Adam Schiff says Russia’s effort to sway the election for President Donald Trump is one of the most serious issues of our time. Devin Nunes isn’t even convinced Russia tried to help Trump.
As Nunes and Schiff, the Republican chairman and top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, lead the House investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, it’s unclear how two lawmakers with diametrically-opposed approaches will handle the most politically sensitive investigation to hit Capitol Hill in decades.
Their clashing perspectives on the Russia matter could have severe consequences if Nunes and Schiff are unable to come to terms at key junctures of the probe. Schiff has already signaled he would be prepared to disavow the intelligence panel’s work if he feels Republicans are protecting sacred cows — a split that would undermine public confidence that Russia’s election interference has been fully explained and won’t be allowed to happen again.
The divergence has already burst into the public. After Nunes, a close Trump ally and member of the president’s transition team executive committee, said last week that he had seen no evidence tying Trump officials to Moscow, he drew a swift rebuke from Schiff for appearing to prejudge the outcome of their probe.
“When you begin an investigation, you don’t begin by stating what you believe to be the conclusion,” Schiff said.
Since then, Nunes and Schiff have managed to forge some bipartisan agreements on how to proceed. But they remain under extraordinary pressure as they lead an investigation with huge stakes for the White House, Congress and the public.
“They seem to be eventually on a collision course, but they’re trying to make it work,” said one member of the Intelligence Committee who spoke on the condition of not being identified. “Devin is being torn between two roles, his role as a Trump transition adviser and his role leading a bipartisan investigation.”
The two Californians are something of an odd couple.
The combative Nunes is a conservative warrior and defense hawk who was talking about destroying “radical Islam” well before the rise of Trump and once referred to fellow Republican Justin Amash as “Al Qaeda’s best friend in the Congress.” The soft-spoken Schiff, extremely careful with his words, is a former federal prosecutor who rose to prominence in 1990 for the conviction of an FBI agent accused of passing secrets to the Soviet Union.
But they also insist they’re determined to make it work.
“This committee is very bipartisan in nature — it long has had a history of that and that will continue,” Nunes told reporters this week.
Still, there have already been hiccups.
Nunes, for instance, agreed last month to a White House request to speak to a reporter to rebut allegations in the press that there were frequent contacts during the campaign between Trump aides and Russian officials, something Nunes says he’s seen no evidence of.
His willingness to run interference for the White House…