Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, appears to have moved from criticizing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election to strategizing about how to blunt its impact should it imperil President Donald Trump. The most promising instrument in this effort, he suggested in unfiltered remarks last month, is retaining a GOP-controlled Congress.

Even if he had been speaking publicly, the eight-term Republican might not have chosen his words differently. He is an adamantly pro-Trump lawmaker who in February released a memorandum accusing the intelligence community of conspiring against the president.

But it was in private, at a closed-door fundraiser for colleague Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., that Nunes took the new step of tying the Russia investigation to the midterm elections this fall. In comments captured in a recording aired Wednesday by “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Nunes laid out in stark terms the rationale for preserving the GOP majority in Congress.

“If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones, which is really the danger,” Nunes said, referring to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Sessions has recused himself from inquiries related to the 2016 election owing to his role in Trump’s campaign — a move that has frustrated the president, leading him to blame his own attorney general for the “Russian Witch Hunt Hoax.”

“I mean, we have to keep all these seats,” Nunes added. “We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”

Maddow said the tape was made by a progressive organization called Fuse Washington. A spokesman for Nunes didn’t return a request for comment.

The remarks drew immediate rebuke from Democrats. Rep. Ted Lieu, also of California, called on Nunes to resign, saying his comments ran counter to the oath of office that he had taken upon entering Congress.

Lieu tweeted “Under our Constitution, the duty of Congress is not to clear the President. The duty of Congress is to be a check and balance on the Executive Branch, and to pursue the facts wherever they may lead.”