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Top House Intel Democrat Rejects Call to Recuse Himself from Russia Probe

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, rejected a call by the panel’s former chairman Sunday for him to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference.

Former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) called on Schiff to recuse himself from the investigation because he characterized classified intelligence in the media — the same thing left-wing groups have gone after Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) for doing.

“For his part, Schiff suggested to the media that he had seen information on Russia-Trump campaign ties that was ‘the kind of evidence’ that would be presented to a grand jury, adding that he had seen additional evidence, but not elaborating further,” Rogers wrote in an op-ed Saturday on CNN.com.

Specifically, Schiff had said March 23 on CNN:

I do think that it’s appropriate to say that it’s the kind of evidence that you would submit to a grand jury at the beginning of an investigation. It’s not the kind of evidence that you take to a trial jury when you’re trying to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. But we’re at the beginning of an investigation, and given the gravity of the subject matter, I think that the evidence certainly warrants us doing a thorough investigation.

An aide told CNN later that Schiff was not suggesting that a grand jury should be empaneled, but was using an analogy drawing upon his time as a prosecutor.

Nunes last week announced he was temporarily recusing himself from the Russian investigation, after MoveOn.org and other groups filed a complaint against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics, arguing that he discussed classified intelligence and broke House rules.

“Equally, Representative Adam Schiff should consider recusing himself from the probe,” Rogers wrote.

“Both Nunes and Schiff are equally to blame for the Committee’s loss of focus. How can a committee, which handles sensitive classified information, conduct its business when the purportedly secret information is discussed — even by insinuation — publicly in front of the media?” he wrote.

Schiff said he didn’t think Rogers’ suggestion “is a serious one” in an interview Sunday on ABC News This Week:

A lot of us have characterized how we’ve seen the intelligence. Some have said it looks more like smoke than fire. Some of us said it’s a small fire. Some have said they’ve seen no evidence. Mr. Rogers and others don’t quarrel with those who say they’ve seen no evidence. I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment. And I certainly don’t think I can let it stand. But I don’t think Mr. Rogers’ suggestion is a serious one.

The ethics charges against Nunes were filed six days after he told reporters he saw evidence that members of President Trump’s transition team were caught up in incidental surveillance of foreign targets, and had their identities “unmasked,” despite protections put in place to keep Americans’ identities anonymous in such cases. He had also briefed the president, before going to other members on the committee.

In February, the classified conversations between incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak were illegally leaked to the Washington Post. On April 3, conservative blogger Mike Cernovich first reported that former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice had ordered the unmasking.

Nunes’ revelation was seen as somewhat validating Trump’s assertion that his transition team at Trump Tower had been “wiretapped” by the Obama administration.

Nunes blasted the ethics charges as “entirely false and politically motivated,” and questioned the timing.

The charges are entirely false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power.

Schiff  demurred on whether those complaints against Nunes were justified.

“I just don’t know,” he said. “And I really don’t want to opine on the ethics investigation.”

Rogers said Nunes’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe “should be applauded,” as attention had focused on him, and not the committee or the issues it handles.

Rogers said leaks related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows surveilllance of individuals inside the U.S. with a warrant, should be handed over to the FBI for investigation.

“FISA warrants are amongst the most sensitive operations undertaken by the intelligence community and should never be used as a political tool, for anyone’s agenda, or anything beyond what it is meant to be used for — investigations of foreign intelligence actions,” he said.

He also said the committee should focus on investigating Russia’s intentions, information operations capabilities, and Moscow’s widespread use of social media as part of its propaganda and subversion campaigns.

“Make no mistake about it, the Russians are aiming to not only undermine and subvert our political process, but the political processes of our friends and allies in Europe,” he said.

Schiff said with Nunes stepping aside from leading the Russia investigation, it is “back on track.” He said Republicans and Democrats have exchanged lists of witnesses to bring in to testify, and are “largely” in agreement. The final list is not yet finalized, a committee aide said.

He disputed reports that the investigation was ever on hold and said the materials that Nunes had viewed was now being made available to the full committee.

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