The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday told the White House and the public that he unearthed information that intelligence officials may have improperly spread information about President Donald Trump and his transition team.Joel Pollak at Breitbart News explains:
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters on Capitol Hill that “details with little or no apparent intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence reports.”
Typically when intelligence agents pick up incidental communications involving Americans while they are conducting surveillance of foreign targets, the identities of those citizens are disguised in reports in order to protect their privacy. Nunes said the names of Trump and members of his transition team following the 2016 election, however, were “unmasked” in those reports. [...]
“The unmasking really bothers me,” he said. “There has to be a reason for the unmasking.”
Much of that had been suspected, on the basis of mainstream media reports, but Rep. Nunes reported something new: that the surveillance did not involve the ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) inquiry into Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Indeed, none of the surveillance had intelligence value, he said.John Hinderaker of Power Line observes:
“I believe it was all done legally,” Nunes told a press conference. The question, he said, was why names of those swept up in the surveillance had been leaked. The collection of the intelligence appeared to have been legal, but the leaking may have been illegal.
Most of the activity occurred during the transition period from November to January. Furthermore, Nunes said, he did not know whether phone calls — including phone calls involving Trump — were among the communications captured.
Does this mean that President Trump’s famous tweets were right all along? Not exactly. Trump claimed that the Obama administration had his “wires tapped” in Trump tower. That implies that he or his associates were targets of licit or illicit surveillance, whereas Nunes says the government was spying on someone else and picked up Trump team members’ communications only incidentally.
Of course, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that, apart from incidental communications, the FBI or someone else was specifically targeting associates of Donald Trump for surveillance.
Closer to the heart of the matter may be Nunes’s observation that the identities of Trump associates subject to such incidental surveillance were “widely disseminated.” This “unmasking” is a federal crime, as House members discussed with Comey and Rogers on Monday. So, while President Trump may have been wrong in believing that the Obama administration directed surveillance at him or his associates–the jury is still out on that question–he was certainly right to be angry about the fact that information reflecting badly on his associates, collected through apparently legal surveillance, was leaked to the press in an effort to damage his campaign or his administration.