Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has been sharply critical of the panel's Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, for visiting the White House to view classified documents that Nunes says show the Obama administration intercepted the communications of Donald Trump associates before the president took office in January.
Among other things, Schiff slammed Nunes for viewing the documents by himself and not sharing them with Democrats on the committee. So last week, White House counsel Don McGahn invited Schiff to come see the documents for himself. Schiff did so on Friday.
Now, both the Republican chairman and the Democratic ranking member on the Intel Committee have seen the documents. And now, the public has a chance to hear another assessment to balance Nunes' claim that he saw "dozens" of intelligence reports involving the incidental collection of Trumpworld figures in Obama administration intercepts, with the names of some of them "unmasked," and that none of it had to do with Russia. In other words, Nunes suggested the Obama administration misused its wiretapping powers to gather information on the Trump team.
So with Schiff's visit to the White House, a chance for balance. But after viewing the documents, Schiff has gone nearly completely silent about what he saw. He has kept up his criticism of how Nunes came to view the material, but on what's actually in the documents, Schiff has said virtually nothing.
On Friday, immediately after viewing the documents, Schiff released a statement in which he declined to say anything about substance and repeated earlier criticisms of Republicans' handling of the matter.
"While I cannot discuss the content of the documents," Schiff said, "if the White House had any concern over these materials, they should have been shared with the full committee in the first place."
Schiff made no public comments on Saturday, and then on Sunday morning appeared on CNN, where Jake Tapper asked Schiff if, having seen the documents, "can you understand why Chairman Nunes might have some issues with the surveillance that was going on?"
"I can't go into the contents of the documents, Jake," Schiff said, before a quick pivot to Nunes' methods. "I can say I don't agree with the chairman's characterization, which is exactly why it's so important you don't share documents with just one person or even two people. They need to be shared with both full committees."
Continuing, Schiff said "the most important thing" about the documents is not what is in them but how they were handled:
But the most important thing people need to know about these documents is not classified, and it's a couple of things. First, the deputy assistant to the White House informed me when I went to see them that these are exactly the same materials that were shown to the chairman.
Now, this is a very interesting point. How does the White House know that these are the same materials that were shown to the chairman, if the White House wasn't aware what the chairman was being shown?
And the second point was also made to me. And this is — I think was also underscored by Sean Spicer — and that is, it was told to me by the deputy assistant that these materials were produced in the ordinary course of business.
Well, the question for the White House and for Mr. Spicer is the ordinary course of whose business? Because, if these were produced either for or by the White House, then why all of the subterfuge? There's nothing ordinary about the process that was used here at all.
All the talk about intercepts, Schiff said, was just an attempt by Trump and Republicans to distract from questions about Trump and Russia.
By that time, anyone interested in the substance of the issue — Do the documents show that Obama administration officials picked up Trumpworld figures in electronic intercepts and then identified them by name? — was entirely frustrated. Schiff appeared determined to say nothing about substance.
"I guess the question that Nunes is asking or suggesting that we should be asking in the media," Tapper said to Schiff, "[is] who unmasked these Trump advisers, and is it possible that any of this unmasking was being done for political reasons, instead of for legitimate ones?"
"Well, first of all, I can't talk about, as I mentioned, the contents of any documents," Schiff said. "So at this point, I can't say whether anything was masked or unmasked improperly."
Schiff then pivoted again to criticize Republican procedures.
Monday morning, Bloomberg's Eli Lake reported that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice "requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter." If that is accurate, it seems unlikely that the "most important" thing about the documents is how they were handled.
After seeing the documents with his own eyes, Schiff had a chance to shed some light on what has become a key question in the Trump-Russia matter. He didn't take it.