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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, visited the White House the evening before announcing President Donald Trump and his team were caught up in inadvertent surveillance prior to his inauguration, adding a new twist to the controversial revelation.
Nunes, who served as an adviser on Trump’s transition team, is currently leading a committee investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election—including a look at any potential Kremlin ties to the Trump campaign. During his opening statement last Monday, prior to a hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, the chairman addressed Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama had ordered him “wiretapped.”
“We know there was not a physical wiretap at Trump Tower. However, it is possible that other surveillance technology was used against President Trump and his associates,” he stated.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
On Wednesday morning, however, Nunes called a press conference where he suggested that Trump’s team had been caught up in legal and “incidental” intel collection post-election, citing an unnamed “source” who had allowed him to preview apparent evidence of the fact. Nunes’ public revelation, made before he informed the rest of the House Intelligence Committee, sparked partisan backlash and calls for an investigation into Nunes himself. Trump hailed this realignment as a vindication of his original allegation, which he had offered without proof.
Tuesday night, during that intermittent period, two congressional sources said that Nunes took a brief call before canceling plans to attend an event in Washington so that he could head for a meeting. Nunes confirmed in a statement that he traveled to the White House grounds to meet his source, although a spokesperson claimed that White House staff were unaware of this and that he did not call into the White House itself.
Nunes told Bloomberg that his visit to the White House was a matter of convenience due to access to the system on which the documents are kept. “We don’t have networked access to these kinds of reports in Congress,” Nunes said. He also denied that his source was a White House staffer.
Comment from Chairman Nunes' spox about his whereabouts the day before his announcement Trump/associates may be swept up in surveillance pic.twitter.com/OZ06gSejbH— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) March 27, 2017
Nunes explained in a phone interview with CNN that he did not want to “compromise sources and methods,” saying that he had traveled to the White House “to confirm what [he] already knew” and was on site to view evidence legally within a secured area.
However, the details remain sketchy. According to the Washington Post, “congressional officials said that the director of National Intelligence, the FBI, and National Security Agency had all indicated that they got no late-night visit from Nunes, a trip that probably would have been entered in security logs.” Further, Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to deny that the White House itself had supplied the intel when asked directly on Friday, commenting that he didn’t know where Nunes had “got the documents from.”
The curious sequence, running Monday through Wednesday, is sure to lead to questions around the Republican’s leadership role in the committee investigation and his impartiality.
“We still really want this investigation to be non-partisan, and what the chairman did this week makes that very hard,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee, told CNN on Friday.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology.