For more than a week, Rep. Devin Nunes, the embattled California Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has refused to say where he got the evidence to back up his explosive claim that there had been “incidental collection” of communications involving President Trump and his associates during the election. Now, it appears Nunes’ information was coming from inside the White House, according to a report from the New York Times Thursday.
Two current White House officials reportedly gave Nunes intelligence reports showing that U.S. spy agencies picked up information involving Trump and his close allies as part of routine foreign surveillance.
Nunes held a surprise press conference last week to assert that there had been an “incidental collection” of information about Trump and his associates during the 2016 election but refused to say where he got this information. Nunes then discussed these intelligence reports with President Trump directly, without notifying his colleagues on the committee that’s supposed to be investigating the administration.
This latest revelation will likely further discredit Nunes’ ability to conduct a legitimate investigation into Trump’s possible connection to Russia’s interference in the election. Part of Trump’s transition team, Nunes is already facing an outpouring of criticism for his decision to go to Trump directly with the intelligence reports before discussing them with his fellow members of the intelligence committee. He is increasingly being seen as an ally to Trump who is willing to protect the president at all costs, rather than conduct a legitimate nonpartisan investigation. Nunes’ Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, has since called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation altogether.
The two current White House staffers who allegedly gave Nunes this information were Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office.
After Trump made his unsubstantiated tweet, Cohen-Watnick apparently began reviewing classified documents concerning the surveillance of foreign officials that might have been communicating with Trump or his associates, according to the Times. He then passed along the report to Nunes, who proceeded to go public.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dodged questions about the Times report in Thursday’s press briefing, saying he was “not going to get into it.”
Nunes “met with people who are cleared to discuss classified information,” Spicer said. “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”