Republican says ‘I’m actually alarmed’ conversations picked up
Disclosure may bolster Trump’s claim he was under surveillance
House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said Wednesday that the U.S. intelligence community collected multiple conversations involving members of Donald Trump’s transition team after he won the election last year.
After making his disclosure at the Capitol, Nunes headed to the White House to brief the president on what he had learned. Trump then told reporters gathered for an unrelated event that “I somewhat do” feel vindicated by the latest development. “I very much appreciate the fact that they found what they found.”
Nunes said that intercepts he’s seen appear to be legal and weren’t targeted at Trump’s transition team or related to an investigation of Russia’s attempts to influence the U.S. presidential election. But he said he was troubled by the collection -- which he described as part of unrelated foreign surveillance -- and that the intelligence community reported the names of transition team members internally.
“I’m actually alarmed by it,” Nunes, a California Republican, told reporters at the Capitol. “Details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in an intelligence community report,” he said. He said he didn’t know if Trump’s “own communications were intercepted.”
The disclosure may bolster Trump’s effort to back up his disputed claim in Twitter postings that former President Barack Obama tapped his phones, which his spokesman later said shouldn’t be taken literally and referred generally to having his team under surveillance. FBI Director James Comey testified before the House committee this week that “I have no information that supports those tweets.”
Nunes told reporters outside the White House, after briefing the president, that “it is possible” Trump’s tweets were correct concerning surveillance.
It was previously disclosed that U.S. intelligence agencies had picked up conversations between Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump’s inauguration. Flynn was fired in February after making contradictory statements to Vice President Mike Pence about those discussions.
Republicans on Nunes’s committee have zeroed in on leaks of intelligence information to counter Democrats’ focus on the intelligence agencies’ continuing investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential campaign. Comey testified that the probe “includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Nunes said he’d informed House Speaker Paul Ryan of the new information.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said before Nunes spoke with Trump that he didn’t know more than what the chairman said at the Capitol but the administration would comment later. “I do think this is a startling revelation," he told reporters.
Nunes also said he expects to learn more on Friday. His panel asked U.S. intelligence agencies for details on members of Trump’s team whose communications may have been intercepted by U.S. spy agencies.
"If the Trump campaign’s conversations are caught up in surveilling a foreign agent, there are rules about what you can release and who you can unmask,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters. “That’s different than having the Obama administration surveil the Trump campaign.”
In a separate development Wednesday, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee joined with the top Democrat on the panel to ask the Trump administration to turn over all documents detailing Flynn’s contacts with, and payments from foreign sources, including people connected to the Kremlin.
Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, asked for all relevant documents by April 3.