Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee David Nunes said that the intelligence community “incidentally” monitored members of the Trump transition team and improperly distributed this information to other agencies. The announcement reignited the bipartisan debate over Donald Trump’s “wiretapping” claims.
The story began early this month when President Donald Trump tweeted allegations that the Obama administration had wire tapped Trump Tower.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
This allegation has been widely debunked. David Nunes is among the public figures who have discredited Trump’s wiretapping claims.
However, the Trump team found themselves frustrated with the media’s focus on Trump’s language over the content of his allegation — that the Trump team had been spied on. Press Secretary Sean Spicer has gone to great lengths to explain and defend the president’s words.
“I think the president has been very clear when he talked about this… he meant surveillance.”
FBI Director James Comey definitively repudiated the claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped in what was taken by many to be the last word on the issue, but the debate raged on as others pointed to recently released WikiLeaks emails pointing to widespread surveillance of civilians by the CIA and allegedly inconsistent reporting by the New York Times that showed the FBI had collected “wiretapped” data.
The situation is further complicated by claims of Russian involvement.
On Monday, David Nunes encouraged anyone with relevant information regarding supposed surveillance of then President-elect Trump or his transition team to come forward and speak to the House Intelligence Committee. An anonymous whistleblower from the intelligence community came forward with information.
David Nunes briefed President Trump on the confidential information, and CNBC reported that “[t]he congressman, a Trump ally, added that he did not know if Trump’s own communications were caught up in surveillance, though he said it is possible.
“First, I recently confirmed on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes said.
It is important to note that Nunes confirmed that the intelligence community collected information on members of the Trump transition team between the election in November and the inauguration in January. Nunes emphasized that this information was legally collected. Does this vindicate Trump’s claims of having been wiretapped? To some, it does. To others, it doesn’t. The fact is, this information was collected and possibly monitored, but it was “incidentally” collected — meaning it does not appear that any members of the Trump team were specifically targeted.
Nunes said that the NSA had been “very, very helpful” with disseminating information on what was collected and why, but the FBI has not yet complied.
“While there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower, I was concerned that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”
Asked what was in the reports, Nunes answered.
“It was essentially a lot of information on the President-Elect and his transition team and what they were doing.”
Another reporter asked a question many undoubtedly wondered about.
“How are we confident then that this has nothing to do with the Russians?”
Nunes answered, “Because I read through them and there was nothing to do with Russia.
“Bluntly put, everything that I was able to view did not involve Russia or any discussion with Russians.”
He said, “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist” but that of this information, “none of it has to do with Russia.”
The FBI inquiry into Trump’s possible ties with Russia is a separate investigation, but none of the documents shown to Nunes had evidence that would help them.
Nunes emphasized that the true problem here was that information about Trump and his associates was widely distributed throughout the intelligence community. Although it may be unsettling to some Americans, the current state of American government is such that they had the right to collect all of the information that they did. However, information can only be shared between the intelligence communities if it pertains to a current investigation. Furthermore, information included in the reports on persons unrelated to an investigation must be redacted.
“Yes I am alarmed by this… I’m bothered by the unmasking.”
When asked if the intelligence community had been spying on Trump, Nunes’ answer threw gas on the bipartisan debate.
“It all depends on one’s definition of spying.”
[Featured Image by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images]