Rep. Devin Nunes, the House intelligence committee chairman who claimed to have stepped aside from the panel’s Russia probe, appears to still be unilaterally carrying out a shadow investigation of his own.
On Friday, the firm behind the dossier alleging Donald Trump’s campaign engaged in a conspiracy with Russia to win the election — and that he witnessed “golden showers” in Moscow — claimed in a federal court filing that Nunes subpoenaed its bank for financial records “that would reveal the identities of Fusion’s clients.”
Fusion asked a judge to stop the bank from complying with the subpoena.
Nunes’s subpoena appears to have caught at least some fellow members of the House intel committee off guard. According to a knowledgeable source, Nunes, a Republican, left several House intelligence committee members in the dark about his subpoena of Fusion. It is unclear if committee Republicans signed off or knew about Nunes’ Fusion GPS subpoena. A source familiar with the investigation told The Daily Beast that committee Democrats only learned of it from reading about it in the press.
“The subpoena is a blatant attempt to chill both speech with which Mr. Nunes disagrees and the free association of Americans working on a campaign against Donald Trump,” Fusion argues, adding it would violate the firm’s and its clients First Amendment rights.
Fusion also claims the subpoena bears only Nunes’s signature and means he “unilaterally issued the subpoena in violation of his recusal.”
It is unclear if committee Republicans signed off or knew about Nunes’ Fusion GPS subpoena. A source familiar with the investigation told The Daily Beast that committee Democrats only learned of it from reading about it in the press.
In April, Nunes dramatically claimed to have stepped back from the Russia investigation after he was exposed working with the White House to undermine it. As The Daily Beast first reported, Nunes took a secret, late-night trip to the White House grounds where he was given sensitive intelligence from two officials he used to falsely claim the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign. He presented his “findings” as acquired from intelligence sources independently of the White House, and is under a House Ethics Committee investigation for his conduct.
But despite widespread media portrayal of Nunes’ “recusing” himself from the probe, Nunes has never gone that far. Two different sources told The Daily Beast this week that Nunes remains an “active” participant in the inquiry, even as the senior Republican helming it is now Mike Conaway of Texas.
On October 4, Nunes subpoenaed Fusion GPS for documents and testimony – a move committee Democrats blasted as another Nunes attempt to derail the investigation. Earlier this week, Fusion partners Peter Fritsch and Thomas Catán exercised their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in declining to answer Nunes’ questions about the origins of the dossier.
Fusion attorney Joshua Levy accused Nunes of engineering a sideshow by ordering Fritsch and Catan to appear before the committee simply to plead the Fifth.
“No American should be required to appear before a congressional committee just to invoke his constitutional privileges. But that is what chairman Nunes required of our clients at Fusion GPS today, in a sharp departure from even the past practice of this committee's investigation, where witnesses under the exact same circumstances were excused from appearing,” Levy told a press conference on Wednesday.
Fusion is a “political intelligence” firm that was reportedly contracted first by Republicans and then by Democrats to research Trump’s business ties overseas. Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative, produced a series of memos for Fusion supposedly relying on connections in Russia and Eastern Europe. The first memo was sent in June 2016 and claimed Vladimir Putin’s government had “kompromat,” or compromising information, on Trump — including he was recorded watching prostitutes urinate on each other in a Moscow hotel room during his stay for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.
President Trump has repeatedly called the dossier a “hoax” and the Russian investigation “fake news.”
Former FBI Director James Comey said this past summer that the bureau was trying to corroborate information in the Steele dossier. Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly interviewed Steele as part of his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. But Steele has so far stonewalled the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to that panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who also wants to know who paid for the dossier and who Steele’s sources were.