Devin Nunes is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, accused Nunes of persistently serving "the interests of Donald Trump"
The House Intelligence Committee chairman and the panel’s top Democrat publicly disagreed Friday over the handling of their investigation into Russian meddling into the US election, coming after the announcement that President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman agreed to testify before the committee.
“Yesterday, the counsel for Paul Manafort contacted the committee yesterday to offer the committee the opportunity to interview his client,” committee chairman Devin Nunes announced during a news conference. “We thank Mr. Manafort for volunteering and encourage others with knowledge of these issues to voluntarily interview with the committee.”
Nunes also announced that the committee is bringing in FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers for a second briefing, this time behind closed doors so that they can provide more information. The committee is also delaying its March 28 hearing, a decision infuriating Democrats on the committee.
“Chairman just cancelled open Intelligence Committee hearing with (former Director of National Intelligence James) Clapper, (former CIA Director John) Brennan and (former deputy Attorney General Sally) Yates in attempt to choke off public info,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee tweeted moment before going to speak to the press Friday morning.
Schiff refused to say whether he thought Nunes should step down from his position, telling reporters, “What’s really involved here is the cancellation of this open hearing and the rest is designed to distract.”
Manafort wasn’t the only Trump ally to volunteer to testify Friday. Two former advisers to Trump – Roger Stone and Carter Page – said that they’re willing to speak to the committee about their role in Trump’s campaign.
“I acknowledge I am a hardball player. I have sharp elbows. I always play politics the way it is supposed to be played,” Stone told CNN. “But one thing isn’t in my bag of tricks – treason.”
“I would eagerly welcome the chance to speak with the Committee to help finally set the record straight following the false evidence, illegal activities as well as other lies distributed by certain politically-motivated suspects in coordination with the Obama Administration, which defamed me and other Americans,” Page wrote in the letter that he provided to CNN.
Comey and Rogers participated in a lengthy, high-profile hearing Monday, where Comey confirmed for the first time that his agency is investigating whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow while Russia was interfering in the presidential election. Comey also said he’d seen no evidence of Trump’s claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped on the orders of his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Nunes said House investigators are still negotiating when Manafort will testify and whether he will testify in an open hearing or in a closed briefing.
Manafort has extended same offer to the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to a Senate source.
“Mr. Manafort instructed his representatives to reach out to Committee Staff and offer to provide information voluntarily regarding recent allegations about Russian interference in the election,” Manafort’s attorneys spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement. “As Mr. Manafort has always maintained, he looks forward to meeting with those conducting serious investigations of these issues to discuss the facts.”
Nunes apologized to his committee members Thursday, a day after he told the public and the President that communications of him and associates may have been collected by intelligence agencies before telling Democratic members of the committee.
Earlier Friday, Intelligence Committee member Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, accused Nunes of persistently serving “the interests of Donald Trump,” but stopped short of calling him to step down from the probe into ties between the Trump White House and Russia.
“Devin, as much as I appreciate him and consider him a friend, has demonstrated on multiple occasions that he often serves the interests of Donald Trump,” Himes told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day.” “Once again, we were shown why this should be done by an outside commission.”
Himes suggested Nunes’ apology went a long way to soothe Democrats on the committee. As for whether Nunes should recuse himself from the probe, the Connecticut Democrat said that was a decision for House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“(I) will tell you from the inside that while the chairman’s behavior on the outside – going to the media and the President – has been troublesome … inside, he has said yes to our requests.”
“Inside, he has been working constructively with us,” he added. “If he is removed, who do we get now? Somebody less constructive inside than Congressman Nunes?”
This story has been updated to reflect breaking news.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Josiah Ryan contributed to this report.