WASHINGTON (CNN) – When California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes sat before a committee Wednesday to testify on a bill, Democrats tried to use the opportunity to question the House Intelligence Committee chairman on his investigation of Russian meddling and the 2016 presidential race.
But the Republican chairman of the House Rules Committee — Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas — allowed Nunes to leave the hearing before Democrats could fire off their questions, prompting criticism from Democrats.
Caroline Boothe, a spokeswoman for the Rules Committee, said the plan beforehand was that Nunes would give his opening statement on the related legislation before the committee — the Intelligence Authorization Act — then leave to attend other business, while Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican, would step in to take questions from the committee about the bill.
This plan was shared with Democrats, and Democrats knew ahead of time that Nunes would not be taking questions, Boothe said.
A Democratic spokesman for the committee, Jeff Gohringer, denied that Democrats were aware of the plan.
However, Sessions went ahead and opened it up for questions while Nunes was still in the witness seat, and Democrats used the opportunity to start to ask about Russia.
Rep. Norma Torres, a California Democrat, started asking a question about Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a statement he previously made to the House Intelligence Committee.
Sessions interrupted her and abruptly broke up the committee for a five-minute recess to discuss the questioning with the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jim McGovern.
They resumed the hearing 18 minutes later, and Sessions dismissed Nunes from the witness table before Democrats could ask him more questions.
Democrats took issue with Sessions’ dismissal of the House intelligence chairman.
“In all my years on the Rules Committee, I don’t ever recall an instance where any member was prevented from asking questions of a witness,” McGovern said in a statement. “What is Chairman Nunes trying to hide?”
Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, said he had questions for Nunes about the bill and used some colorful language to knock Nunes for leaving the hearing early to go attend another hearing.
“He’s already gone but I think that circumvents our responsibility,” he said. “We are continuously mindful of members’ other responsibilities, but if he had to go vote at Ways and Means, he’s going to get many other opportunities to vote on the same crap that he’s going there to vote on.”