With New Leadership In Place, House Intel Committee Set To Restart Russia Investigation

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. listens at left, as the committee's ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talk to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 2, 2017, following their meeting with FBI Director Jim Comey about Russian influence on the American presidential election. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

After the recusal of Rep. Devin Nunes from the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, things seemed to sputter to a halt.

Nunes was forced to step down from his role as committee chairman due to an Ethics Committee investigation, following his curious – possibly corrupt – handling of classified information involved with the Russia probe.

For those who need a recap: Nunes traveled to the White House to view files and speak with a “source,” then called a press conference and announced that Trump had been “incidentally surveilled” without revealing his source or letting the rest of the committee he was in charge of see what he had.

He did this to counter earlier testimony before the committee from FBI Director James Comey, who said there was no evidence to back up Trump’s March 4 Twitter claim of having been “wiretapped” by former President Obama.

As it turned out, the “source” was somebody who had worked for Nunes, and the documents he quoted were big nothingburgers, in that they showed that while surveilling foreign officials, people within Trump’s campaign team were mentioned.

Those names were covered to protect their identities.

The result was a lot of partisan bickering, with neither side showing any confidence in the other to truly do the work necessary to get answers about Russian meddling.

Congress took a two week recess, but Wednesday was their first full day back, and members of the committee met in the morning to talk about how to move things forward, sans Nunes.

From The Hill:

“As Mike Conaway put it, we ‘touched gloves’ — and I think we’re all very hopeful that we’re back on track,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said, referring to the Texas Republican who is heading the probe.

“I have every faith that we’re going to be back on track with Mr. Conaway. Clean slate, reboot — let me get my thesaurus out,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).

That’s a good attitude, and we have to hope they mean it.

“You gotta go into it with the impression that it will hold,” said Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), who along with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is assisting Conaway with the investigation. “Otherwise we’re wasting our time.

“I think both [ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)] and Mike are sincere that they want to get to the bottom of the issue.”

Good. Thanks for that.

One major bone of contention seems to be who to call to testify.

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates was prepared to testify in March, but Nunes abruptly cancelled her appearance and shut down the investigation.

In the past several weeks, the investigation had split into two competing tracks, with Republicans doggedly pursuing leaks of classified information and Democrats seeking to ferret out connections between the Trump administration and Russia.

The committee has since agreed on a preliminary witness list — composed of “three or four dozen” names, according to Himes — and is in the process of setting a hearing date for certain Obama administration officials sought by Democrats.

Progress.

Yates is set to speak with the Senate Judiciary subcommittee in early May, and has been invited to speak to the House Intel Committee after May 2, when they will conduct a closed panel session with FBI Director Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.

It wasn’t immediately clear on Wednesday how the structure of the investigation will change under the new leadership format, with Rooney and Gowdy assisting Conaway. Democrats are also weighing bringing in additional members to form a kind of “steering group,” according to Schiff.

But, he emphasized, “I’m very pleased with where we are right now.”

“The main thing is we have moved past the cloud that we were under during the last couple of weeks, and I think we’re really moving forward in a very productive way.”

There has been a lot of partisan bickering from both sides. Let’s hope they all mean it when they say they want to actually do the work necessary to find answers.

This isn’t about their party. It’s ultimately about the integrity of our government and the well-being of the people.