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Monday 19 March 2018

Devin Nunes refuses to step away from Russia probe

House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes. (AP/J Scott Applewhite)
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes. (AP/J Scott Applewhite)
Jared Kushner is the fourth Trump associate to offer to be interviewed by the congressional committees (AP)

House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes has rebuffed calls to step aside from the Russia investigation as demands grew for him to recuse himself as head of that probe.

"Why would I?" Mr Nunes said. The calls for him to resign came after revelations about his meeting with a secret source on White House grounds raised questions about his and the panel's independence.

Mr Nunes said the pressure for him to resign was typical politics.

"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," he said.

Mr Nunes acknowledged that he reviewed intelligence reports at the White House complex and met a secret source behind his statement that communications involving associates of President Donald Trump were caught up in "incidental" surveillance.

The Republican congressman's disclosure prompted the top Democrat on the committee, Rep Adam Schiff, as well as the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, to call on Mr Nunes to recuse himself from the committee's Russia probe.

Mr Schiff said Mr Nunes's connections to the White House have raised insurmountable public doubts about whether the committee can credibly investigate the president's campaign associates.

"I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the president's campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the chairman," Mr Schiff said in a statement.

After reviewing the information last week, Mr Nunes called a news conference to announce that US spy agencies may have inadvertently captured Mr Trump and his associates in the routine targeting of foreigners' communications.

Mr Trump quickly seized on the statements as at least partial vindication for his assertion that President Barack Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower - though Mr Nunes, Mr Schiff and FBI Director James Comey have said there is no such evidence.

Mr Nunes has denied coordinating with the president or his aides.

But Rep Jackie Speier, a member of the committee, said that Mr Nunes should step down "in the interest of our integrity."

She said his actions raise questions about whether the panel's investigation can be unbiased and independent.

"If you become a White House whisperer, you are not independent," she said on CNN.

The Senate intelligence committee is also conducting an investigation into Russia's interference in the election and possible ties with the Trump campaign.

On Monday, it announced that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has agreed to be interviewed.

The White House confirmed that Mr Kushner, a senior Trump adviser, had volunteered to be interviewed about arranging meetings with the Russian ambassador and other officials.

Mr Kushner is the fourth Trump associate to offer to be interviewed by the congressional committees looking into the murky Russia ties.

President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, Trump adviser Carter Page and Trump associate Roger Stone last week volunteered to speak as well.

Meanwhile, a Russian state bank says it has met with Mr Kushner as part of a series of meetings on future business strategies.

Vnesheconombank, or VEB, said in Monday's statement carried by state RIA Novosti news agency that it met with Mr Kushner last year as part of "road show" discussions with representatives of leading financial institutions in Europe, Asia and the United States.

It said the meetings focused on global development banks' strategies. VEB provided no further details.

President Trump suggested late Monday that the House panel should investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton's dealings with Russia.

"Trump Russia story is a hoax," he tweeted.

Besides the two congressional committees, the FBI is also investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.


Press Association

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