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House intelligence Republicans boycott public subcommittee hearing

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House Intelligence Committee Republicans boycotted a public hearing on Wednesday in what they say is a protest of the committee’s focus on “publicity events” rather than intelligence community oversight.

The intelligence panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, and the other GOP members on the committee sent a letter to House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff saying they would not take part in a public subcommittee hearing Wednesday on emerging technologies and national security, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN.

The Republican protest is a sign that the anger stemming from the impeachment fight has yet to subside, even after the Senate trial brought impeachment to a close last week.

It’s the latest in a string of partisan fight for the Intelligence Committee, which was traditionally one of the most bipartisan in Congress. It’s a long-running feud that began over the 2017 committee investigation into Russian election interference and was only exacerbated by the House’s impeachment investigation, which was led by Schiff. Last year, the Republicans on the panel called on Schiff to step down after the special counsel investigation ended, and both parties have accused the other of inappropriately dragging committee staff into the impeachment fight.

No Republicans or their staff were present when the hearing gaveled in at 10 a.m. ET, leaving half the room empty.

The Republican letter charged that the committee has not addressed the December Justice Department inspector general report on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant for former Trump campaign associate Carter Page, which identified major problems with the warrant and its renewals.

“Until the Committee prioritizes oversight activities related to urgent and critical concerns, Republican members cannot support distractions from our core responsibilities,” the Republicans wrote. “Given this Committee’s access to highly sensitive information, it is concerning that you prioritize publicity events rather than the more productive work that occurs in the Committee’s classified spaces.”

The hearing was unrelated to Ukraine or Russia, with experts who have worked with intelligence and technology testifying about how the government can work with companies to develop new intelligence technologies.

The GOP letter did not explicitly reference the impeachment investigation, and said other House committees could conduct public hearings on “emerging science and technology matters.”

But Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the subcommittee chairman, said at the beginning of the hearing that the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, said that Nunes “felt strongly that his Republican members not engage in the public work of this committee because of some perceived grievance with the impeachment investigation.”

Himes apologized for the witnesses for the one-sided hearing, called the GOP decision “as wrongheaded as it is mendacious.”

“Even as this committee was the epicenter of the polarizing impeachment debate, this committee has always succeeding compartmentalizing the emotions and arguments of impeachment from the critical work we do,” Himes said. “Not so today, that Rubicon has been crossed.”

The partisan tensions over the impeachment investigation were rampant from the moment that the Intelligence Committee was tapped to lead the inquiry. But House Republicans were up in arms particularly after the committee’s impeachment report included call records from Nunes, when he called Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. And they were angry with the Democrats for subsequently releasing documents from Nunes that included call records from Derek Harvey, a former National Security Council aide who now works for Nunes.

On the other side, Schiff protested Republicans publicly questioning contacts that his aides had in the intelligence community related to Ukraine and President Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnky.

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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