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Week ahead: House Intel chair under fire over Trump surveillance claims

Week ahead: House Intel chair under fire over Trump surveillance claims
© Greg Nash

The spotlight in the coming week will be on the House Intelligence Committee chairman's claim that the intelligence community incidentally collected information on members of Donald Trump's transition team.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) first leveled the bombshell charge at a press conference on Wednesday without discussing his knowledge with the committee, a move that infuriated Democrats--in particularhis committee counterpart, ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffPelosi: 'Follow the money' to understand Trump-Saudi relations Lawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi's death Schiff predicts Trump will accept Saudi denials of involvement in Khashoggi's death MORE (D-Calif.).

Nunes caught further heat for going straight to the White House to inform President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE, again before briefing the committee.

The chairman apologized to committee Democrats on Thursday for going public with the information before briefing other members.

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Nunes has said that "sources" legally brought him the information, and that he has viewed dozens of intelligence reports showing that identities of members of Trump's transition were "unmasked," which troubled him. Nunes, however, has provided contradictory answers on whether Trump associates and Trump himself were subject to surveillance.

By law, Americans swept up incidentally in foreign surveillance activities are subject to minimization rules that mask their identities, with some exceptions.

Nunes said at a press conference Friday that he expects the National Security Agency to provide him with the documents in question by "early next week" so that the committee can review them. He appears to be the only lawmaker who has yet viewed the alleged evidence.

Meanwhile, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has volunteered to be interviewed by the committee in its investigation into Russia's interference in the presidential election, Nunes revealed on Friday. Manafort has been scrutinized for his ties to Russia, with the Associated Press reporting Thursday that he secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance Vladimir Putin's interests around the world before signing on with Trump's campaign.

 

MORE PROBING ON RUSSIA

The House Intelligence Committee also plans to again hear from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers at a closed-door briefing, a week after Comey publicly acknowledged that the bureau is investigating whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow in the election hacking campaign.

Schiff blasted Nunes for cancelling an open hearing scheduled for Tuesday on the election interference to make room for Comey and Rogers to brief lawmakers behind closed doors, accusing him of trying to "choke off public info." That hearing would have featured testimony from former Obama administration officials, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The FBI has been probing the matter since July and only recently notified Congress, meaning that more details--and more hearings--are sure to come.

In fact, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold its second open hearing on its own investigation into Russia's intelligence activities on Thursday. The hearing, which will focus on Russian disinformation efforts, will feature two panels comprised of experts and former officials, including former NSA director Keith Alexander, who has recently made the rounds on Capitol Hill to testify on cyber.

 

FEDERAL NETWORKS, ELECTRIC GRID VULNERABILITIES, AND MORE

Cyber and technology will be a focus across several different committees in the upcoming days, as lawmakers look to speed through two more weeks of work on Capitol Hill before a brief two-week break in April.

The House Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity and infrastructure protection will convene a hearing on the Department of Homeland Security's current efforts to secure federal networks on Tuesday.

Lawmakers will hear testimony from a DHS cybersecurity official, an information security specialist at the Government Accountability Office, and a cybersecurity policy analyst at the Congressional Research Services, according to a witness list provided by an aide to subcommittee Chairman John Ratcliffe (R-Texas).

The hearing will also provide valuable insight, with the White House already signaling that securing federal networks will be a priority of the new administration.

Meanwhile, House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on self-driving cars, and members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will explore the challenges of federal IT acquisition on Tuesday.

Over on the Senate side, an energy and natural resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday examining cybersecurity threats to the U.S. electric grid. Lawmakers will also hear testimony on the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel People have forgotten 'facade' of independent politicians, says GOP strategist Senate poised to confirm Kavanaugh after bitter fight MORE (I-Maine) that would establish a pilot program to identify security vulnerabilities in the energy sector.