President Donald Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes’ Wednesday revelations that the intelligence community had “incidentally collected” information about the Trump transition team.
Asked at the White House if he felt vindicated, Trump said: “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. I somewhat do.”
Nunes, a California Republican, said during a brief Wednesday press conference that the collections occurred on “numerous occasions” and were not related to the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.
“Details about US persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign-intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence-community reporting,” Nunes said.
But Nunes did not stand by Trump’s claim, which he has stuck by without providing evidence, that President Barack Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower phones.
“No, no, no, no,” Nunes said at a subsequent press conference Wednesday outside of the White House, moments after briefing the president on his findings. “That did not happen. I’ve said this for many many weeks including the day after, a couple days after in front of the press. That never happened.”
However, he said he could not be sure if the previous president ordered any spying on Trump during the transition period between November and January. He additionally said he had “no idea” whether this was intentional spying on behalf of the government.
“We won’t know that until we get to the bottom of did people ask for the unmasking of additional names in president Trump’s transition team,” he said.
In his earlier press conference, Nunes told reporters he believed the information was collected legally under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He said he did not know if the surveillance consisted of phone calls, but that the intelligence reports he’s seen “clearly show” Trump and his team were “monitored.” He added the White House was unaware of the information he was providing to the media
Nunes, who was a member of the Trump transition team himself, is chairing the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s effort to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election.
During a Monday hearing, FBI Director James Comey told the committee that the bureau was investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and the Russia government since late July. Comey also said the Department of Justice could provide no evidence to back up Trump’s explosive Twitter claim that Obama wiretapped him.
In his press conference outside the White House, Nunes was asked if it was inappropriate to be briefing the president on information that could be related to an ongoing investigation into members of his administration and campaign team.
He did not believe so.
“Because what I saw had nothing to do with Russia and the Russian investigation,” Nunes said. “It has everything to do with possible surveillance activities and the president needs to know these intelligence reports are out there and I have a duty to tell him that.”
Nunes did not answer a question about whether he was trying to give the president “political cover” for the unproven wiretapping claim by making his Wednesday revelations public.
On his meeting with the president, Nunes said the pair discussed the concerns “that I had with incidental collection and and how it relates to his transition team. Nunes said he hopes to have additional information on the subject by Friday.
“I’m not drawing any conclusion,” Nunes said. “I’m just telling the president what appeared in intelligence reports.”
“What I’ve read, seems to me to be some level of surveillance activity, perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right … But let us get all the reports. … I think the president is concerned and he should be. I think he’d like to see these reports.”
Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative who also ran an independent presidential campaign in 2016, said with Nunes saying the communications were “incidentally collected,” the real question is “who was Trump talking to?”
“If what @DevinNunes says is true, Trump was communicating with persons of intelligence or criminal interest,” he tweeted. “This is @DevinNunes doing President Trump and Congressional Republicans a favour by muddying the waters on the Trump/Russia investigation.”
John Weaver, chief strategist for Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted that it seemed as if Nunes “could be leaking classified information left and right” by discussing the intelligence reports publicly.
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