The Note: Nunes’ crisis of credibility

Democrats are demanding House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes step down.

ByABC News
March 28, 2017, 8:10 AM

— -- Trump's first 100 days with ABC’s RICK KLEIN and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE

Day No. 68

The big story: It has come to this: With allegations swirling that rock the foundations of democracy, the White House is being investigated by the FBI, which is controlled by the Trump administration’s own Justice Department, and there’s a congressional committee whose chairman keeps popping up at the White House. This is becoming a crisis of credibility for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, who maintained that his visit to the White House “grounds” the day before he briefed President Trump was above board and had “nothing to do with Russia.” Democrats have now almost universally turned on the California Republican, demanding he be removed from either the investigation or the entire committee. GOP leadership on Capitol Hill seems to be calculating that calls for a special commission or a new committee will blow over. But that won’t happen as long as this news faucet drips. If this bucket needed any more filling, Trump is claiming that the questions the FBI confirmed a week ago that it’s looking into are essentially bogus. “Trump Russia story is a hoax,” the president tweeted late Monday.

The sleeper story: After a setback that put a spotlight on what he can’t do, don’t lose sight of what the president can, and is, doing. A president who’s rebuffed in Congress typically turns to executive orders with a new level of interest. And President Trump never had to be convinced of the power of his own pen. Trump is expected to sign a sweeping executive order today that takes a big step toward “obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record,” in the words of The Washington Post. This quote, from a “senior administration official” who briefed reporters, tells you much about the mindset of the new environmental agenda: “He’s made a pledge to the coal industry and he’s going to do whatever he can to help those workers.” Then there’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ fresh threat against sanctuary cities, with billions of federal dollars on the line and his claim that “countless Americans would be alive today” if those policies had never been initiated. Moves like these are harder to focus public attention on and harder to organize around, but could be more consequential than bills and laws.

The shiny story: Tweeting Trump was back Monday night, attacking old enemies and new ones, and making us all wonder where the lines between Machiavelli and #MAGA are being drawn. In questioning why the House Intelligence Committee isn’t investigating Hillary Clinton, the president turned to his surest political foe – a standby to attack whenever he needs or wants his base back. More potentially interesting is his decision to go after the House Freedom Caucus for, in his words, being “able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” Republican-on-Republican violence is always intriguing, particularly given the fact that GOP leadership will need support on key votes just to keep the government operating in the coming weeks. At a more fundamental level, remember that Trump’s attacking the Freedom Caucus is Trump’s attacking the Trumpian wing of his own party in Congress. The president may want a fight with the Clintons, but he’s getting one with himself.

TLDR: Democrats are demanding House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes step down or recuse himself from any investigations involving the president's campaign and possible ties to Russia, but the chairman says no and his visit to the White House grounds the day before that bombshell news conference was appropriate.

Photo of the day: Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room Monday to announce sanctuary cities will lose federal funding if they continue to ignore federal law. This image shows Sessions’ passing press secretary Sean Spicer to continue the briefing: (Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

PHOTO: White House press secretary Sean Spicer allows Attorney General Jeff Sessions to pass him after Sessions addressed members of the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, March 27, 2017.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer allows Attorney General Jeff Sessions to pass him after Sessions addressed members of the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, March 27, 2017.


--House intel chair was on White House grounds day before briefing Trump on alleged surveillance: House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, R-California, who is leading a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and alleged contacts with the Trump campaign, went to White House grounds last week to meet a source at a secure location to view information regarding possible "incidental" surveillance of Trump associates by the U.S. intelligence community, his office confirmed to ABC News. The visit came one day before Nunes made a surprise public announcement about the documents, explains ABC's KATHERINE FAULDERS.

--House intel chair won't step aside in Russia investigation, despite growing calls: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., will not step aside from his committee's Russia investigation, according to a spokesman, despite a growing chorus of lawmakers calling on him to do so, writes ABC's ADAM KELSEY. The calls for recusal come after it surfaced that Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team executive committee, visited the White House grounds last week to meet a source the day before publicly sharing details about surveillance that "inadvertently collected" information on associates of President Donald Trump.

--Happening today - President Trump to order review of clean power plan: President Trump is set to make a trip to the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday to sign an executive order that will "initiate a review" of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and unravel a handful of other energy orders and memorandums instituted by his predecessor. The Clean Power Plan caps the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted from power plants. The White House argues that the regulation, and others sanctioned by former President Barack Obama, are burdensome to the American economy. ABC’s JORDYN PHELPS and MERIDITH MCGRAW has more:

--Analysis: After defeat, 3 paths ahead for President Trump: It’s a new world for President Trump. Friday’s health care failure was a lesson in the difficulty of governing for the political rookie president. The dealmaker was unable to dictate an outcome, after an embarrassing episode that showed the president is neither loved nor feared inside his own party. What is next for the president? There are three possible routes for Trump and his White House, but they all mean building coalitions in order to get partners to move forward on his agenda, write ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and RICK KLEIN.

Speed read with ABC’s ADAM KELSEY

Trump tweets Russia probe 'hoax,' rails against Clintons. Amid ongoing questions about the involvement of his associates with Russian officials during the campaign and about the impartiality of the Republican congressman leading one of the probes into the matter, Donald Trump went on a twitter rant Monday night, calling out an old foe -- the Clintons -- and blaming conservative Republicans for his health care defeat, notes ABC’s ADAM KELSEY.

AG Jeff Sessions takes aim at sanctuary cities, says DOJ will cut funding. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a surprise appearance at Monday's White House press briefing, slamming cities that are working to ignore the federal law to turn over people who are living in the country illegally. Sessions said he "strongly urges" these cities, known as sanctuary cities, to "consider carefully" the damage they are doing to national security and public safety by refusing to enforce immigration laws, write ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY and MIKE LEVINE.

Ryan reverses course, will continue Obamacare repeal and replace effort. In the wake of the defeat of the GOP overhaul of Affordable Care Act, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday that Obamacare was the "law of the land ... for the foreseeable future" and that health care would be set aside as Republicans work toward tax reform this fall. But in a reversal, Ryan — who called his legislation, the American Health Care Act, "fundamentally flawed" — told donors Monday that the effort to roll back the ACA is not over yet, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON reports.

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner's power expanding with latest White House assignment. One of President Trump's top advisers is getting an even more public role in the coming days. Jared Kushner, the president's senior adviser and son-in-law, has been a key player in the presidential campaign and inside the White House, but it’s the latest visible display of his growing power within in the administration, explains ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY.

Thousands in Russia protest, US offers tempered response. Stirred by allegations of corruption, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in dozens of cities across Russia yesterday, in the largest anti-government demonstrations the country has seen in years. Between 7,000 and 30,000 people demonstrated in Moscow, and up to 10,000 in St. Petersburg. Rallies were reported in 82 cities and towns in total, notes ABC's CONOR FINNEGAN. It’s unclear how many have been arrested.

The Freedom Caucus: A look at the group that brought down GOP health care plan. The House Freedom Caucus raised its profile dramatically last week during the debate to repeal and replace Obamacare, becoming not only antagonists to President Trump but also unlikely saviors – even if unintended -- to Democrats working to preserve Obamacare. The intrigue surrounding this powerful band of conservatives continues to grow. By taking a hard, unified stance against the American Health Care Act, they ultimately helped sink the GOP’s health care repeal and replace plan. ABC's JOHN PARKINSON has more:

Inside Georgia's special election to fill Tom Price's House seat. The polls opened Monday for early voting in the special election for Georgia's 6th congressional district. Election Day is April 18 and it's a close race. The 6th congressional district includes parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties north of the city of Atlanta. ABC's VERONICA STRACQUALURSI explains why the seat is open, who the candidates are and why the race has garnered attention:

Who's tweeting?

@realDonaldTrump: The Democrats will make a deal with me on healthcare as soon as ObamaCare folds - not long. Do not worry, we are in very good shape!

@evanmcmurry: Trump's approval rating dips to new low of 36%, per Gallup, second time in his first 67 days he's sunk beneath Obama's lowest-ever score.

@mmurraypolitics: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Devin Nunes: "I think you put his objectivity in question at the very least," he tells @TODAYshow

@JesseRodriguez: On @Morning_Joe, Rep. Jim Himes @jahimes confirms that Chmn Nunes has scrapped all meetings of the House Intel Cmte this week

@jeneps: "Not only has this investigation sort of had a shadow cast on it, but the committee's been put into suspended animation." -@jahimes on MSNBC

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