The New York Times is reporting that it has successfully identified the sources who provided classified information to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes:
A pair of White House officials played a role in providing Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.
The revelation that White House officials assisted in the disclosure of the intelligence reports — which Mr. Nunes then discussed with President Trump — is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration while his committee is supposed to be conducting an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election.
Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the intelligence, and to avoid angering Mr. Cohen-Watnick and Mr. Ellis. Officials say that Mr. Cohen-Watnick has been reviewing the reports from his fourth-floor office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the National Security Counsel is based.
But the officials’ description of the intelligence is in line with Mr. Nunes’s own characterization of the material, which he has said was not related to the Russia investigations when he first disclosed its existence in a hastily arranged news conference on March 22.
Ellis was person who showed NUNES the information. Ezra had come upon it in another context. https://t.co/LpT2RL04Sk
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 30, 2017
Where does this leave us? Well, it means that Nunes wasn’t making stuff up as many of the burgeoning battalion of self described national security experts alleged. There, at least at first blush, doesn’t seem to be any leaking here. The material was viewed in a SCIF and all parties seem to have clearance to see the material. Things are going to get Gothic on the NSC as a result of this. Cohen-Watnick was brought onto the NSC by Flynn. McMaster tried to transfer him because the CIA had a sad about a DIA guy taking a slot they viewed as belonging to their agency. Bannon and Kushner intervened with Trump to keep Cohen-Watnick in his job. I expect that decision will be revisited and it was probably him, not the attorney Michael Ellis, that Nunes was trying to protect.
This still leaves unanswered some significant questions on how this surveillance product was handled, who saw it, and why any sane person thought that surveillance, incidental or not, of members of the incoming administration was a bright idea.