The intelligence community was allegedly directed to provide cover for President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped by his predecessor, the New Yorker reported Tuesday.
An anonymous intelligence source told the magazine’s Ryan Lizza that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’”
Asking for an “all-points bulletin,” or a request to look through intelligence reports, White House officials said, “We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower,” according to Lizza’s source.
The alleged effort to justify the President’s outlandish wiretapping claim sparked a month-long goose chase that culminated with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) temporarily recusing himself from the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
The White House did not respond to the New Yorker’s request for comment.
Trump administration officials first said the President didn’t mean that he was literally being wiretapped, or that this alleged surveillance happened at Trump Tower before the election, as his tweets claimed. Three White House staffers were later identified in news reports as having provided Nunes with documents that led him to publicly claim that Trump staffers’ identities had been unmasked in appropriately in transcripts of conversations swept up in routine foreign surveillance.
National security experts said such unmasking requests were sometimes necessary to understand the context of intelligence reports, but Nunes added fuel to the fire by strongly suggesting such requests were improper. He ended up stepping aside from the Russia investigation over allegations that he revealed classified information in his many press conferences on the topic, which he dismissed as “politically motivated.” The House Committee on Ethics is currently investigating whether Nunes made any “unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
The two unnamed intelligence sources Lizza spoke to said the same, with one calling them “about as plain vanilla as can be” and the other saying “there’s absolutely nothing there.”