Nunes Had Two White House Staffers Help Him Get Intel Reports And It Cost Him An Influential Media Defender

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 31, 2017 5:05 PM
Nunes Had Two White House Staffers Help Him Get Intel Reports And It Cost Him An Influential Media Defender

UPDATE: Sorry for forgetting to mention this…Fox News’ Adam Housley says that sources told him that the two White House staffers in the NYT piece are not involved, though he wouldn’t elaborate further on the matter. He did go into the more troubling angle concerning the unmasking, noting that it was someone very high up on the food chain in the intelligence community—and that the surveillance allegedly occurred before Trump was even the nominee. The two White House staffers did play a role in helping Mr. Nunes, but they were not his sources. They did play a navigating role, according to Housley. The post has been updated to reflect the changes.

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House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes's (R-CA) probe into possible links between Russian and the Trump campaign has not been the smoothest operation. For starters, the working relationship between Nunes and ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is beyond strained. The weird accounts of how he obtained new information that points to members of Trump’s transition team being caught—through incidental collection—by our intelligence services only adds more fuel to the fire over the Trump wiretap allegations. The way Nunes rolled out this new development was also bungled, not sharing this information with other members of the committee and then taking a stroll to the White House to brief the president. Democrats were going crazy. Nunes eventually apologized for not disclosing this new information with committee members, but things got fishy when it was discovered that Nunes got his information on White House grounds. The optics is terrible on this. To make matters worse, the image of an independent investigation were further muddied when we found out that two White House staffers helped Nunes obtain these intelligence reports about the transition team (via NYT):

A pair of White House officials played a role in providing Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.

The revelation that White House officials assisted in the disclosure of the intelligence reports — which Mr. Nunes then discussed with President Trump — is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration while his committee is supposed to be conducting an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election.

Mr. Nunes has also been faulted by his congressional colleagues for sharing the information with President Trump before consulting with other members of the intelligence committee.

The congressman has refused to identify his sources, saying he needed to protect them so others would feel safe coming to the committee with sensitive information. He disclosed the existence of the intelligence reports on March 22, and in his public comments he has described his sources as whistle-blowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.

[...]

Several current American officials identified the White House officials as 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 and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’s committee.

Bloomberg’s Eli Lake has defended Nunes, even offering his take on the much-discussed White House visit. But after the Times article (even with the White House staffers not being Nunes' direct sources), Lake had to admit that the investigation has been damaged [emphasis mine]:

It turns out, he misled me. The New York Times reported Thursday that Nunes had two sources, and both worked for the White House. This distinction is important because it raises questions about the independence of the congressional investigation Nunes is leading, which may lead to officials at the White House.

Nunes is leading a double investigation of sorts. His committee is probing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia's influence operation against the 2016 election. It's also looking into whether Barack Obama's White House inappropriately spied on Trump's transition.

The chairman told me Thursday that elements of the Times story were inaccurate. But he acknowledged: "I did use the White House to help to confirm what I already knew from other sources." This is a body blow for Nunes, who presented his findings last week as if they were surprising to the White House. He briefed Trump, after holding a press conference on Capitol Hill. And as he was leaving the White House, he made sure to address the press again.

But this was a show. The sources named by the Times work for the president. They are political appointees. It strains credulity to think that Trump would need Nunes to tell him about intelligence reports discovered by people who work in the White House.

[…]

Sadly, the merits of this case are undermined by how the White House and Nunes have made it. The chairman is better than this. By misrepresenting how he obtained information worthy of investigation he has handed his opposition the means to discredit it. That's rough justice for Nunes, and a tragedy for the country.

Axios added that Nunes burning bridges with Lake was a massive blunder, as the Bloomberg columnist was one of his more prominent defenders, who gave him the benefit of the doubt. Back home, Nunes has support from his constituents, who I’m sure help him sleep at night. But keep an eye on Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans who might be starting to feel that in order for this investigation to be successfully conducted—Nunes has to go.