It’s difficult to keep up with all of the information coming out of the House Intelligence Committee this week. As the week started, many were satisfied with one quote from Rep. Devin Nunes, who on Sunday said that there was no wiretap of Trump Tower. As Streiff and a few other writers (ahem) pointed out, though, there was a lot more to that interview than that one line.
Over the last two days, though, developments have occurred at a rapid-fire pace.
On Wednesday, Nunes held a press conference in which he dropped a “bombshell.”
“At our open hearing on Monday, I encouraged anyone who has information about relative topics, including surveillance on President-elect Trump or his transition team, to come forward and speak to members of the Committee.
“So first, I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting. Third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. And fourth and finally, I want to be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities, or of the Trump team. The House Intelligence Committee will thoroughly investigate the surveillance, and its subsequent dissemination.”
Nunes said he briefed President Trump on the information because he had concerns about the incidental collection of the information and the unmasking of American citizens’ names.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) was incredulous and accused Nunes of playing politics with the information.
Thursday afternoon, Fox News reported, based on anonymous sources, that “smoking gun” information will be presented to the House Intelligence Committee this week (there’s only one day left) showing that the Obama administration used legitimate surveillance activities – of foreign agents – for an illegitimate purpose: to spy on the Trump transition team.
Nunes has seen the documents, the source says, which show incidental surveillance of Team Trump, and it was those documents Nunes referenced in his Wednesday press conference.
The intelligence corroborated information about surveillance of the Trump team that was known to Nunes, sources said, even before President Trump accused his predecessor of having wiretapped him in a series of now-infamous tweets posted on March 4.
The Committee is still waiting on documents from various agencies, including the FBI and NSA. The FBI hasn’t responded (and no one is really shouting about that – why?) but the NSA’s document production should occur Friday, according to Fox’s sources.
The NSA document production is expected to produce more intelligence than Nunes has so far seen or described – including what one source described as a potential “smoking gun” establishing the spying.
Nunes appeared on Hannity Thursday night, and confirmed that the surveillance occurred in November, December, and January, and that he briefed Speaker Ryan and the President. When pressed for more details, Nunes replied:
“It’s tough for me to get into it because I’ve only read the reports, so I don’t know all of the intelligence that went into it.
“It’s clear that I would be concerned if I was the president, and that’s why I wanted him to know and I felt like I had a duty and an obligation to tell him because, as you know, he’s been taking a lot of heat in the news media, and I think, to some degree, there are some things he should look in to see whether, in fact, he thinks the collection is proper or not.”
He also reiterated numerous times that the dissemination of the unmasked names was “pretty far and wide” and there are questions about the foreign intelligence value. In other words, though the collection itself was legal, there are doubts that the information included had foreign intelligence value and should have been included in the report.
Ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) blasted Nunes and accused him of playing politics with the information, saying that he should have come to the committee first with the information. Fox News’ sources claim that he has been “briefed on the general contents of the intelligence.”
Did Nunes keep the specific information from the committee to protect a whistleblower(s)? Did he do it because he doesn’t trust other members of the committee (and their staff) and their motives? Or all of the above? Or is he actually playing politics and blowing smoke, as some suggest?
This episode underscores a larger problem in government right now – a lack of trust and larger purpose among many lawmakers. Democrats and Republicans on committees don’t trust each other’s motives or ability to keep classified information quiet. It seems that many put partisan gain over honor and love of country – and simply obeying the law.