As President Donald Trump prepared to receive his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at his Florida resort later on Thursday, his Russia troubles continued to take a toll on his administration and allies on Capitol Hill, with one more recusal.
Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced on Thursday he was recusing himself from the investigation his panel is conducting into alleged links between Trump campaign aides and Russia.
Nunes, who was seen as too eager to bail out the President, cited a complaint filed with the House ethics committee by “left-wing activists” alleging his inappropriate handling of classified material as the reason why he was stepping aside.
Allegations of improper contacts between Trump campaigns aides and Russians have already led to one firing — erstwhile National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — and one recusal from related probe already, by attorney general Jeff Sessions.
Flynn had lied to the vice-president about his multiple phone conversations with Russian ambassador to the US SergeyKislyak, and Sessions had omitted to mention his own contacts with the diplomat during his confirmation hearing.
Trump campaign’s alleged Russia links are being probed by the intelligence committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as the FBI, which is also investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 polls.
The congressional panels also took on for investigations allegations by President Trump that Trump Tower, his campaign headquarters, was subjected to a wire tap ordered by President Barack Obama, whom he went on to call a “bad (or sick) guy”.
Though no evidence was cited, or has come up since, to back it, the issue has evolved into one about “unmasking” of the identities of American citizens during the surveillance of foreign nationals that is believed to have yielded names of Trump aides.
Intelligence agencies mask the names of Americans figuring in surveillance reports to protect their identity, but they can unmask them at the request of officials, which is apparently a routine procedure, with the usual checks and balances.
Nunes found evidence of unmasking in intelligence reports made available to him by White House officials, which he announced at a news conference, without revealing names and without looping in other members of the committee.
The chairman then rushed off to the White House to inform the president of his new findings, which were provided to him by the White House itself, in a move that was widely seen as partisan and an attempt to help Trump.
The president had told reporters then he had felt partly vindicated by the information provided to him by Nunes — about his allegations that he was being surveilled by the Obama administration.
Calls for Nunes to recuse himself came mostly from Democrats as expected but also from leading Republicans who said they had lost confidence in the House panel’s ability to conduct a free and fair investigation under his chairmanship.