The House Intelligence Committee, under the leadership of Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, made at least 5-6 unmasking requests to US spy agencies related to Russia’s election meddling between June 2016-January 2017, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
Nunes, who would have had to sign off on any committee requests to reveal the identities of US persons mentioned in intelligence reports, called unmaskings “violations of Americans’ civil liberties” last week.
He appeared to be responding to reports that he subpoenaed the CIA, FBI, and NSA for more details about why Obama administration officials requested the unmasking of Trump associates who were either mentioned or directly involved in surveilled conversations with Russian officials last year.
Spokespeople for both Nunes and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s ranking members, declined to comment when asked by Business Insider if the committee had requested the unmaskings cited by the Washington Post.
Schiff criticised Nunes during an interview with MSNBC on Saturday, calling the decision to issue the subpoenas a “violation” of Nunes’ recusal from the investigation.
But Nunes’ spokesman told the Post that “it is standard operating procedure for the House Intelligence Committee to forward all committee members’ questions from both parties to the appropriate agencies, whether or not they are answered. I refer you to committee Democrats for further questions on this subject.”
Clarese Wilson, a spokeswoman for the National Securty Agency, told Business Insider on Friday that “the NSA works closely with the House and Senate intelligence committees to support the committees’ work. In the case of any unmasking request we follow our standard procedures.”
Nunes and other Republicans have expressed concern that requests by Obama administration officials, like former national security adviser Susan Rice, to unmask members of the Trump campaign were politically motivated.
The Post reported on Friday that the House Intelligence Committee requested unmaskings of individuals and entities related to both Trump and Hillary Clinton throughout the latter half of 2016. It was not clear, however, how many requests came from Democrats versus Republicans.
‘The Democrats feel that Nunes has gone rogue’
Current and former US intelligence officials have acknowledged that leaking the identities of US persons named in intelligence reports is illegal. But requests by top administration officials — and policymakers like those that sit on the congressional intelligence committees — to identify which US persons foreign agents are speaking to or about would not have been unusual or against the law.
A Democratic committee aide told Business Insider on Friday that Nunes and other Republicans on the committee were trying to make questions about unmasking “the focal issue” of the committee’s probe into Russia’s election interference because “they’re trying to divert attention away from the investigation.”
“That’s the obvious motive,” the aide said, adding that Nunes told the Democrats “super last minute” about his unmasking subpoenas. “The Democrats feel that Nunes has gone rogue, or that he’s trying to undermine the committee because he no longer serves in the top position on this investigation.”
“This action [the subpoenas] would have been taken without the minority’s agreement,” another top committee aide told Reuters last week, referring to the Democrats.
Nunes stepped aside from the Russia investigation in early April after bypassing his fellow committee members the month before to brief Trump and the press on classified intelligence that he said showed Trump and his transition team had been “incidentally” surveilled after the election.
Republican and Democratic sources who reviewed the same intelligence, however, told CNN they saw no evidence of wrongdoing by the Obama administration.
“Nunes is not going to be able to go any further,” the Democratic aide said, adding that, if he did, committee Democrats would pressure House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove Nunes as chairman.
“The American people are watching,” the aide added.
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