The scandal involving contact between Russian officials and the Trump campaign have revealed “major crimes,” according to the House intelligence committee chairman.
Those crimes, however, have nothing to do with contacts between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, and everything to do with leaks of those contacts to the press, according to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Cal., and chair of the House committee.
“The only serious crimes we have are the leaks,” he said. He noted that as an American, Flynn’s conversations were recorded as the result of “inadvertent collection” of intelligence monitoring of Kislyak’s calls and that ordinarily Flynn’s identity would have been shielded from disclosure. Its disclosure required someone to go to the effort of identifying Flynn before the information was leaked.
“There have been major crimes that have been committed,” he said.
Nunes said that given the classified nature of the U.S. eavesdropping on Kislyak’s phone calls, only a small circle of people would have had access to information involving Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, which reportedly took place Dec. 29, the same day President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and imposed other sanctions.
Nunes said his committee and other investigations would pursue the leakers because the leaks attacked “an American war hero” and that “We can’t have McCarthyism back in this place” – a reference to the Cold War search for communists in the U.S. government championed by the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisc.
Nunes’ emphasis on leaks identifying Flynn marked an extraordonary redirection in direction of the House intelligence committee investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the November election, and came as Nunes asserted that he has seen no evidence of extensive or worrisome contact between the campaign of President Donald Trump and Russian officials.
He added that news reports on communications between Flynn and Kislyak overstate the importance of what the two men discussed.
“There is no evidence of regular contact of anyone in the Trump campaign,” he said, noting that beyond the allegations against Flynn: “Right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls. What I’ve been told by many folks is that there’s nothing there regarding contacts with anyone any association to the realm of the Russian intelligence apparatus.”
He added, however, that the investigation is still at an early stage, and “We haven’t eliminated anything.”
Nunes said Flynn’s conversataion with Kislyak did not appear to be about rolling back what he said were the serious sanctions facing Russia from its 2014 invasion of Crimea. He said, instead, it appeared that Flynn was discussing the “petty” and “weak” efforts of President Barack Obama in December as a reaction to the Russia attempts to interfere in the election.
Nunes said he did not consider Obama’s sanctions from that time worthy of being taken seriously. If Flynn were discussing easing those sanctions, Flynn was merely doing his job, he said.
Nunes also said his committee would look into the leaking of the transcript of an acrimonious conversation between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Nunes said his committee had folded the investigation of the allegations of contact with Russia and of the leaks into a year-old investigation into “the Russia problem.” While the overall investigation is at an advanced stage, he said the study of the campaign contacts with Russian officials is at an early stage. Still, he said he was confident the American intelligence and investigative agencies have shared the “highlights” of their investigations.
Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews
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