Politico | 22 March 2017
Nunes claims some Trump transition messages were intercepted
The move gave cover to the White House but was rebuked by top Democrats.
House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes declared Wednesday that members of Donald Trump’s transition team, possibly including Trump himself, were under inadvertent surveillance following November’s presidential election.
The White House and Trump’s allies immediately seized on the statement as vindication of the president’s much-maligned claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower phones — even though Nunes himself said that’s not what his new information shows.
“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, because he cannot do both,” Schiff said at a news conference Wednesday.
“And unfortunately,” he added, “I think the actions of today throw great doubt into the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.”
Nunes set off the firestorm with a news conference earlier in the day in which he described the surveillance of Trump aides through what’s called “incidental collection,” something he noted was routine and legal. Such collection can occur when a person inside the United State communicates with a foreign target of U.S. surveillance. In such cases, the identities of U.S. citizens are supposed to be shielded — but can be “unmasked” by intelligence officials under certain circumstances.
Nunes, himself a Trump transition member, said a “source” had shown him evidence that members of the Trump transition team had been unmasked — and that their identities had been revealed in U.S. intelligence reports. Nunes had previously raised questions about the unmasking of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whose communications with Russia’s ambassador were intercepted by the U.S. government and whose identity was leaked to the news media.
Nunes suggested this unmasking might have been done for political reasons, saying the evidence he had seen had been widely disseminated across the intelligence community and had “little or no apparent intelligence value.” He added that he was trying to get more information by Friday from the FBI, CIA and NSA.
“I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored,” the California Republican told reporters. “It looks to me like it was all legally collected, but it was essentially a lot of information on the president-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.” He said the information he had seen was not related to the FBI’s Russia investigation.
Nunes said intelligence reports discussed “high-level people in the Trump transition.” He also said he was not in possession of the new evidence, but that he hoped the intelligence agencies would provide it to his panel through official means and that other committee members would be able to review it.
“I was able to view it,” he said. “It’s not in my possession.”
Later in the day, Schiff said Nunes’ claims might not be all that they appear.
“In my conversation late this afternoon, the chairman informed me that most of the names in the intercepted communications were in fact masked, but that he could still figure out the probable identity of the parties,” Schiff said. “This does not indicate that there was any flaw in the procedures followed by the intelligence agencies. Moreover, the unmasking of a U.S. person’s name is fully appropriate when it is necessary to understand the context of collected foreign intelligence information.”