House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) said he learned just this week that the intelligence community “incidentally collected” information about members of President Donald Trump’s transition team outside of its investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
In an impromptu press conference Wednesday—which the Washington Post reported he held before discussing these revelations with ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)—Nunes claimed that the information was “widely disseminated” among intelligence agencies and that the identities of Trump staffers were “unmasked.”
Nunes said he was “alarmed” by these reports from the intelligence community, though he repeatedly noted that staffers’ communications appeared to be collected “legally” in the course of “normal, foreign surveillance.” He said they took place in November, December and January, following the election.
Nunes left many other details hazy, citing the classified nature of the reports he said were brought to his attention “by sources who thought we should know it” following Monday’s open hearing on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.
Most notably, he first affirmed and then hedged his answers to questions about whether Trump’s personal communications were caught up in the incidental collection.
Asked by CNN’s Manu Raju if the President was “also part of that incidental collection,” Nunes said yes and nodded.
He was cagier when MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt followed up, asking whether Trump’s “personal communication” were part of the incidental collection.
“It’s possible,” Nunes said. “We won’t know until we get the information on Friday.”
The California Republican said that the White House had not been briefed on any of that information, to his knowledge. He said he planned to speak to Trump about it Wednesday afternoon, arguing “they need to see it.” Nunes said he’d already spoken to NSA Director Mike Rogers about the communications and planned to talk to FBI Director James Comey Wednesday afternoon to learn more.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was evasive when pressed repeatedly to provide specifics during Wednesday’s briefing, saying he would “have more information once the President is briefed.”
“But I do think it is a startling revelation and there’s a lot of questions that need to get asked,” he added.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that former President Barack Obama ordered his “wires tapped” at Trump Tower during the campaign. The FBI, NSA, Attorney General and both congressional intelligence committees have said there is no evidence to support that claim, and Nunes repeated Wednesday that a literal wiretapping never occurred.
Asked at the end of the presser if he felt that the intelligence community was spying on Trump and his team, Nunes replied, “It all depends on one’s definition of spying.”
It is unclear why Nunes, who expressed grave concerns about leaks during Monday’s hearing, elected to hold a presser to share what he called “all classified information.”