The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said on Saturday that calls for a special prosecutor to investigate possible ties between Donald Trump advisers and the Russian government amount to a “witch hunt” and resemble the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
“At this point we can’t go on a witch hunt against any American people…just because they appeared in a news story,” California Rep. Devin Nunes told reporters at California Republican convention in Sacramento on Saturday, according to the San Francisco Gate.
“I have to have some evidence that some American actually had contact with Russians. And I don’t have that now. This is almost like McCarthyism revisited,” he added.
According to news outlets like The New York Times, the FBI is investigating whether several former Trump campaign advisers coordinated with Russian intelligence officials to influence the election. The reports, which the former advisers say are false, have led to increased calls for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the probe and appoint a special prosecutor.
California Rep. Darrell Issa on Friday became the first Republican to join Democrats in calling for Sessions’ recusal.
But Nunes, whose committee reluctantly began investigating the Trump-Russia allegations, says that “right now there’s no evidence of anything” improper.
“Until this gets to a point that gets serious where there’s somebody that you know has had some affiliation with the Russian government of some kind — but right now that doesn’t exist. And so, and I hate to use this, but it’s a lot like a fake news story. It won’t go away,” said Nunes, who was a member of the Trump transition team.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that the FBI is looking into whether the former Trump campaign advisers had discussions with Russian intelligence agents about the election. The report states that the advisers were in frequent phone contact with Russian government officials.
However, the report also noted that federal investigators do not yet have evidence that the communications included discussions of the presidential election. The reports also do not make clear whether federal investigators know whether the Trump advisers were aware that the people they are said to have talked with were working for the Kremlin.
The four current and former Trump advisers who have been identified as part of the probe have all denied talking with Russian government officials during the campaign. They also say they have not been contacted by the FBI to discuss the matter.
The White House’s efforts to bat down the Times’ report has led to further calls from Democrats to appoint a special prosecutor.
It was reported earlier this week that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked FBI director Jim Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, if there was anything the bureau could do to rebut the reports.
CNN, which broke the story, characterized Priebus’ request as improper. But the White House claimed on Friday that Priebus asked Comey and McCabe if anything could be done only after McCabe told Priebus that the Times story was “bullshit.”