The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee acknowledged Monday that he had made a secret visit to the White House last week to view intelligence files he then cited as proof of potentially improper spying activity against President Trump, casting new doubt on the independence of a congressional investigation into Russian election interference.
…bipartisan appeals for an independent probe of Kremlin meddling in the 2016 election and potential connections between Russia and Trump associates.
…noting Nunes was a member of Trump’s transition team.
Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, had privately met in December with the chief executive of a Russian bank being targeted by U.S. sanctions.
…Nunes’s meeting with a source and his review of intelligence material apparently occurred in a secure space for handling classified files within the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. Nunes returned to the White House the next day — bypassing colleagues on the House committee — supposedly to brief Trump on what he had learned.
The attempts to keep such matters hidden from public view, however, added to the perception that the Trump administration has failed to be forthcoming about contacts with Russia and is working with allies on Capitol Hill to blunt congressional probes.
…Asked about Nunes’s White House visit, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, “Not good. It’s not a confidence builder.” He said “we’re rapidly getting” to the point where a select committee or independent commission is needed to conduct the investigation into Russian meddling.
…Current and former national security officials described Nunes’s trip to the White House complex, apparently late in the evening after he had slipped away from his staff, as highly unusual. Doing so would ordinarily require Nunes and the person he met with to have been cleared in advance and accompanied by an escort — requirements that seemed to undercut White House claims to have no information about the encounter.
“How incredibly irregular,” said Matt Olsen, who served in the Obama administration as the head of the National Counterterrorism Center and the general counsel at the National Security Agency. “The only explanation you’re left with is that this is all being orchestrated by the White House.”
…Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower in December, a session also attended by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired for lying about the nature of his contacts with Kislyak.
On Monday, the White House acknowledged a previously undisclosed meeting between Kushner and Sergey N. Gorkov, chief of Russian government-owned Vnesheconombank. The bank, which handles Russia’s pension funds and deals with development activity for the state, including foreign debts and investments, has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014, in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
The bank also has been tied to Russian intelligence services.