Top House Democrats on Monday called on the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to recuse himself from the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, thrusting the entire inquiry into jeopardy amid what they described as mounting evidence he was too close to President Trump to be impartial.
The demands followed revelations that the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, had met on White House grounds with a source who showed him secret American intelligence reports. The reports, Mr. Nunes said last week, showed that Mr. Trump or his closest associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.
Representatives Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, and Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, suggested that Mr. Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, was simply too close to the White House to run an independent, thorough inquiry.
Still, Mr. Schiff stopped short of pulling the panel’s Democrats out of the investigation. Doing so could jeopardize Democrats’ influence over the inquiry and, importantly, their access to intelligence on possible ties between Trump associates and Moscow.
By most accounts, the Senate and F.B.I. investigations remain on track, unlike the House inquiry, which appears to have increasingly descended into a sideshow since its first public hearing a week ago. That was when James B. Comey, the director of the F.B.I., publicly disclosed the bureau’s investigation for the first time. Days later, Mr. Nunes made his first disclosure about Mr. Trump or his associates being caught in American intelligence gathering, prompting critics to argue that he was trying to shift attention and provide an assist to the White House at a crucial moment.
The revelation that Mr. Nunes had viewed intelligence materials on White House grounds the day before bolstering the administration’s case fueled damaging speculation that he was acting at the instruction of the president. That could prove fatal to the bipartisan investigation, which has hinged on the ability of Mr. Nunes to conduct a neutral inquiry while maintaining the trust and cooperation of Mr. Schiff.
The spokesman for Mr. Nunes, Jack Langer, said the congressman met with his source at the White House because he needed access to a secure location where people with security clearances can legally view classified information. But such facilities can also be found in the Capitol building, and at other locations across Washington.
Mr. Nunes repeatedly declined to offer any details about the source of what he characterized as “dozens” of classified intelligence reports, which Mr. Schiff accused him of viewing in a “dead-of-night excursion.” Mr. Nunes said only that the information had come to him after the committee’s public hearing on Monday.
On Friday, Mr. Nunes declined to say whether that information had come from the White House.
Mr. Nunes then defended his decision to bypass Mr. Schiff and go to the White House, saying he felt a “duty” to tell Mr. Trump because of Democrats’ “relentless” political attacks.
At that point, Mr. Trump seized on the information, saying he felt “somewhat” vindicated in his wiretapping claim against former President Barack Obama — debunked by the F.B.I. director and the director of the National Security Agency, as well as the heads of the Senate and House investigations, including Mr. Nunes.
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