CAPITOL HILL —
The House Intelligence Committee has canceled all meetings this week as its chairman, Devin Nunes, rejects Democratic calls to recuse himself from the committee's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
"Why would I do that?" Nunes told reporters Tuesday a day after his colleague, ranking Democrat committee member Rep. Adam Schiff released a statement calling for Nunes to step down.
"This is not a recommendation I make lightly, as the Chairman and I have worked together well for several years,” Schiff wrote Monday. He added it would be difficult for the public to maintain faith in the investigation if it could not “be objectively investigated or overseen by the Chairman.”
On White House grounds
Nunes met a source on White House grounds before making his disclosure last week that President Donald Trump was caught up in "incidental" surveillance, according to his spokesman Jack Langer. Langer said Monday that Nunes wanted "to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source."
Previously, Nunes would not say where he met his source, and has still not revealed the identity of the source.
Nunes spoke with reporters and the president about the material last week without informing any of the other 21 members of the House Intelligence Committee, angering Democrats on the committee who questioned Nunes' credibility. Nunes later apologized to the committee for not first telling them about the information.
"We're trying to get those documents as rapidly as possible," Nunes told VOA Tuesday on efforts to brief other committee members.
Former AG Yates
Meanwhile, Schiff on Tuesday questioned if the White House had sought to cancel a previously scheduled open committee hearing this week during which former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was due to testify "about the events leading up" to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's firing, "including his attempts to cover up his secret conversations with the Russian Ambassador."
"Whether the White House's desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today's hearing, we do not know. But we would urge that the open hearing be rescheduled without further delay," Schiff said in a statement.
A Washington Post report said the Trump administration tried to block Yates from testifying.
The White House said the story is "entirely false" and denied taking action to prevent Yates from testifying. In a statement, the White House said "the Department of Justice specifically told her that it would not stop her and to suggest otherwise is completely irresponsible."
Nunes has maintained that his relationship with other members of his committee is "good" and that its Russia probe is moving forward.
“He did the exact right thing from beginning to end and there really is a concerted effort out to undermine him,” Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York, told VOA of Nunes’ actions. “He’s really on to something – that’s why.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to replace Nunes as head of the intelligence committee, while House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says the speaker should at least insist Nunes is not involved in the Russia investigation.
"He has not been operating like someone who is interested in getting to the unvarnished truth," Schumer said. "His actions look like those of someone who is interested in protecting the president and his party."
But King said members of the committee stand by Nunes.
“Obviously, the president had nothing to do with it – the information is totally controlled, and it did not leak out at all,” King said.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday he does not know where Nunes got his information, but said Nunes has said he did not meet with anyone from the White House staff. He said Nunes also has made clear that he had multiple sources for his allegations.
When asked if the meeting creates a perception problem between Nunes and the White House, Spicer said Nunes was doing his job to investigate allegations of surveillance and was being up front with journalists about his activities.
Trump, who earlier this month tweeted unsubstantiated allegations that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped his campaign while he ran for office, has said he was "somewhat vindicated" by Nunes' statement about the surveillance.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey has said that there is no information to support Trump's allegation that Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower in New York. Trump has asked Congress to investigate.