The plot thickened on Wednesday when House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes suggested that intelligence agencies monitoring foreign officials may have “incidentally” picked up communications of Trump transition team members.
Although the bipartisan intelligence team, which includes Nunes (R-Tulare, CA) and fellow Intelligence Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Burbank, CA), found no evidence to support Trumps claims that former President Obama wiretapped him, Republicans are already jumping on the bandwagon, suggesting the finding supports the commander-in-chief’s claim.
The data known as “incidental collection,” indicates that the targets of American intelligence gathering were foreign officials, not specific members of the Trump transition or Mr. Trump himself.
In fact, any American citizen who talks, messages or emails with a foreign official under surveillance would be picked up by intelligence agencies. This would include Obama administration officials and private citizens like journalists and business people.
FBI Director James B. Comey told the Intelligence Committee on Monday that the president was at no point the target of court-ordered surveillance during or after the 2016 presidential campaign. He also said that no president could directly wiretap a citizen without a warrant.
Meanwhile Trump said he felt vindicated by what Nunes said, and doubled down on his claim that he was spied on by the former president.
Nunez said “Details about U.S. persons, details associated with the incoming administration — details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value — were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.”
He declined to say where he learned of the surveillance, but he said none of the information collected had anything to do with the F.B.I.’s investigation into the links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer read Nunes’s statement during his news briefing Wednesday afternoon and said Nunes planned to come to the White House later that day to brief the president.
Nunes’s press conference came as a surprise to his fellow committee members, raising eyebrows from Democrats. Schiff questioned whether Nunes is acting as a “surrogate of the White House.”
At his own news conference later that afternoon, Schiff sharply criticized Nunes, given that his committee is in the middle of an active investigation that includes the question of whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia’s suspected attempts to meddle in last year’s election.
“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 (if) he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both,” Schiff told reporters.
Nunes, who was a key figure in the Trump transition, told reporters that the monitoring appears to have been carried out legally.