The communications were not linked to Russia, he said, adding that they appeared to have “little or no intelligence value”.

“The president himself and others in the Trump transition team were clearly put into intelligence reports,” Nunes told reporters after briefing the president on the situation.

The information collected was “widely disseminated” in US intelligence circles, he said. US intelligence community rules dictate that information on Americans picked up incidentally in surveillance must be scrubbed or masked in intelligence reports.

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Nunes suggested those involved in the surveillance had violated those rules – while Trump indicated he felt vindicated.

DC: Trump Meets the Fraternal Order of Police Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

“I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do,” he said during a separate White House meeting.

I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.

Trump was less circumspect later, as he retweeted a post from conservative radio host and ardent Trump defender Bill Mitchell.

“Trump always ends up being right. It’s almost a little freaky,” Mitchell said.

Elsewhere, the White House has vehemently denied a report that it had sought to hobble the testimony of a former acting attorney general before Nunes canceled the committee hearing where she was to speak.

Sean Spicer, Trump’s chief spokesman, lashed out at reporters, claiming they were seeing conspiracies where none exist.

“If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russian connection,” he suggested – prompting an exasperated response on Twitter from the reporter who had asked the question:

lawd Source: Twitter

- Includes reporting from AFP and Associated Press 

Read: Hostility between White House and press makes reporters dogged for the truth

Read: Trump’s climate plan labelled ‘a colossal mistake that defies science’

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Daragh Brophy

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