President Donald Trump's connections to Russia have been well documented, but it doesn't sound like Rep. Devin Nunes — the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a Republican — is that eager to investigate them.
During a press conference with reporters on Monday, Rep. Nunes downplayed claims that the White House had asked members of the CIA and FBI to squelch reports of contact between Russia and members of Trump's presidential campaign, saying that there was "nothing wrong" with what he characterized as attempts to have a better working relationship with the press. He also said that the committee wanted evidence of any American citizens who may have talked to Russian officials, implicitly broadening the issue beyond the Trump campaign and administration. He characterized the FBI as being "very upfront" with his committee about what they know about Trump's potential connections with Russia, although he admitted that he'd like to know more.
When asked if they have any evidence of contacts specifically from the Trump campaign, Nunes replied: "It's been looked into and there's no evidence of anything there. Obviously we'd like to know if there is." He also dismissed concerns that Flynn had violated the Logan Act as "ridiculous" and said that they would not subpoena Trump's tax returns, which puts him at odds with Senate Intelligence Committee member Susan Collins, R-Maine. Throughout the press conference, Nunes insisted that both he and the White House were simply trying to be "transparent" and claimed to be confused as to why the Trump administration providing his phone number to a reporter would be a news story. He also repeated his earlier statements about wanting to avoid "McCarthyism" and "witch hunts" based on reports that Americans may have connections to the Russian regime.
"This is almost like McCarthyism revisited," Nunes told reporters at the California Republican Party's spring convention on Saturday. "We’re going to go on a witch hunt against, against innocent Americans?"
Nunes added: "At this point, there’s nothing there. Once we begin to look at all the evidence, and if we find any American that had any contact with Russian agents or anybody affiliated with the Russian government, then we’ll be glad to, at that point, you know, subpoena those people before the House and let the legislative branch do its oversight and then we would recommend it over to, you know, the appropriate people."
Nunes concluded, saying, "we can’t go on a witch hunt against the American people, any American people who have not had any contact, just because they appeared in a news story."
Despite Nunes' downplaying of the issue, the repeated contacts between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak caused Flynn to resign from his position after less than a month on the job. Similarly, Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort was pressured into resigning in August after it was revealed that he had worked to elect a pro-Russia president in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. While the extent of Trump's business connections with Russia is unknown because he has refused to release his tax returns, his son Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008 that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."
Donald Trump himself publicly encouraged Russia to engage in espionage against his Democratic rival in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton:
"Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press," Trump declared to a group of reporters.
But on Monday, Trump said he's had no connections to Russia for a decade.