Democratic congressional leaders on the House Ethics Committee are charged with intentionally dragging out an investigation into Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes in what multiple sources described as an attempt to influence the Intelligence Committee's sensitive Russia probe and promote their own political careers, according to multiple sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
Nunes (R., Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, which is handling the Russia probe, was sidelined from his leadership role in the probe more than three months ago after the Ethics Committee began investigating allegations that he disclosed classified information in comments alleging Obama administration officials had accessed classified intelligence reports in order to gain information on Trump associates.
Recent Stories in National Security
Democrats are said to be blocking efforts to advance the Nunes case in an effort to discredit the top Republican and keep him sidelined from the sensitive Russia probe, which Democrats have increasingly used to score political points against Trump and boost their own political profiles.
As the Ethics Committee investigation into Nunes drags on, Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), the top Democrat tasked with leading the ethics probe, appears to have prejudged the case in the media, prompting further accusations that the Nunes probe is being politicized in order to boost the unsubstantiated Democratic narrative about collusion between Trump and Russia, according to U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the matter.
In March, just before the probe into Nunes was launched, Deutch indicated the top Republican was guilty of compromising classified information as part of Nunes's effort to expose the Obama administration's unmasking of sensitive information about Trump associates—the very charge Deutch is now tasked with investigating in his role on the Ethics Committee.
"It's hard to see how the Intelligence Committee can move forward and do the job that it needs to do on behalf of the American people when the chairman behaves in a way that seems to put partisanship above getting all of the facts here," Deutch told NPR. "When the chairman of the committee decided to share some information, first with the speaker, then rushing to the White House to share it with the president—information that appears to be classified information—it makes it hard for people to have confidence in his ability to move forward. That's why there needs to be an independent investigation."
One U.S. official familiar with the situation told the Free Beacon that Deutch and Democrats on the Ethics Committee are seeking to keep Nunes away from the investigation in order to further the narrative that Trump colluded with Russia.
"Deutch said he wanted Nunes off the Russia probe, and he's used the Ethics Committee to make that happen and prolong the investigation to keep Nunes under an ethical cloud," one U.S. official told the Free Beacon.
In an April interview just days before the Ethics Committee began its probe, Deutch offered similar comments blasting Nunes.
"I think it's important that we have full, and fair, and transparent, and open investigation, and it's pretty clear… that we're not gonna get that with Chairman Nunes there," he said. "There've been too many questions that have been raised, and I do think it's really important that in order to do this, we do this in an independent way."
Deutch has further implied that President Donald Trump has committed "impeachable" offenses, adding fuel to claims he is too biased to be a leader in what is supposed to be an independent investigation into Nunes.
"The Ethics Committee is supposed to be a neutral adjudicator, and this looks like a textbook case of prejudgment," the US. official said. "How can Deutch claim to be impartial? Did he inform the rest of the Ethics Committee about these statements before he participated in the case?"
Deutch's Democratic supporters and confidants also have publicly touted his role in the Ethics Committee's probe into Nunes.
"I will take it as a hopeful sign that Pelosi tapped Deutch to be the ranking member of the sensitive House Ethics committee, the same committee now investigating House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes for allegedly leaking classified information," Mike Abrams, a former chair of the Dade Democratic Party in Florida and Deutch donor, wrote in a recent op-ed celebrating the Democrat's rising stature.
One veteran congressional adviser who works closely with Congress on the leaks investigation told the Free Beacon the languishing ethics probe is shaping up to be little more than a partisan political ploy.
"This is what happens when Republicans trust Democrats to play fair. Everyone knows Nunes is squeaky clean, and lawmakers involved in intelligence know it most of all," said the source, who could only discuss the sensitive matter on background. "So Democrats promised Republicans they'd do a quick probe, find whatever, and everyone would go back to work. But Democrats don't want Congress to get back to work, and they also like keeping keep Nunes in limbo, and so they're holding everything up."
Deutch's office, Nunes's office, and the House Ethics Committee declined to comment on the situation and the status of the investigation into Nunes.
Meanwhile, the Ethics Committee has thus far declined to investigate similar claims that Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, wrongly disclosed classified information to the press when he publicly discussed the contents of a reported phone call between former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The Ethics Committee has ignored the matter, despite public testimony from former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who, when asked about the content of that call by a Senate Committee, stated that she could not answer the question because to do so would disclose classified information.
The original complaint that spurred the investigation into Nunes was filed by MoveOn.org and Democracy 21, liberal advocacy organizations closely tied to the Democratic Party. A complaint by the conservative-leaning Judicial Watch calling for an investigation into Schiff has not moved forward.
Schiff has risen to prominence since the Russia probe began, becoming a mainstay on cable news shows.
The Ethics Committee has not commented on why it is not also looking into Schiff's potential disclosure of classified information.