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Dems: Nunes unfit to lead probe into Russian election influence

President Donald Trump during a meeting on women

President Donald Trump during a meeting on women in health care, Wednesday, March 22, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — Democrats on Thursday condemned the GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee as too beholden to President Donald Trump to lead a probe into Russian influence over the election after he went directly to the White House with recent findings involving the president.

Meanwhile, the White House press secretary pushed back on allegations that the administration fed Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) the surveillance information.

“I don’t know why he would come up to brief the president on something that we gave him,” Sean Spicer said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Nunes was either “duped” by Trump or “a willing stooge.”

Nunes bypassed his committee Wednesday to tell reporters and the president about the “incidental collection” of Trump transition team communications in legal surveillance of foreign officials. He said the intercept was not related to the probe into Russian interference in the election and was not wiretapping by former President Barack Obama, as Trump had alleged in tweets.

Still, the president had said he felt partially vindicated. He told Time magazine in an interview published Thursday that the episode was the latest evidence of his prescience.

“I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right,” Trump said.

On Thursday at the Capitol, Nunes would not disclose the source of his information about the intelligence intercepts and neither confirmed nor denied that it was Trump’s team.

“We have to keep our sources and methods here very, very quiet,” he said.

He did apologize to his colleagues on the intelligence committee, according to a Democratic member.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told CNN that Nunes said sorry in “a generic way” during a closed-door meeting.

Nunes’ spokesman would not comment on the exchange.

The intelligence committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), told ABC’s “The View,” that for the chairman to take information the group hasn’t seen and “bring it to the White House, whose associates are under investigation, was just a complete head-scratcher.”

FBI James Comey, who debunked Trump’s wiretapping allegation against Obama, said the bureau’s investigation in Kremlin meddling includes a look at ties to Trump’s team.

No evidence of collusion has yet been produced.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said she has long called for an independent commission to investigate Russian influence.

Nunes “sacrificed his credibility in order to try and score points with Donald Trump,” she told Newsday. “To think that a person who acted as a Trump surrogate during the transition period could effectively chair a congressional committee that is supposed to be looking objectively into this issue is ridiculous.”

Spicer criticized reporters who quizzed him about Nunes going to the president. “There seems to be this obsession with the process . . . There should be a concern about the substance,” Spicer said. “That’s a very serious revelation that he’s made.”

Trump, in the interview with Time Magazine about truth and falsehoods, was unapologetic about instances in which he was wrong, including falsely saying during the GOP primary that a photograph showed the father of rival Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas having breakfast with President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

On the wiretap tweet, Trump said he didn’t mean wiretapping specifically. “Now remember this. When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes,” he said. “What I’m talking about is surveillance . . .”

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