House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday said there was “no evidence of collusion” between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, siding with the President on collusion one day after he broke with Trump about claims the FBI put spies in his campaign.
“In all of this, in any of this, there has been no evidence that there is any collusion between the Trump campaign and … President Trump and Russia,” Ryan said at his weekly news conference. “Let’s just make that really clear. There is no evidence of collusion.”
Ryan’s comments align him with the House Intelligence Committee Republican report on the Russia investigation, in which the GOP lawmakers said they uncovered no evidence of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia, just some bad judgment. Democrats argue that the Republicans weren’t trying to find collusion, charging that they ignored numerous leads and failed to subpoena documents and witnesses key to getting to the bottom of the Russia investigation.
Ryan has been a frequent target of Democratic criticism for his role in aiding House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ in his fight with the Justice Department for classified documents, including the latest dispute over documents related to an confidential source who spoke to Trump advisers as part of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.
But Ryan on Wednesday broke with the President and his conservative allies who have claimed the FBI was spying on his campaign, when he said he agreed with South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy’s assessment that the FBI’s use of the confidential source was proper.
Ryan’s comments angered conservatives like Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a vocal critic of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation who suggested Ryan’s comments prompted fresh talk of removing Ryan as speaker.
“You know I run in the more conservative circles of the House and I have never up until this point heard a single person talk about removing Speaker Ryan from the speakership,” Gaetz told Fox Business Network in an interview Wednesday.
“Today, for the first time, I was hearing colleagues say, ‘Well, you know, if Speaker Ryan won’t stand with us in this fight over the essentials of our democracy, not weaponizing an intelligence community against a presidential campaign, do we need to look at other choices?’”
Gaetz said replacing Ryan before he retires “remains a lingering question and you’re starting to see more frustrations bubble to the top because we need that leadership.”
But he distanced himself from the comments late Wednesday night.
“Let me be clear. I support Paul Ryan. I’m glad he’s our speaker. But I strongly disagree with him on this issue, which he discussed on TV first. (Sad!) #TeamRyan,” he tweeted.
Without evidence, Trump has accused the FBI under then-President Barack Obama’s administration of embedding an informant in his campaign as a spy, referring to the matter as “spygate.”
Gowdy, Ryan and other congressional leaders were briefed last month on the FBI’s use of a confidential source that interacted with Trump’s campaign two years ago as the Justice Department began investigating Russian meddling.
The Justice Department is making classified documents available to the same congressional leaders for review next week. A source briefed on the meeting said the materials were brought to last month’s briefing but were left on the table untouched.
After the briefing, Gowdy told told Fox News he’s “even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do” in its handling of the Russia investigation and possible links to Trump’s campaign.
Gaetz on Wednesday told Fox Business Network he found Ryan’s defense of the FBI “deeply frustrating” and slammed his conference’s leader as a “defender of the deep state.”
Gaetz is one of a dozen or so House Republicans pushing for a second special counsel to investigate the FBI and Justice Department’s handling of its probe into Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Ryan announced in April he won’t seek re-election and will retire from Congress after this year.
CNN’s Ashley Killough, Sunlen Serfaty, David Siegel, Manu Raju and David Wright contributed to this report.