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The U.S. intelligence community collected information on President Donald Trump’s transition team last year following the November election, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters on Wednesday.
The California representative, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said the collection was done outside the scope of the FBI’s criminal investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russian operatives. The collection was apparently legal, Nunes said, and done so incidentally.
“I want to be clear,“ he said.“None of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities, or of the Trump team.”
“This is a normal, incidental collection,” Nunes said, the implication being that the Trump team was in contact with individuals who were lawfully targeted by U.S. intelligence services in monitoring authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Nunes was a member of the Trump transition team as of Nov. 11, and is said to have aided the president-elect in the appointment of key cabinet members.
Nunes said that he could not confirm whether President Trump’s communications had been directly collected, nor could he say whether the “surveillance” took place at Trump Tower, where Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak met with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in December.
Trump aides were reportedly identified in “widely disseminated” intelligence reports, according to Nunes, who expressed alarm over whether the intelligence community had monitored the Trump team following the election.
When a person is named in a classified report they are said to be “unmasked”—a process that’s typically done when knowing the individual’s name is essential to understanding the importance of the collected intelligence.
Nunes said that he learned of the collection through a “source” and that he planned to brief the White House on the matter Wednesday afternoon. House Speaker Paul Ryan had already been briefed, Nunes said.
A spokesperson for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters that Nunes did not notify the Democrats involved in the investigation of Russia.
On Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, as well as the numerous ties between Trump associates and the Russian government. Comey also rebuffed an accusation made by Trump on Twitter that the Obama administration had “wiretapped” Trump Tower.
“I have no information to support those tweets,” Comey said, adding that the U.S. Justice Department also had no information to support the president’s claim.
Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.