Schiff rises, Nunes falters in Russia investigation

Rep. Adam Schiff, left, and Rep. Devin Nunes listen as FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.
Rep. Adam Schiff, left, and Rep. Devin Nunes listen as FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday. Associated Press

As Americans take stock of the two California congressmen helping to lead the Russia investigation, the contrast could not be starker.

Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has been a calm, smart voice at the center of a political hurricane.

Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, the Republican chairman of the committee, has proven to be, first and foremost, an apologist and surrogate for President Donald Trump.

If there were any doubt about that, it ended Wednesday when Nunes scurried to the White House to brief the president on intelligence reports that purportedly show that Trump and his advisers were incidentally picked up in court-authorized surveillance that had nothing to do with Russia. Nunes, who was on Trump’s transition team, won’t say what the information is or where it came from, refusing to even rule out that his source was affiliated with the White House.

The president predictably used Nunes’ revelation as cover for his baseless accusation that Barack Obama had wiretapped him, saying he felt “somewhat” vindicated. Perhaps Nunes thought he could have it both ways by letting Trump use him, but then telling the press that the new reports offered no such evidence.

But the blowback was immediate. Schiff and other Democrats said Nunes should not have shared that information with a White House under investigation.

Nunes apologized to committee Democrats Thursday for briefing Trump before them, but the damage can’t be repaired. He should step down as chairman, or be removed.

The integrity of the Intelligence Committee’s investigation and any hope for bipartisanship have also been fatally compromised.

It’s more proof that to get to the bottom of possible links between Trump associates and Russian officials, we need a bipartisan select committee with ample authority and resources, as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and some other Republicans now say. We also need a special prosecutor, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the investigation after his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. were revealed.

The gulf between Schiff and Nunes, widening by the day, was apparent at the hearing Monday, when FBI Director James Comey publicly and unequivocally repudiated Trump’s wiretapping allegations and confirmed an active investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who joined Congress in 2001, methodically laid out the many contacts between senior Trump campaign advisers and Russians. Schiff now says there is “more than circumstantial” evidence of collusion, though he won’t detail any classified information.

Nunes, who comes from a farming family and who started serving in the House in 2003, replacing the less partisan Mike Rogers as Intelligence chairman in 2015, appeared to take talking points straight from the White House, urging Comey to go after “widespread illegal” leaks of classified information to the press.

Nunes, himself, may have done just that on Wednesday. That tells you he’s far more interested in being loyal to the president than pursuing a full accounting for Russian interference in our democracy.