WASHINGTON (CBSLA.com/AP) — House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes says he has briefed President Donald Trump on intelligence collection involving Trump and members of the transition team.
Nunes (R-Calif.) said the intercepted communications do not appear to be related to the ongoing FBI investigation into Trump associates’ contacts with Russia. He said he believes the intelligence collections were done legally.
He addressed reporters at the White House after meeting with the president and said some of the intelligence collection seems “inappropriate.”
“I want to be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities, or of the Trump team,” he said.
Trump had claimed that former President Barack Obama’s wiretapped his New York skyscraper last year. But FBI Director James Comey and the head of the National Security Agency said this week that there was no evidence to back up Trump’s assertions.
In reaction to Nunes’ statement, Trump told reporters he feels “somewhat” vindicated.
He says he doesn’t know why it happened, but that the committee will try to get to the bottom of it.
It was unclear whether Trump’s own communications were specifically monitored. Nunes initially said “yes” when asked if Trump was among those swept up in the intelligence monitoring, but then said it was only “possible” that the president’s communications were picked up.
Nunes said the information on the Trump team was collected in November, December and January, the period after the election in which Trump was holding calls with foreign leaders, interviewing Cabinet secretaries, and was beginning to sketch out administration policy. Nunes said the monitored material was “widely disseminated” in intelligence reports.
Asked whether he believed the transition team had been spied on, Nunes said: “It all depends on one’s definition of spying.”
The California congressman did not say how the Trump team’s communications were picked up. U.S. intelligence agencies routinely monitor the communications of foreign officials.
That surveillance sometimes includes the name of an American that the foreigner is speaking to or about. When this happens, intelligence analysts are obliged to hide or “minimize” the name of the American, unless knowing the American’s name is necessary to understanding the foreign intelligence described in the report.
Nunes said the names of Trump associates were “unmasked” after the incidental collection, though he did not identify those aides. Those aides are believed to include Michael Flynn, who was fired as White House national security adviser after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Nunes would not say how he had received the new information.
Nunes notably did not appear alongside Rep. Adam Schiff, the intelligence committee’s top Democrat.
Addressing reporters Wednesday afternoon, Schiff said Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped by former President Obama “remain as baseless today as they were yesterday.”
Just days ago, Schiff (D-Burbank) called Trump’s wiretapping allegations a “conspiracy theory” and had even suggested such allegations could be a national security concern.
A Schiff spokesman told the Associated Press that Nunes had not informed his Democratic counterpart before disclosing the new information publicly.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)