GOP chairman: Surveillance was collected about Trump transition team

The U.S. intelligence community incidentally collected information on members of President Trump’s transition team and the information was “widely disseminated” in intelligence reports, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Wednesday.

“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community collected information on U.S. individuals involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes told reporters.

“Details about U.S. persons involved in the incoming administration with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reports.”

He said that “additional names” of Trump transition officials had been unmasked in the intelligence reports and indicated that Trump’s communications may have been swept up as well. 

The intelligence collected has nothing to do with Russia or the investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, according to Nunes.

“I want to be clear — none of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team,” Nunes said. 

The congressman said he had viewed dozens of documents showing that the information had been incidentally collected. He said that he believes the information was all collected legally. 

The information was “legally brought to him by sources who thought we should know it,” Nunes said, though he declined to provide further detail.

The Intelligence chairman said he briefed Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) about the incidental surveillance and would brief Trump personally later Wednesday.

Nunes later told reporters at the White House that he believes the details should “bother” the president and his team because some of the collection seemed “inappropriate.”

The remarks from Nunes add a new wrinkle to the controversy surrounding Trump and his claim that former President Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower ahead of the election.

The news appeared to frustrate the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), who said that other members had not been notified of the new information before Nunes spoke to the press. 

“If accurate, this information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been,” Schiff said in a statement. “The chairman also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation. I have expressed my grave concerns with the chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.”

“Because the committee has still not been provided the intercepts in the possession of the Chairman, it is impossible to evaluate the Chairman’s claims,” Schiff noted. “It certainly does not suggest — in any way — that the president was wiretapped by his predecessor.”

Both Nunes and Schiff have said they do not have evidence to back up the president’s claim. FBI Director James Comey said the same thing during public testimony this week.

Trump said later Wednesday that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’s revelation. 

“I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do,” he said at the White House. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.”

Nunes said Wednesday that it was unclear whether the information incidentally collected originated in Trump Tower.

He said that the House Intelligence Committee will “thoroughly” investigate the matter, including who requested the unmasking of the individuals and whether any laws were broken.

Under surveillance law, intelligence officials can incidentally collect information on the communications of an American citizen, so long as they are not the target of a warrant. 

It was already widely suspected that former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were incidentally collected through routine foreign intelligence surveillance activities.

Last week, Nunes and Schiff said that they were pressing the CIA, FBI, and NSA for information on Trump associates who may have been incidentally spied on through the foreign intelligence surveillance law and whose names were later “unmasked” and the intelligence details leaked to the media.

Nunes’s revelation comes in the wake of the committee’s explosive hearing on Monday, at which Comey confirmed that the bureau has been investigating Russia’s election meddling since July, which includes probing possible coordination between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and Moscow.

The meeting represented the panel’s first open hearing on its investigation into Russia’s election meddling and also featured testimony from National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. 

Intelligence panels in both chambers of Congress are investigating Russia’s campaign to influence the election.

– This story was updated at 4:44 p.m.

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