2 White House officials helped Nunes get intel: report

Two White House officials helped House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) acquire information that he says shows President Trump’s transition team was incidentally surveilled, according to The New York Times.

The Times identified Ezra Cohen-Watnick of the National Security Council and Michael Ellis, a national security lawyer with the White House Counsel's Office, as the two officials who played a role.

The report did not make clear exactly what the pair did to assist Nunes. 

Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who co-authored the story, tweeted that Ellis showed the information to Nunes while Cohen-Watnick had seen it in "another context." 

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Nunes has faced criticism since the revelation that he secretly went to the White House last week, meeting with a source who gave him the information. One day after the meeting, Nunes revealed in a press conference he had new information that showed the U.S. intelligence community incidentally surveilled Trump’s team during the transition.

The chairman has said that he met with the source at the White House because he needed to use a secure facility, although there are other secure facilities around Washington, including those used by his committee in Congress. 

After his press conference, Nunes briefed President Trump on the findings without touching base with the rest of the House Intelligence Committee. He has said he will not share his intel with the committee. 

Nunes told Bloomberg earlier this week that his source was an intelligence official, not a White House staffer. 

In a brief statement Thursday after the Times report, Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said that "Chairman Nunes will not confirm or deny speculation about his source's identity, and he will not respond to speculation from anonymous sources."

White House press secretary Sean Spicer last week cast doubt on the idea that the intelligence came from the White House, saying it "doesn't pass the smell test." 

Spicer during Thursday’s briefing did not comment on specific allegations in the story, noting that the White House has invited the House and Senate Intelligence Committee heads to view the documents in question. 

"I've read the report, and respectfully, your question assumes the reporting is correct," he said. 

"We are not going to start commenting on one-off anonymous sources that publications publish." 

He added that his “smell test” remark was based on Nunes’s words at the time. 

Spicer added during the Thursday briefing that he does not know who cleared Nunes into the White House.

The Times story said Cohen-Watnick found classified reports of top foreign officials talking about developing connections with Trump’s family and allies.

And the report said the intercepted communications are not related to the investigation into Russian influence, a point Nunes has stressed publicly. 

Cohen-Watnik came into the administration via former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was ousted after it was revealed he misled the administration about his conversations with Russia’s U.S. ambassador. 

Earlier this month, Politico reported that new national security adviser H.R. McMaster had attempted to remove Cohen-Watnik from his position but that Trump intervened. 

- Updated at 2:43 p.m.