House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes speaks to reporters after a meeting at the White House on Wednesday in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Then-President elect Donald Trump and his top aides were caught up in legal U.S. surveillance of foreign targets in the months after last year’s election, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Devin Nunes also said that the identities of people in the Trump camp were “unmasked” by intelligence officials and shared “widely” within secret government channels. That means that top U.S. intelligence leaders decided to reveal in their reports the names of Americans discovered communicating with foreign targets overseas, as opposed to concealing them as, for example, “U.S. Person 1.”
Nunes told reporters at the Capitol that he was headed to the White House to brief officials there on what he’d learned, and White House spokesman Sean Spicer said separately Nunes would talk with Trump himself. After the meeting, Nunes spoke with reporters again on the White House driveway.
“The president needs to know these intelligence reports are out there and I have a duty to tell him that,” Nunes said.
The revelation follows weeks of sometimes surreal political rope-a-dope over a Twitter post by Trump in which he asked how “low” former President Obama had gone to “tap my phones” during the “very sacred election process.” The White House continued to stick by Trump’s charge even as allies in Congress and FBI Director James Comey have said there was no evidence of wiretapping.
Trump and Nunes, however, had hinted there was evidence that the Trump transition had been caught up more generally in some kind of American surveillance. Nunes’ statements on Wednesday appeared intended to validate the general point that Trump’s camp had been surveilled, although Nunes continued to make clear there had been no physical “wiretap” of Trump Tower in New York.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by the statement and he thanked Nunes for bringing the information to him.
The top Democrat on Nunes’ committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, told NPR and other reporters in the Capitol that he would comment on the Nunes developments “later.”
On Monday, Schiff used an extended opening statement at a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee to lay out the case tying Trump campaign advisers to Russians potentially connected to Moscow’s mischief in the presidential race. And earlier Wednesday, the Associated Press reported the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had received tens of millions of dollars from an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin to prepare ways to help Putin influence the West in a business relationship dated at least from 2006 until at least 2009.
Nunes said Wednesday the nature of the surveillance he’d learned about during the presidential transition did not involve Russia or Russians. He also said it appeared to have been legal foreign surveillance and it appeared legitimately “incidental” that the Trump camp was included.
The statement brought another bizarre turn in the hall of mirrors storyline about Trump, Russia, the election and its aftermath. The FBI said Monday that it has been investigating potential connections between Trump’s camp and Russia since last July, even as committees in Congress also look into what happened.
House Republicans, however, want the investigations to be about the leaking of classified information, and the decisions by top intelligence officials to “unmask” the names of Americans — as Nunes complained about on Wednesday.
Schiff and Democrats want to make connections between Trump, aides like Manafort and the campaign of cyber-mischief led last year by Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. Russian hackers stole embarrassing emails and other material from Democrats and others and released it publicly; Obama retaliated with sanctions and by expelling some Russian spies.
Nunes, a Trump ally who served on the then president-elect’s transition team at the time of the “incidental collection,” has dealt himself and Republicans more political cards to play as part of the open political process.
The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to convene a second hearing on March 28 with three witnesses from the Obama administration: former acting Attorney General Sally Yates; former CIA Director John Brennan; and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Nunes’ disclosure about Trump and his camp being caught up in American surveillance — and the decision by intelligence leaders under Clapper to include their identities in their reporting — gives Republicans another way to make their case about the outgoing Obama administration trying to sabotage Trump.
Schiff and Democrats, meanwhile, are expected to continue to focus on drawing ties between Trump’s team and the Russians.Share