Washington(CNN) In a newly leaked audio recording, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, suggests that his party needs to retain control of the House of Representatives to protect President Donald Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller.
"If (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions won't un-recuse and Mueller won't clear the President, we're the only ones, which is really the danger ... we have to keep all these seats," Nunes can be heard saying on a recording from a private fundraiser aired by MSNBC on "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Wednesday. "We have to keep the majority."
The remarks appear to be a blunt assessment from Nunes, a top Trump ally in Congress who Democrats accuse of trying to help the White House with the Russia probe, that Republicans must keep their House majority in the midterm elections to shield Trump from the special counsel investigation.
Jack Langer, a spokesman for Nunes, downplayed the comments in a statement to CNN, saying "it's unsurprising to see the left-wing media spin Chairman Nunes' routine observations as some nefarious plot, since these same media outlets spent the last year and a half touting non-existent Russia collusion conspiracy."
Maddow said on Wednesday that the audio, which MSNBC described as a "secret audio recording," was obtained by a progressive group called Fuse Washington after one of its members paid to attend a private fundraiser held last week for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of House GOP leadership.
The Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee conducted a yearlong investigation of Russia's election interference. The committee's Republicans issued a report that stated they found no evidence of collusion between Trump's team and Russia, but Democrats accused Republicans of failing to interview witnesses and subpoena key documents in the probe in an effort to protect Trump.
Democrats on the committee have continued their own investigation and have made clear they will ramp up the probe again should they retake the House in November.
Nunes can also be heard on the recording arguing that any effort to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could interfere with the confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement.
"If we actually vote to impeach, what that does is that triggers the Senate then has to take it up," Nunes said on the audio, adding, that the "Senate only has so much time."
Rosenstein, who has overseen the special counsel investigation after Sessions recused himself from the probe, has faced harsh criticism from House conservatives who have accused the Justice Department of withholding key information from Congress and stonewalling congressional subpoenas. In late July, House Freedom Caucus Leaders Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan introduced a resolution to impeach Rosenstein in an escalation of long-standing tensions.
Nunes said he thinks Rosenstein "deserves to be impeached," but noted that "the Senate would have to drop everything they're doing and start to, and start with impeachment on Rosenstein. And then take the risk of not getting Kavanaugh confirmed." He added, "so it's not a matter that any of us like Rosenstein. It's a matter of, it's a matter of timing."
Nunes' comments on the timing of an impeachment fight echo what House Speaker Paul Ryan, who does not support the impeachment push, has publicly said.
Ryan said in July, "if this were to pass through the House, then what it would do is tie the Senate into knots ... That means it would derail or largely delay a big part of our agenda ... and it would clearly dramatically delay the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to go to the Supreme Court," he said.