George W. Bush administration spy chief Michael V. Hayden joined the chorus of critics lambasting House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ handling of a congressional probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election on Friday.
“I cannot see how the House committee can now conduct an investigation that anyone will view as impartial or deserving of their confidence,” Mr. Hayden told The Washington Times.
The retired Air Force general, who headed the CIA and the National Security Agency during the Bush era — as well as briefly under former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — stopped short of explicitly calling for Mr. Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s activities.
But his comments suggested deep distrust among current and former leaders of the wider U.S. intelligence community toward the Republican congressman from California.
Mr. Nunes’ impartiality has been under heightened scrutiny amid revelations he went behind the backs of House Intelligence Committee Democrats and Republicans to a still-mysterious secret meeting on the White House grounds earlier this month.
The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, and other top Democrats on Capital Hill have called for Mr. Nunes to recuse himself. But the seven-term congressman has refused and told reporters that the panel’s investigation “continues.”
Political and media hysteria surrounded the probe since last week, when Mr. Nunes announced that he’d viewed intelligence reports at the White House grounds showing that Mr. Trump and his associates were swept up in U.S. surveillance of foreign targets and that their identities had been “unmasked” — a possible violation of federal privacy laws.
The congressman, who was a member of Mr. Trump’s transition team, has since refused to name who he met at the White House that showed him documents relating to the so-called “incidental” intelligence collection.
Intrigue surrounding the source has deepened amid reports that as many as three White House officials — including Ezra Cohen, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, Michael Ellis, a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office, and top National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg — were involved in showing the documents to Mr. Nunes.
The White House sent a letter Thursday to Republican and Democrat leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, formally inviting them to view “highly classified” U.S. spy documents that are believed to be what was privately shown to Mr. Nunes last week.
While the documents, according to the letter, relate to President Trump and his associates being swept up in surveillance activities, the House and Senate intelligence committees also are probing Russian meddling in the election and possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin.
Mr. Schiff of California said Thursday that he had accepted the invitation but vowed not to be diverted from the Russian probe.
Mr. Hayden’s assessment on Friday, meanwhile, followed criticism of Mr. Nunes’ handling of the situation this week from some high-level Republican lawmakers in the Senate, which is conducting its own Russia probe.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Mr. Nunes “absolutely” should reveal his source and that there is “a lot of explaining to do.”
“I’ve been around for quite a while and I’ve never heard of any such thing,” Mr. McCain said on CBS. “This is a very serious issue. … It turned into a centipede like these things have a tendency of doing, and another shoe seems to drop every few days.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and a longtime ally of Mr. McCain, said on NBC that Mr. Nunes has “gone off on a lark by himself, [on] a sort of Inspector Clouseau investigation here.”
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, likened the situation to a “mystery novel,” telling CNN this week that, “you never know what is going to happen next.”
• S.A. Miller and Dan Boylan contributed to this report.
(Correction: Michael V. Hayden is a retired Air Force general. The story has been updated.)
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