The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday told the White House and the public that he unearthed information that intelligence officials may have improperly spread information about President Donald Trump and his transition team.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters on Capitol Hill that “details with little or no apparent intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence reports.”
“It definitely goes beyond what happened to [former National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn. Now of course, we don’t actually know yet officially what happened to Gen. Flynn; we just know that his name leaked out.”
Typically when intelligence agents pick up incidental communications involving Americans while they are conducting surveillance of foreign targets, the identities of those citizens are disguised in reports in order to protect their privacy. Nunes said the names of Trump and members of his transition team following the 2016 election, however, were “unmasked” in those reports.
“It definitely goes beyond what happened to [former National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn,” he told reporters outside the White House after briefing administration officials. “Now, of course, we don’t actually know yet officially what happened to Gen. Flynn; we just know that his name leaked out. But we don’t know how it was picked up yet.”
Later, Nunes told CNN’s Jake Tapper that it appears from his meeting at the White House that Trump was not aware of the information he conveyed.
“The unmasking really bothers me,” he said. “There has to be a reason for the unmasking.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the committee, expressed anger that Nunes did not first brief the committee. He said it is “deeply troubling” on many levels.
“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House,” Schiff said at a news conference. “Because he cannot do both.”
At his own Capitol Hill news conference, Nunes make clear that the surveillance appears to have been conducted legally, with the approval of a special court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But he added that it had nothing to do with Russia.
Nunes said it is important to find out who was aware of the surveillance operations, why it was not disclosed to Congress, who requested and authorized the unmasking of American citizens in surveillance reports, whether anyone directed intelligence officials to focus efforts on the Trump or his associates, and whether any laws or procedures were violated.
Nunes reiterated outside the White House that Trump’s literal claims in a series of tweets a few weeks ago — that former President Obama ordered wiretapping of his phones — were not true. But he said he could not rule out the possibility that senior Obama administration officials were involved in the unmasking.
“Well, we don’t know who sent the taskings, if the taskings were changed into what went into these intelligence reports, but we’re gonna try to find that out,” he said.
In response to a reporter’s question, Nunes sought to tamp down speculation that the intercepts he reviewed indicate that Trump associates were in contact with targets of foreign surveillance.
“I think you’re reading too much into that,” he said. “This is normal intelligence reporting. The question is, you know, should he, himself, or others — should they have been put into these reports? I don’t know the answer to that yet, but we’re going to try to get to the bottom of it. ”
Nunes said his committee last week asked for information from the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the FBI.
“I’ll tell you, NSA is being cooperative, but so far the FBI has not told us whether or not they’re going to respond to our March 15th letter, which is now a couple weeks old,” he said.